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Investors buy beach landmark

A group of Swedish investors that has been buying bay area property has also purchased a Pinellas County tourist attraction and received an important commitment from the city of Tampa to build a downtown skyscraper. City Towers of Florida Inc. paid a Virginia developer just under $3-million for Tiki Gardens, an Indian Shores landmark for over 25 years.

Meanwhile, Tampa alloted the company rights to 585,000 of the 2.2-million square feet of office space that became available when the City Council last month approved the third phase of its downtown master plan.

City Towers, a Tampa-based real estate company, is headed by Bo Grektorp. Grektorp is the former chief executive officer of the company developing Cheval Polo & Golf Club, an upscale Hillsborough County residential development.

Grektorp said he is not in a hurry to build the tower. He said he would first proceed with the design of the project, obtain the necessary approvals and then decide when to build.

"We go on in at our own speed as if we were the only ones in the market," he said.

Grektorp said his company, financed by Swedish real estate investors, will pump more than $5-million into Tiki Gardens. He declined to provide details of what he termed a redevelopment of the site.

But the founder of Tiki Gardens, Frank Byars, said that Grektorp told him he would build a 100-unit hotel on the site and renovate the restaurant.

City Towers purchased Tiki Gardens last week from Virginia developer Curtis Rudolph, who had acquired it in a foreclosure sale in May.

Rudolph had loaned two Australians $1.6-million to buy Tiki Gardens from Byars. The Australians, Neville Schmidt and Neville Roder, had purchased the attraction from Byars for $3-million in cash and opals, a semi-precious gemstone.

But when Schmidt and Roder stopped making payments, Rudolph foreclosed on the mortgage. He took title to the property in May. The foreclosure action wiped out a $650,000 second mortgage that Byars, 79, held on the property.

In Tampa, Grektorp had applied in September for a space reservation under the downtown development plan. He was placed on a waiting list, however, because most of the space under the second phase of the plan had been reserved by other developers. At least two of the developers, Paragon Group and Swire Properties, have reserved space but failed to use it.

Grektorp said that he would be pushing ahead with his project despite the weak commercial market in downtown Tampa.

"I think it's weak, but everything is cyclical and Florida continues to grow," he said. "Judging from the situation now, things have got to get better."

Grektorp said he is not in a hurry. He said he would first proceed with the design of the project, obtain the necessary approvals and then decide when to build.

"We go on in at our own speed as if we were the only ones in the market," he said.

Grektorp said his location at Ashley, Twiggs and Tampa streets and the financing by Swedish investors gives him a jump on his competitors in the office market. Some of his competitors, including the Paragon Group, which plans to build Tampa's tallest skyscraper, have had trouble obtaining financing for their projects. The architect for Grektorp's building said it could be as tall as 37 stories, but the design is not final.

Four skyscrapers, including Paragon's, have been planned for downtown Tampa, but so far only one is under construction. No tenants have yet been announced for that building.

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