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Green ideas for lean wallets

Commercial and industrial developer Grady Pridgen is bidding to green his image with a proposal to build 60 environmentally efficient, affordable townhomes in Midtown.

"We intend to be the leader in affordable housing in the Tampa Bay area," said Pridgen, who has partnered with Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas County to compete for the chance to build on 3 acres behind the Johnnie Ruth Clarke Health Center on 22nd Street S.

Two other bidders have submitted proposals to build affordable units on the city's property.

Unlike Pridgen, the other bidders, St. Petersburg Neighborhood Housing Services and PSA Constructors of Orlando, suggest building modular townhomes, though these are also touted as energy efficient. The city will choose among the three in the coming weeks.

Pridgen said he "backed into" affordable housing because his business customers started asking more about housing for their workers than about real estate amenities. He said energy-efficient construction is rapidly becoming a necessity for all kinds of development.

"Yes, it costs extra, but it's not a huge number," said Pridgen, whose proposal includes reflective metal roofs, light tubes and maybe solar water heaters and photovoltaics, a solar power technology that provides electricity. "You'd be surprised how efficient you can get."

Pridgen would build 30 townhomes with two bedrooms and 30 with three bedrooms. The sales prices of $148,000 to $198,000 would fit affordability rules even without any government subsidies because of the zero percent mortgage terms Habitat can bring.

Pridgen joined Habitat's advisory board about a year ago after talking to the group about scaling up its efforts from single-family homes to complexes.

"The object is to get a lot more units built," said Barbara Inman, Pinellas Habitat's executive director. She said that other urban-area Habitat groups are doing likewise and she plans to do more large implementations in the future.

Ironically, another advisory board member is Askia Mohammed Aquil, the head of Neighborhood Housing Services. While Aquil is eager to bring his group's community knowledge and affordable-housing experience to bear on the Midtown site, he said the project will be a constructive development no matter who wins the bid.

"We believe this project will have the same positive effect Jordan Park did" when it opened in the 1940s, Aquil said.

Aquil proposes to build 47 townhomes in 11 buildings so as to not crowd the site, he said. Prices of $135,000 to $199,000 for the Neighborhood Housing Services units would still fall into the affordable category, especially after nearly $75,000 is applied from the incentive programs NHS works with daily.

The other bidder, PSA, is, like Pridgen, a commercial developer delving into affordable housing.

The African-American-owned firm is building a similar 43-unit project in Orlando's Parramore district. The 60 Midtown homes PSA would build in less than six months would cost between $209,000 and $229,000 before incentives.

"We do a lot of work with cities," said Chris Hassall, PSA's vice president. He said PSA will move its offices to the mixed-use portion of the Parramore site. "We put our money where our mouth is."

Pridgen said the environmental efficiency work he has done on the Midtown bid is influencing all his other developments. He said the residential portion of his Sod Farm project is being redesigned to be greener, as is the mixed-use project he plans across First Avenue S from Tropicana Field. Both projects will start next year, he said.

"I've been green since I was a little kid," Pridgen said. "I've just never been in a position to do anything about it before."

Paul Swider can be reached at 892-2271 or pswider@sptimes.com or by participating in itsyourtimes.com.

FAST FACTS

Pridgen-Habitat proposal

60 townhomes

30 @ 2 BR/1 BA, 900 square feet for $148,000

30 @ 3 BR/1.5 BA, 1,200 square feet for $198,000

Neighborhood Housing Services proposal

47 townhomes

22 @ 2 BR/1.5 BA, 1,020 square feet for $135,000

14 @ 3 BR/2 BA, 1,260 square feet for $167,000

11 @ 3 BR/2.5 BA, 1,500 square feet for $199,000

PSA Constructors proposal

60 townhomes

All @ 3 BR/2 BA, 1,310 square feet for $209,000 to $229,000

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