Historic clock in downtown St. Pete keeps time once again as an $118-million apartment project nears completion

The first tenants will start moving into ICON Central in July
Published June 4

ST. PETERSBURG — For decades, folks near downtown St. Petersburg kept time by the stately clock on Central Avenue near Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street N.

Lettering over its ornate face proclaimed: "The bank of friendly service Union Trust Company.''

The bank is long gone, and for a quarter of a century, the hands on the clock stood still. But they are working once again, marking time until the first tenants begin moving into the 368-unit ICON Central apartments in July.

The $118-million project, which takes up an entire city block, resembles a grand resort hotel with its large courtyard open to a palm-lined stretch of Central. In a nod to a bygone era, the developer, Miami's Related Group, preserved part of the bank building and spent around $30,000 to restore the clock and move it to the corner of Central and King Street.

"It was really important to keep the historic feel of the original building along with the clock,'' said Jessica Suarez, Related's vice president of development.

The building dates to 1926, the height of St. Petersburg's first big real estate boom. M. Leo Elliot, a Tampa architect whose credits included the old Tampa City Hall, Centro Asturiano and the Italian and Cuban clubs of Ybor City, designed the building with Beaux Arts elements including a "garland'' around the arched main entrance.

The bank failed in 1930, but reorganized and billed itself as the only local financial institution to survive the Great Depression. Eventually, it became the largest state-chartered bank in Florida. Tellers worked behind brass cages in the ornate, cherry-paneled lobby, and a marble staircase led to the huge vault in the basement.

The building on the 800 block of Central became vacant when Union Trust's successor, Nation's Bank, moved out in 1996. Eight years later, the city designated the building a historic landmark and began marketing the block for redevelopment as a way to connect downtown with the Edge and Grand Central Districts.

"A missing tooth in the city's smile,'' is how Mayor Rick Kriseman described the long-empty stretch of Central.

Related paid just under $9.2 million for the block three years ago and broke ground in late 2017. Leasing is underway for the apartments, which range from $1,850 for a studio to about $4,000 for a three-bedroom unit. Among the amenities are a fitness center, a yoga studio, a Zen garden and a roof-top terrace with cabanas and outdoor kitchen.

ICON Central also includes retail space at both ends of the block. The east end likely will have a casual restaurant with access to the pool deck. On the west end, where it preserved a 15,000-square-foot, three-story section of the original bank building, Related envisions a fine-dining restaurant and bar reminiscent of a 1920's speakeasy. Other space could be used for co-working.

"We’re not just picking tenants for us, we're picking tenants for the neighborhood,'' Suarez said. "ICON is, no pun intended, the iconic bank building and we want to make sure we find the right tenants that complement the neighborhood.''

Contact Susan Taylor Martin at smartin@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate.