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Treasure Island's "best secret'

With no more large parcels available for huge condo developments on the beaches, the Marquesa may be typical of what's to come.

It is tucked on "the last piece of undeveloped land in Treasure Island," a gulf-front parcel behind the Ramada Inn "that people never really saw _ the best secret around," says developer Joseph Klingel. This 17-unit luxury condominium is the sort of small infill project that is likely to represent a strong segment of beach construction in the years ahead.

A wooden walkover crosses the sea oats to 196 feet of beachfront, where, on a recent sunny morning, the surf was roaring and a crisp breeze was blowing tufts of foam onto the sand while a single willet scavenged for food. On a clear day, you can see south to Egmont Key and north to Clearwater Beach.

It is, said Klingel, the sort of view that makes prospective buyers ask, "Where do I sign?"

Klingel is developing and building the project with contractor Paul J. Skipper as Treasure Island Development Corp. The two have built many other beach developments, including the Captiva Cay townhouse and condo project in St. Pete Beach.

The Marquesa, on 121st Avenue W just south of John's Pass, may be the most upscale project Treasure Island has ever seen. There are just 17 units, eight of which have been sold. They range from a three-bedroom, 3{-bath unit with 2,455 square feet of living space to a two-story, 5,360-square-foot unit with five bedrooms, 5{ baths and a wine cellar. Prices range from $495,000 to $1.29-million. The only common amenity is a pool _ and, of course, that beach view.

"It's small, quaint and upscale, with an absolutely fabulous beach, and that's what sells the project," Klingel said.

Buyers so far are all local _ from Treasure Island, St. Petersburg and St. Pete Beach _ and they are middle-aged empty-nesters, either at the pinnacle of their business careers, very newly retired or soon to be.

That puts them squarely in the middle of a demographic niche: buyers who want very high-end, luxury living without the burdens of single-family home ownership.

"These are people who are going through a renewal in their life. They're not getting older. They're renewing," said Mark Humphreys, who heads the Dallas architectural firm Humphreys and Partners and designs many upscale projects nationwide.

These are people "who are worried about moving out of a big 4,000-square-foot home and into a small, cheap-looking house, something they'd be embarrassed to show their friends," Humphreys said in a telephone interview.

There's little fear of that at the Marquesa. There are five living levels above one level of parking. Every unit has its own private entrance courtyard outside the front door. There will be Corian counter tops, cultured-marble bathroom sinks, Kohler toilets and many other high-end features, all standard. These are condos "that are as lovely as their homes," Klingel said.

One of the project's biggest selling points, Klingel said, is the individual private garages, which are purchased separately from the residential units, at prices ranging from $15,900 for a single-car garage to $39,900 for a double.

"Every unit we've sold has taken a garage," Klingel said, "and if we had all two-car garages, we would sell every one." His buyers, he said, "tend to purchase very nice autos, and they don't want their cars left to the salt and sun." There is surface parking as well.

The developers expect a groundbreaking next month and completion in a year. First Union is the construction lender.

A sales trailer is open from noon to 5 p.m. on weekends or by appointment. For more information, call Native Properties/the Marquesa at (813) 368-9339.

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