TAMPA — As downtown Tampa blocks go, the one at the northwest corner of Franklin and Tyler streets hardly seems to be the hot piece of real estate.
A wee bit over an acre, it's got a Domino's Pizza, a defunct music shop, a vacant lot with weeds and sand, and lots of parked cars.
But by the end of July, Tampa's City Council could approve a major facelift and usher in downtown's first major apartment complex.
Local developer Greg Minder and Crosland Elements LLC of Charlotte, N.C., are seeking approval of a 26-story tower with 411 apartments, an accompanying seven-story parking garage, and 16,000 square feet of retail and office space on the ground floor.
Minder said the project is crucial in linking the west side of Franklin, flanked now by the Residences of Franklin Street condos and the swanky Fly restaurant, to the middle and eastern portions, anchored by the Tampa Theatre, a flurry of recent restaurant openings and Element, a 35-story condo tower now under construction.
"It's an exciting project," Minder said. "This is a major piece of the pie. North Franklin Street needed to be connected."
No architectural drawings were available, but Minder said the design of the building will be art deco and distinctive. The apartments will rent at monthly rates between $600 and $2,000. If the City Council approves it, he hopes to start construction by the end of the year and be finished by 2010, he said.
If this all seems far-fetched for a block that has struggled for decades, look at Minder's track record. Minder, who has worked with Atlanta's Novare Group in building downtown's first major condo towers — Element and the 32-story SkyPoint — gets instant respect from downtown insiders.
"I'm thrilled to see Greg's projects keep going," said Abbey Dohring, a downtown real estate broker and president of the Uptown Council, a neighborhood association of businesses and residents. "I love how he sees through the dust and continues to build."
Minder intended to work with Novare again on the apartment complex. But the Atlanta developer does mostly condos and wasn't interested in doing rentals, he said. That's when Minder approached Crosland, which is building apartments in Tampa.
"We clicked," he said.
One of the property's slightly hidden treasures is that it's next to Herman Massey Park, which Tampa built in the 1980s when it paved Franklin Street with bricks. Those improvements never quite sparked a hoped-for economic rebirth, though. A chain-link fence surrounds the park, which has been closed for two years. The rest of the block is dead, as well.
Dohring said the city plans to remove the fence this summer, providing an extra perk for the Crosland tower to come.
"The retail shops will open right up to the park," she said. "It'll be amazing."
If anyone should be skeptical about the project's chances, it might be Tony Cunningham, who, along with his then-wife, bought up much of the block in the 1980s for about $680,000. He's under contract with Crosland to sell the land after waiting more than 20 years. The wait for the property to realize its potential outlasted his marriage, he said ruefully.
"It's a long time, but better late than never," said Cunningham, who's now 75 and still working as a trial lawyer. "We're certainly pleased with Crosland. They're the ones with the money and can make it happen.
"Maybe they'll have better luck than we did."
Michael Van Sickler can be reached at (813) 226-3402 or email@example.com.