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Downtown St. Petersburg's condo boom shows no signs of slowing

Construction of ONE St. Petersburg on Central at 1st St. N. in downtown St. Petersburg. DIRK SHADD | Times
Published Dec. 15, 2016

ST. PETERSBURG — Fresh from a $10.5 million facelift, one condo tower is again in high demand. Another tower, not yet finished, already is sold out with a double-digit waiting list. And a third boasts Tampa Bay's priciest residential sale this year.

Yes, St. Petersburg downtown condo boom is more torrid than ever.

"I don't see anything changing that,'' says David Traynor, vice president of developer services for Smith & Associates, which markets several towers. "People want to be within a few blocks of Beach Drive, and you go back to very limited resales and very limited future land opportunities to build anything additional as far as large high-rises go.''

Moribund until a few decades ago, Beach Drive is now crowded with restaurants, cafes, shops and hundreds of well-heeled strollers on almost any weekend night. That buzz of activity and stunning waterfront views are what led the founder of an internationally known yacht racing team to buy a penthouse at Ovation in May for $6.9 million cash, the most ever paid for a bay area condo.

But while that remains Tampa Bay's top 2016 home sale, downtown St. Petersburg's condo market overall is buoyant.

In the past six months, 18 condos have sold for $1 million or more, including two that went for over $3 million. In the same period last year, 14 sold for $1 million or more, none over $3 million.

Even more striking is how quickly many high-end condos are finding buyers. Of the luxury units sold in the last six months, seven were under contract in less than a week. A few condos never even hit the Multiple Listing Service, but were sold in private transactions to buyers who learned about them through other sources or who made such attractive unsolicited offers that the owners couldn't refuse them.

"The ones you have available are selling really fast,'' said broker Geert Benoot, who lives in the mid-rise Rowland Place condos just off Beach Drive. Although that building — whose residents include former Tampa Mayor Dick Greco — is just two years old, one unit resold for almost twice its original $450,000 price.

With Florida's peak winter selling season about to start, prices almost certainly will continue to climb, at least in the near term, as the supply of condos downtown remains so tight.

Related: How long can the good times roll for Tampa Bay's housing market for the bubble pops?

Four of Beach Drive's condo towers — Ovation, Florencia, 400 Beach and the Cloisters — don't have a single unit on the market as of this week. The 29-unit Bliss, nearing completion a block from Beach, has been sold out for months with 20 people on the waiting list, Traynor said.

The demand for condos right on Beach Drive is reviving interest in downtown's oldest condo building, the 29-story Bayfront Tower built in 1974. Once home to former Florida governor and now U.S. rep.-elect Charlie Crist, it has undergone a $10.5 million renovation that began with electrical work, improved fire protection and a new roof.

"Once we did that we started on cosmetic things,'' said Ron Salamone, president of the condominium association. That included replacing picket-style balcony railings with glass; remodeling the fitness center, ballroom and other communal areas on the 28th floor; and redoing the lobby and tunnel-like drop-off area for cars.

The most obvious improvement, though, was removing the dark, deteriorated aluminum screening that shrouded much of the lower part of the building. It was replaced with smaller, light gray panels that complement the new cream-color paint job and pale blue signage.

"Some of the owners don't like change but from people outside we have had nothing but universal acclaim as to how it looks,'' said Salamone, a Realtor. "It really has some of the best views in the city, there is nothing to block our view.''

Other agents agree that Bayfront Tower is again becoming a prime address.

"They've done a fabulous job on the renovation,'' Traynor said. "It's got a complete facelift that has definitely generated interest and higher prices per square foot.''

In the past six months, three Bayfront condos have sold for more than $1 million, including a three-bedroom, three-bath unit that went for $1.9 million in August. There was just one sale over $1 million in the same period last year.

Catty-corner from Bayfront Tower at 175 1st St. S is Tampa Bay's tallest condo tower and one of the most beleaguered — the 36-story Signature Place. After its condo association sued the developer and other parties two years ago over construction defects, sales and values plunged because banks refused to lend on Signature units.

But that could change within the next few months.

Realtor Peggy Naruns, a former association board member, said the suit has been largely settled and a check is supposed to be on the way. Once that arrives and the association can show it has enough money to pay for ongoing repairs and maintenance, the banks are expected to lift their lending ban.

In the meantime, "we're getting very good cash sales and values have gone closer to normal where they should be,'' Naruns said. "We're getting three to four showings a day on most of our products.''

Demand for condos within walking distance of Beach Drive is also boosting interest in lesser-known and more modestly priced buildings like the Walker Whitney at 226 Fifth Ave. N and The Sage at 400 Fourth Ave. S. And while downtown's condo inventory will grow over the next few years, many of the new units now under construction already are spoken for.

At 41 stories, ONE St. Petersburg at 100 1st Ave. N will be among the tallest buildings on Florida's west coast. About two-thirds of its 253 units have been sold even though they won't be ready for two years. Adding to ONE's appeal is the full-service Hyatt hotel planned for the same site.

Rising a few blocks to the south, the 74-unit Salvador is 90 percent sold.

"What's happening in downtown is so exciting,'' said Benoot, the Realtor who lives in Rowland Place. He increasingly sees clients who start out renting, then quickly decide they want to buy.

"I tell people St. Petersburg is like a virus,'' he said, "and there is no cure for it.''

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

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