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Condo resort is back on track

Work has begun on the much-anticipated Hyatt project, a mega resort that is expected to help fill two voids on the beach: available rooms and parking spaces.

Crews last week began laying the groundwork for what will become the 150-foot-tall tower of the Aqualea Resort and Residences, a $140-million project that will include 250 condominium hotel units and 18 condominiums.

The overall project is expected to be finished in 27 months. But, city leaders say, a much-needed parking garage that is part of the development could be ready within a year.

This 750-space garage will include 400 public spaces. This is key because Beach Walk - a city revitalization initiative that includes walkways, plazas, greenery and fountains - will eat up about 500 existing public spaces beginning next year.

Word of construction starting on the Aqualea comes as many big-ticket condo/hotel projects on the beach are experiencing delays and significant changes due to a softened real estate market.

A number of old hotels and motels have been torn down or closed down in recent years to make way for the projects, eliminating thousands of available rooms.

Development on the Aqualea was supposed to begin in March, but owners NJR Development asked the city for a nine-month extension because they needed to tweak construction plans.

The Aqualea project will replace the old Glass House Apartment Hotel and Beach Place, which took up about 2 acres.

If builders hadn't broken ground on the Aqualea by Dec. 31, the project would have been scaled back by 209 rooms, according to the city.

"They've paid the bill, pulled their permits and begun the foundation work, so they're good to go," said Garry Brumback, assistant city manager.

The condo hotel units will be individually owned but primarily rented to guests. Those units will cost between $500,000 and $2-million, while the traditional condominiums will cost between $2-million and $5.5-million.

NJR Development president Neil Rauenhorst said the buyers have shown a high level of interest in the development, especially a "strong level of interest outside this geographic area and all across the Midwest."

He said the units are geared mostly for second- or third-homeowners but referred questions about actual sales numbers to David Hooks, whose marketing company represents the Aqualea.

Hooks on Wednesday said the project has done $40-million in sales, but he hadn't yet broken down how many buyers it had and what types of units were purchased.

Still, he said, sales "have been brisk and while some say the market has gone south, we say the sales have certainly supported Aqualea, and we're certainly pleased with the project."

"And now that it's under construction, we expect sales to continue, if not accelerate," Hooks said.

FAST FACTS

About the project

The Aqualea Resort and Residences is a Hyatt project located at 301 S. Gulfview Blvd., on Clearwater Beach. The resort will feature a spa and fitness center, a club, a terrace restaurant, a pool, room service and daily maid service.

Here's a snapshot of what's going in:

- 250 condo hotel units priced between $500,000 and $2-million.

- 18 condominiums priced between $2-million and $5.5-million.

- Parking garage with 750 spaces - 400 available for the public.

For more information, visit www.aqualearesort.com.

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