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Apartments may replace old Pet dairy

One of the area's most visible eyesores, the former Pet dairy overlooking Interstate 275 at 54th Avenue N, may soon be cleaned up.

A development company wants to buy the roughly 8-acre property, raze the old dairy buildings, and build an apartment complex. The dairy sits just outside St. Petersburg' boundaries, but Planning Director Ralph Stone said Thursday that developers plan to submit an annexation petition shortly.

Wade Cullis, a local representative for Texas-based Flagship Property Corp., said the firm hopes to start construction in March, assuming the annexation and purchase go smoothly. Annexing into St. Petersburg would allow slightly greater density than the county allows, and Cullis said the plan is for 200 to 250 units.

The developers hope to capitalize on the booming apartment market in the Gateway area. Occupancy rates around Gateway have been more than 96 percent in recent years, and the site is just minutes from the growing number of operation centers popping up in the Gateway area.

More than 100,000 drivers daily whiz past the old Pet dairy property. The blighted view is especially hard for 79-year-old Emmett Hood Jr.

For most of the past century, after all, the Hood family ran a thriving dairy operation there before they sold it to Pet Milk in 1973. After a few ownership changes, the plant has sat vacant for nearly 10 years. The current owner is Los Dairies Inc.

"It's sad, what we had there and the way it was running, to see it go downhill like that," Hood said. "It just tears at your heart."

The dairy, valued for tax purposes at $1.08-million, is not the only prominent blight at that spot. On the south side of 54th Avenue N is the old Ramada Inn, which also has been vacant for years. Though that five-story hotel constantly attracts interest from prospective developers, it sits in a morass of title and lien problems that scare most of them off.

The Ramada did get a low-tech sprucing up recently when the city spent nearly $5,800 to board it up. The bill goes to the owner.