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Thumbs up for new look

One of the two new condominium towers planned for Beach Drive got its first city approval last week.

The Environmental Development Commission unanimously voted for the $70-million, 30-story project, which will go up at 300 Beach Drive NE and replace the Beach Park Motel. EDC Chairman Douglas Robison cast "an enthusiastic yes."

"This is an extremely exciting project for St. Petersburg," City Planner John Hixenbaugh said. "The project has a lot of merit. We have heard only positive feedback."

The mixed-use development will include 120 condominium units, 32,000 square feet of office space, retail stores and a restaurant.

Opus South Corp. announced the project in January and hopes to start it by year's end. Last month, the same developer unveiled plans for another condo tower in a separate project on the adjoining 400 block of Beach Drive. In that case, the developer is stepping in to build where a different condo project failed to get off the ground.

The 300 block project, the one approved Wednesday, is a 2.4-acre site that presently contains the two-story Beach Park Motel and a parking lot surfaced with shells. If the project is approved by the City Council, the motel would be demolished.

Here is what will take its place:

n A 30-story residential tower containing 90 condominium units accessed from a parking court on Third Avenue N.

n Two parking structures, one east of the tower for employees of adjacent retail stores and restaurant customers using valet parking services and a second structure west of the residential tower reserved for condominium residents.

n Two- and four-story structures surrounding the parking buildings containing street-level retail spaces, second floor offices, 30 third- and fourth-floor residences, and townhouses.

n Townhouses along First Street NE lining the face of the western parking structure and screening it from the adjacent neighborhood.

"To have a project of this size without asking for variances or street vacations is terrific," said Timothy Baker, president of the North Downtown Neighborhood Association. "We hope this serves as a model for what we have in the future along Beach Drive."

The Commercial Business District project is designed to encourage a mix of residential and commercial uses as well as compatibility with pedestrians. The complex will establish "a natural pedestrian link between BayWalk and Beach Drive," according to Opus South, the Tampa-based project developers.

Sculptures, fountains and murals will be incorporated throughout the site with a "primary piece of art" serving as a focal point at the outdoor entry plaza. Opus said some of these art pieces may be commissioned work of local artists to reflect a "whimsical" view of Florida lifestyle.

The developers plan landscaping accents such as date palms along Third Avenue and Beach Drive. Sidewalk planters would include jasmine, Indian hawthorne and seasonal annuals.

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