The giant crane hovering near Bayfront Tower — the prestigious downtown waterfront address with valet parking and rooftop pool —- signals the start of a two-year, $10 million update for the Beach Drive condominium.
Built almost four decades ago, the facelift comes as Bayfront Tower finds itself being outshined by modern upstarts with names like Ovation, Signature and Vinoy Place.
"We are older, so we want to re-energize and re-enliven the building to position it more competitively in the newer marketplace," Ted Mallin, 62, president of the Bayfront Tower Condominium Association, said as the project commenced.
But not everyone is in accord with the decision.
Johnny Walker, 80, owner of five units that he rents, is against some aspects of the plan and the way it's being handled. In an email to other owners, he urged an individual vote on each of 11 improvements he views as discretionary.
"The common area just needs decorating and a new carpet and the dance floor sanded and revarnished," he said.
Walker, who doesn't live in the building but at Brightwaters Tower on Snell Isle, also questioned plans to renovate such areas as the fitness center, which he said is rarely used, the lobby and exterior.
"It appears to be a waste of money," he said.
Mallin, whose mother and stepfather were among Bayfront Tower's early residents, disagrees.
"My view is that as a board member, we want to do what is prudent to sustain the value and quality of life of the building, and we believe these improvements will do just that," he said.
A majority of Bayfront Tower's owners have approved the plan that includes updating the building's 1970s exterior, lobby and social areas. The the 360-degree rooftop views from the pool deck are to be enhanced with additional clear glass panels. Balconies, which will be updated to meet current codes, will get modern glass railings. In addition, many residents have chosen to install new, hurricane-resistant, floor-to-ceiling replacement windows.
The building's dated, decorative aluminum screen that veils its five-story garage also will get a new look. It's "old and tired," said Mallin, founder and president of Envision Architects, which has offices in New York and St. Petersburg. Envision will not be involved with the project.
"We're going to put up something new and attractive," he said, adding that neither the design nor updated exterior color scheme is set. "We want to make sure we are respectful of the budget of the owners so we don't have overruns."
On the more utilitarian side, the building will get a new roof, new emergency generators, boilers and fans. A number of air-conditioning systems will be replaced, and fire alarms will be upgraded and the automatic sprinkler system expanded in the garage and lobby.
The project is being financed over 10 years with a loan from Bank United and with association reserves. Mallin said owners will pay an average increase in maintenance fees of $98 a month, per unit, over the 10 years. They currently pay about $730 a month in fees.
Marguerite Dawson, 90, who has lived at Bayfront Tower since 1979, when she moved in with her late husband, said her cost will be about $130 a month.
"I love Bayfront Tower," she said.
Her concern is about the possible loss of the colorful mural in the lobby and adornments such as its chandeliers.
"I love the work … and I love the fixtures in the lobby," she said. "I think things like that are our signature and we shouldn't change them."
Mallin said the murals "will substantially remain."
"We're very early in the design," he said.
Like Walker, Dawson wondered about plans to renovate the fitness center.
"We need the roof done and we need the elevators improved," she said. "I believe in doing first things first. Those are the two main things."
Completed in 1975, the 28-story building at 1 Beach Drive SE has 255 condos, as well as commercial space. It has been home to some of the city's wealthiest and most influential residents. Former Gov. Charlie Crist lives here.
Its social status notwithstanding, Bayfront Tower has had its problems over the years. In 2003, a 2-year-old dispute about the cost of repairs led to an abrupt turnover of the association's board. A former Navy captain even challenged another condo owner to a dawn duel in Pioneer Park — Bayfront Tower's front yard.
There may have been no talk of swords this time, but Mallin acknowledged moderate dissension.
"When you have 255 owners, each of whom has an equal say about what should be done on the building, you are going to have a wide range of opinions," he said. "We sincerely believe that dissent is valuable, but at the same time, you have to make decisions and move forward."
And for the next few days, the 450-foot crane will continue its work, removing old material and mechanical equipment and hoisting into place the new.
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2283.