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  1. Business

Developers want to build 300-apartment project in Channel District

Developers are raising money to build the Martin, a 24-story high-rise in Tampa’s Channel District. The $60 million tower project would have more than 300 apartments.

TAMPA — The developers of the sprawling Grand Central at Kennedy condo complex want to build even taller with their newest project, a 24-story apartment tower planned for the Channel District's northern edge.

The Martin at Meridian would house more than 300 apartments, seven floors of parking and a two-story retail building on Meridian Avenue, site plans submitted to the city this week show.

Developer Ken Stoltenberg, a director of Tampa-based Mercury Advisors, said the $60 million project would be built on 2 vacant acres of Meridian just south of Twiggs Street, on a footprint half the size of Grand Central next door.

But the tower would stretch twice as high as its neighbor and stand as one of the tallest points in the waterfront district's skyline, below the Towers of Channelside, the 30 floors of condos near Channelside Bay Plaza.

Developers are now raising money to build the high-rise, which would still face local government review, Stoltenberg said. No opening date has been set.

Fringed with palm trees, the tower would be designed in the same "art deco, modern Miami style" of Grand Central, Stoltenberg said.

But its key difference is its apartments, an attempt to join what has become one of the busiest businesses in real estate. Rental demand is booming, and crisis-era slowdowns in building have opened a big market for nice, new apartment complexes.

Apartments are nothing new in the Channel District, where young complexes like the Place at Channelside and the Slade will compete with the four stories of Pierhouse, which will begin leasing next month. But even with the competition, Stoltenberg said, downtown Tampa could use a few more apartment centers.

In 2006, Stoltenberg said he had financing ready to build the Martin as a 22-story condo tower, but the project was mothballed as the condo market crumbled.

Grand Central has filled its 72,000 square feet of offices and its condos are 75 percent occupied, but its 108,000 square feet of retail space is only half full with businesses like the Stageworks Theatre and the Powerhouse Gym.

As for the Martin's 36,000 square feet in retail space, Stoltenberg won't say who he is angling for. Boosters like Mayor Bob Buckhorn say a good supermarket is the key to unlocking downtown's potential, but the space might be a bit tight for something like a Publix, which can average closer to 45,000 square feet.

Growth in the district, including a new Channelside Academy charter middle school, has improved the district's once-desolate image. But it is still a battle to persuade the other big dogs of the retail world to settle into an untested market.

"To try to convince the big national retail companies that downtown is ready to have you, it's a tough sell," Stoltenberg said. "But we're certainly a lot closer. Five years ago, I couldn't even get them to return my calls."

Times staff writer Stephanie Bolling contributed to this report. Drew Harwell can be reached at (727) 893-8252 or dharwell@tampabay.com.

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