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GATEWAY GALLOPS

Location and amenities conjure a community.

After nearly four years of living in the Gateway, John Leanes has become used to the blank stares he receives when he tells people where he lives.

The neighborhood, long regarded as a command post for local insurance companies and banks, is one of the best-kept secrets in Tampa Bay real estate.

"I love the area," said Leanes, 59, as he power walked around Lake Carillon on a recent morning. But "I usually have to tell people I live by Feather Sound or they have no idea what I'm talking about."

That soon could be changing.

The Gateway area, near the intersection of Roosevelt Boulevard N and Ulmerton Road, is one of the fastest growing areas in St. Petersburg, according to city officials, builders and residents.

"It has all the amenities that I think a younger urban dweller is looking for. It has restaurants, nightclubs, places to work ...," said City Council member Bill Foster. "Part of its charm is that it is still undiscovered, and I think that is one of the reasons why it is still affordable."

In the past three years, townhomes and condos have sprouted here like weeds. "Build to suit" signs pepper empty lots. New additions include a Hilton, several multiuse buildings and a shopping plaza anchored by a Publix, a copy center and a wine shop.

Residents say it isn't uncommon to find co-workers meeting for a game of volleyball after hours, young professionals walking their dogs along well-manicured paths, and retirees gathering at the local bar and grill for a meal with friends.

It is a true community smack-dab in an area many have long considered an oversized business park.

"It's like living in a fancy college town where you walk everywhere and you wave hello to people as you go about your business," said Emily Lawrence, 32, an accountant who moved to the area from California with her boyfriend last year.

With much of Pinellas County built out, the Gateway represents a new frontier for retailers and corporations, according to local real estate agents.

"It has plentiful parking; it is easily accessible to the airport," said Wendy Giffin of Osprey Real Estate Services, which owns the Castille at Carillon office buildings on Carillon Parkway.

"It has opportunity because the land is there," Giffin said. "But to me it is all about location. It is centrally located between the three major cities in this region: Tampa, Clearwater and St. Petersburg."

Likewise, residents say they love the convenience of living in the heart of the Tampa Bay area.

"It's absolutely the best place to live," said Carolyn Craig, who moved with her husband, Clark, to a townhouse in the area from Snell Isle three years ago. "It doesn't take any time to get anywhere."

While the couple miss having a back yard and swimming pool, they cherish living close to everywhere they want to be.

They live across the street from their dentist and doctor. They power walk around Lake Carillon every morning or head to the fitness center at St. Anthony's Health Care Carillon Outpatient Center when they want a more vigorous workout.

The Craigs, who said they are in their early 50s, also love being near the fast-paced social life of Tampa while still enjoying a short commute to work (he in Tampa, she in St. Petersburg).

"You can hop on (Interstate) 275 and go anywhere," Clark Craig said.

But the building boom isn't welcomed by all Gateway residents, some of whom say they worry about the consequences of their secluded haven's going mainstream.

Leanes, a retired high school principal, was one of the first pioneers to move to the area three years ago, when empty lots and grassy expanses were his only neighbors, and his home on Saxony Boulevard couldn't be located on Mapquest.com.

He worries that developers have overestimated the Gateway's potential and that many of the new residential properties will stay on the market for months. He also fears overcrowding and a parking drought.

"I would kind of like it to stay as a secret, but with all this," Leanes said, pointing to a row of townhomes under construction along Lake Carillon, "I don't think it will be a secret very much longer."

Cristina Silva can be reached at (727) 893-8846 or csilva@sptimes.com.

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