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St. Pete council members okay controversial Bezu/Blue Lotus condo tower

Reendering of proposed Bezu/Blue Lotus condo tower planned for downtown St. Petersburg. [Courtesy of Architectonics Studio]
Reendering of proposed Bezu/Blue Lotus condo tower planned for downtown St. Petersburg. [Courtesy of Architectonics Studio]
Published Apr. 4, 2019

ST. PETERSBURG — The developer of the star-crossed Bezu/Blue Lotus condo tower cleared a major hurdle Thursday when City Council members approved the $11 million project.

The 5-2 vote marked the final time a city panel will consider the oft-revised plans for the tower at Fourth Avenue N and First Street. Three lawsuits are pending, meaning judges likely will have the final say on whether it ever gets built.

"We're very pleased,'' developer Michel Regignano said after the vote. "We always believed the law was on our side. What is troubling and what we really hope the city will address is the idea that citizens and neighbors have rights that extend beyond the rule of law.''

William Herrmann, a resident of the historic Flori de Leon apartments next to the tower site, said opponents will press ahead with their lawsuit because they think the project remains incompatible with other buildings in the area.

"We have something that's 25 percent Mediterranean revival on the bottom and 75 percent contemporary on the top,'' he said.

Since it was announced in 2017, what was first called Bezu and renamed Blue Lotus has bounced between city panels. Both the Development Review Commission and the council rejected the original plans, which called for a tower nearly 300 feet tall with 29 units. The developer scaled back the building to 19 stories, winning approval from the review commission but rejection from the council sitting as the Community Redevelopment Agency in December.

After that vote, the lower part of the tower facing Fourth Avenue N was redesigned to look more like the Flori De Leon, which was built in the 1920s. The current iteration of Blue Lotus shows balconies, windows meant to resemble storefronts and awnings to shield pedestrians from the sun.

The revisions "will visually reduce the building's height,'' architect Joseph Lacki told the council, sitting Thursday as the Community Redevelopment Agency once again. "We hope you feel that these changes have greatly improved the project.''

However, Emily Elwyn, president of the organization Preserve the 'Burg, criticized what she called "fake ornamentation and a false compromise.'' Other opponents blasted the tower as too big for its small site — one man noted that the lot can be mowed in an hour with a push mower.

Council member Darden Rice said she thought the developer had done a good job of making the tower fit in better with its neighbors and appear more pedestrian friendly at street level. But, she added, "there do seem to be two different styles between the bottom and the top. The top is more modern.''

Rice and Steve Kornell were the only two votes against the project. Gina Driscoll voted "no' in December but switched to a "yes'' Thursday.

"The scale and mass do seem a lot but it is within the boundaries we set for developers in that area,'' she said. "At this point, with this very different design, I think this is as good as it's going to get.''

Times staff writer Waveney Ann Moore contributed to this report. Contact Susan Taylor Martin at smartin@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate.

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