1. Business

Tierra Verde business revs up with promise of hotel, strip mall upgrades and membership in Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber

TIERRA VERDE — Business activity is revving up on the island as the new owners of two significant, dilapidated properties are making upgrades.

Improvements like these are just what the city of St. Petersburg was hoping for when it annexed the commercial properties in 2008 in a controversial move led by then-Mayor Rick Baker. As their value goes up, so do the city's tax rolls.

The long-empty Tierra Verde time-share complex has been through several fumigations to clear rodents from the structures, which should be demolished within days.

"It's moving forward slower than we had hoped, but it's moving," said Joseph Gaynor, attorney for the owner, Tierra Verde Marina Resort LLC. "We have maintenance permits to redo all the docks and the seawall. We have had ongoing negotiations with potential hotel operators as well as restaurant operators, but nothing has gone to the contract stage."

Tierra Verde Marina Resort bought the defunct complex last year for $14.4 million, and plans to build and then lease a 10,000-square-foot restaurant and a 100-room hotel.

Meanwhile, TV Investment Holdings LLC bought the Tierra Verde Marina, not affiliated with the time-share complex or its new owner, out of foreclosure last year for $5 million. It is a subsidiary of Homeowners Choice, a Tampa insurance company for Floridians.

"It's a good time if you're an investor in real estate," said Jay Madhu, president of Homeowners' real estate division. "The whole (property) was fairly rundown. We've brought it up just a little bit and we'll continue to do so."

The 13,000 square feet of retail space that includes a hardware store and Re/Max Metro office has been painted and landscaped. Plans call for raising the roof about 6 feet and adding decorative columns wrapped in stone. The strip center was originally built in two phases, in 1963 and 1993. Madhu said his company is in talks to move into the vacant deli space.

Owners have added fuel tanks to the end of the boat docks so larger vessels can access them. Another forklift has been added to access boats in storage, and boaters who are members of the marina now get 50 cents off each gallon of gas bought there.

Meanwhile, the island's other businesses have become more organized after joining the Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce.

"As residents of Tierra Verde it was important for us to recognize the fact that having a viable commercial segment in our community enhances our lifestyle as well as our property value," said Mary Ann Renfrow, a Tierra Verde resident who works at the Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce.

"I think it got downtown Tierra Verde more on the map when we joined the chamber," said Colleen Mugnai, owner of the Island Grille at 1110 Pinellas Bayway S.

Yes, there is a downtown Tierra Verde. Island Grille, which serves lunch and dinner, and also breakfast on weekends with a Bloody Mary bar on Sundays, is where the Crazy Conch was. That building and two others house several restaurants, spas and service providers.

More surprisingly, Tierra Verde has about 85 businesses, according to Mike McElvogue of the Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber. "It's a lot more than would appear," he said.

That number includes about 25 businesses in the marina area just over the bridge and 25 home-based businesses, including a human resources consultant, a mergers and acquisitions firm, and a pest control company.

Since joining the chamber, Tierra Verde businesses from hair studios to insurance offices have been educated about assistance available through the county, such as training in accounting, strategic planning and social media marketing.

There used to be a Tierra Verde Chamber of Commerce, but it fizzled several years ago, Renfrow said. Since the beaches chamber offered a free one-year membership to the island's businesses, they have been invigorated. They recently distributed a business directory that they organized and printed to Tierra Verde's 3,500 residents.

Contact Katherine Snow Smith at (727) 893-8785 or