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Downtown tower gets new name, renovations

The blue, mirrored tower on Central Avenue downtown, former home of now-defunct Florida Federal Savings and Loan, has a new name and is about to get $2-million in renovations.

The new name is First Central Tower, a change from Bankers Financial Center. Bankers Insurance Group, which bought the building in 1992 for $5.4-million, will remain a tenant. Its name, however, was replaced by the current owner, Osprey S.P. Properties LLC.

Bankers sold the building at 360 Central Ave. to Osprey in December 2001 for $17.4-million. Osprey, based in Sarasota, owns, manages and leases what it describes as Class A office space.

Osprey announced recently it is beginning $2-million in renovations on First Central Tower that will be done in three phases: a redesign of the outside area at Central Avenue and Fourth Street N, lobby renovations and improvements on each floor as warranted.

Blimpie's will remain in the building on the ground floor but move to the Central Avenue retail space, according to Kimberly B. Kendrick of Osprey Management Co. LLC.

"There will be a dramatic difference in both the streetscape and the lobby," Kendrick said. "Both will be opened up, offering easy accessibility. We're relocating the entrance to the front of the building _ Central Avenue. Brick pavers will replace the concrete on the street level."

Kendrick said the ceiling in the lobby will be raised and the finishes lightened.

"The total effect will create a much more pedestrian-friendly environment."

The 17-story building, an irregular octagon, began life as the Florida Federal Tower. The savings bank did not own the building but was the premier tenant for the new high rise. Construction started in 1983. It was a $26-million project seen by many as the beginning of downtown redevelopment. The tower was an important addition, but downtown's real rebirth didn't start until a decade later.

Florida Federal Savings and Loan was the third thrift chartered in the nation in 1933. Nearly 60 years later, it was one of the many S&Ls taken over by regulators during the savings and loan crisis. First Union, which now is Wachovia, bought the Florida Federal remains from the Resolution Trust Corp. in 1991.

Bankers Insurance takes up a chunk of the building, which is fully leased, Kendrick said. Space is available in subleases. Other tenants now in First Central Tower are IMSG, an insurance company; Science Application International Corp.; and the law firm Abbey, Adams Byelick, Kiernan, Mueller & Lancaster L.L.P.

The tower is Osprey's first major acquisition in St. Petersburg's downtown. Kendrick said the company decided to buy in St. Petersburg because of the downtown redevelopment.

"We did our research and found out St. Petersburg is up and coming," Kendrick said. "And that is where we wanted to be."

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