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Sprawling Gateway project clears hurdle

(ran East, South editions)

The city gave the initial go-ahead Wednesday to a plan that developer Grady Pridgen estimates will cost $300-million and could bring 10,000 jobs to the city.

Pridgen, who has developed or has plans for several high-profile projects in St. Petersburg, intends to build 2.6-million square feet of office space, manufacturing space, warehouses, commercial outlets and hotel rooms at a site known as the "Sod Farm."

Pridgen bought the land from the city for $4.9-million in October 2002 and also purchased an adjacent parcel nearby. The project site covers about 133 acres and is located in the Gateway commercial district on 28th Street N between 94th and 102nd avenues.

The Environmental Development Commission, a city board that handles site plan reviews, variances and other development issues, unanimously approved the project Wednesday. Pridgen was required to go before the EDC because of the project's massive size.

Pridgen said he hopes to start preparing the site for construction early next year but said it could take a decade to complete the entire development.

He said he is negotiating with prospective tenants but would not name them. He anticipates being able to start leasing space in about two years.

City staffers recommended approval of the project, and the EDC passed it with no discussion or public comments.

"I can say that this is one of the bright stars in our city's future," EDC chairman Michael Van Butsel said. (CASE No. SPR-03-022 IB-P I-50&I-52)

In other business:

+ The EDC approved a site plan and special setbacks for townhouses on Park Street in the Jungle Prada area. The seven townhouses will be built next to Saffron's restaurant, 1700 Park St. N, on the shore of Boca Ciega Bay.

Developer Joe Klingel, who owns the land, said the four-story townhouses will have about 4,000 square feet each and cost between $1-million and $1.2-million. (CASE No. SE-03-024 RS-100, RSE-Pres S-12, T-12)

+ The commission voted to allow outdoor sales at a produce market next to the Coquina Key Shopping Center. The market currently operates inside an old gas station and asked to display produce and other items outside.

The owner also plans to improve the property with landscaping, fencing and better traffic flow. (CASE No. SE-03-026 CG F-23)

+ The commission approved the construction of a one-story parking garage at Carlton Towers apartments on Third Street S. The building is being converted to condominiums.

"There is indeed a renaissance in downtown St. Petersburg and our people and our building want to be a part of that," said William Davenport, who represented the building owners at the EDC.

But he said they can't compete with other projects unless they get more parking.

The building was constructed in 1963 and geared toward elderly residents who were not dependent on cars. (CASE No. SPR-03-020 CBD-2 E-3)

_ Information from Times files was used in this report.

What is the EDC?

The Environmental Development Commission is a citizens board that meets the first Wednesday of each month to review large development projects. The board reviews and approves site plans and has the power to grant exceptions to city codes for elements of projects that do not conform. Decisions of the commission can be appealed within 10 days to the City Council. After approval, the petitioner has the city's permission to go forward, although further scrutiny may be required by other governing agencies.