ST. PETERSBURG — Construction cranes in every direction. High-rises where single-story buildings once stood.
This isn't your father's St. Petersburg.
Nearly a half billion dollars worth of construction is underway or expected to start this year in the city's once somnolent downtown. Museums, apartments, condos, a new police station and a dozen other projects mark one of the biggest downtown building booms in St. Petersburg's 130-year history.
"It has transformed since I got here in 1959," says Herbert Polson, who served on the city council from 2006 to 2012. "This is what the economy has brought."
Tampa is also seeing a rush of construction but it already had a big-city vibe, making the changes less startling. In downtown St. Petersburg, street after street is becoming almost unrecognizable.
The success of Fusion 1560, which opened in 2011 even as Tampa Bay still felt the sting of recession, demonstrated the demand for modern apartments and launched the renewal of a tired stretch of Central Avenue. A few blocks away, 930 Central Flats seemingly sprang out of nowhere last year and already is at its full, six-story height. Across the street, a Miami developer will break ground Wednesday on ICON Central, a 368-unit, 15- story apartment tower that will dwarf everything around it.
That's not all.
A former parking lot on Second Avenue S is now the site of the 9-story, 326-unit Avanti, due to be finished this spring. Another Miami company has just acquired land for a 22-story, 217-unit apartment tower on Third Street S. And developer David Mack said he and his partners will seek construction bids this month for Halcyon, their 35-story, 305-unit tower across from Jannus Landing.
Those five projects will add more than 1,500 rental units to the 1,340 finished in the last three years. And while they reflect the huge interest in downtown St. Petersburg ---- "rated among the best in the South,'' Wikipedia says — they again raise the question:
Can even a trendy downtown support so many high-end apartments?
"I do think that we are getting a little bit of push back on the development side as far as new stuff getting going," said Darron Kattan, managing director of Tampa's Franklin Street brokerage. "Lenders are pulling back the reins but in the long term I think all these apartments will do very well."
With hundreds of new apartments hitting the market at the same time, Kattan acknowledges there could be some short-term challenges in filing them — Avaniti already is offering one month's free rent. But the total number of units being built in Tampa Bay is not "significantly" higher than it should be based on the formation of new households, Kattan says. And while many millennials will move to the suburbs as they start families, others will see advantages to renting in a vibrant urban area.
"Downtown St. Pete is so dynamic that in long run it will support thousands more units," Kattan said. "There's been a fundamental kind of shift of people wanting to live in the core that we have not seen since the '60s."
Developers are hardly ignoring those who want to live downtown --- but as owners, not renters.
The popularity of the Beach Drive condo towers, several of which date to the last boom, is fueling two mega projects: ONE St. Petersburg, nearing completion as the tallest building on Florida's west coast; and a 40- to 50-story tower on Central Avenue planned by billionaire New York entrepreneur John Catsimatidis.
Several smaller condo projects have been announced, too, while dozens of townhomes are going up on Fourth Avenue N and near the new $85-million police headquarters under construction on First Avenue N.
Among the many downtown projects proposed, one seems iffy.
Developer Michel Regignano has striking plans for the Bezu, a 23-story condo tower on Fourth Avenue NE next to an historic co-op apartment building where New York Yankees slugger Babe Ruth once lived. But area residents were so staunch in their opposition that a city panel rejected the proposal last month, and neighbors vow to marshal their forces again if Regignano appeals to the city council.
Polson's years on the city council took him through boom, recession and the start of the recovery. By and large, he likes what he sees happening in downtown and the rest of St. Petersburg.
"It's refreshing to me because both of my children are now married and have children and live here and utilize the amenities the city has to offer,'' he says. "They could live anywhere in the world but they want and chose to be here.''
Contact Susan Tayor Martin at email@example.com or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate
STATUS OF MAJOR ST. PETERSBURG PROJECTS
1. Museum of the American Arts and Crafts Movement, 350 3rd Ave N: Under construction, complete 2019
2. Regent Lane, 145 4th Ave. NE: 20 townhomes, under construction, complete 2018
3. BEZU: 100 4th Ave NE: 23 stories, 29 condos, announced
4. ONE St. Petersburg, 1st Avenue N and 1st Street: 41 stories, 253 condos, under construction, complete 2018
5. James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art: 100 Central Avenue: Under construction, complete this year
6. Halcyon apartment tower: 2nd Street N and 2nd Ave: 35 stories, 306 units, announced
7. Apartment tower: 211 3rd St. S: 22 stories, 210 units, announced
8. Condo tower: 3rd Street S and 4th Avenue: About 20 stories, 40-50 units, announced
9. VELA condos: 424 8th St. S: 8 stories, 23 condos, announced
10. Avanti apartments: 201 4th St S: 9 stories, 326 units, under construction, complete mid 2018
11. Condos: 519 3rd Ave S: Up to 78 units, announced
12. Mixed-use tower: 400 block of Central Ave: 40-50 stories, announced
13. ICON Central apartments: 800 block of Central Ave: 15 stories, 368 units, ground-breaking Jan. 10, complete 2019
14. 930 Central Flats apartments: 930 Central Avenue: six stories, 218 units, under construction, complete 2018
15. District on 9th townhomes: 963 Arlington Avenue N: 34 homes, under construction, complete 2018
16. Police headquarters and shooting range: 1301 1st Avenue N: under construction, complete late 2018
17. 747 North Townhomes: 747 4th Ave N: 12 townhomes, construction to start soon, complete late 2018