ST. PETERSBURG — The 5-year-old Skyway Marina District at the southernmost point of St. Petersburg appears to be hitting its stride after a plodding start.
The coming months could see construction of two large apartment communities, several restaurants and a doctors' office, all materializing on long dormant sites, including a former Kmart and nine weed-strewn acres once meant for a Home Depot.
A $75-million mixed-use project by Phillips Development is the first to get under way. One of the exterior walls of its newly opened five-story storage facility, visible from Interstate 275, is being presented as a "blank canvas" to showcase a gigantic, illuminated, animated mural.
"Part of the overall approach from the beginning was to utilize the physicality of that building to bring more attention to the Skyway Marina District and to the development itself," Don Phillips, managing director of the Tampa-based firm, said of the proposed art.
"It's a great postcard for the community."
Down the road from the Phillips Development project, which will include 296 apartments and a couple of restaurants, Ceridian's eight buildings on 34th Street S are almost fully occupied. And nearby, ContraVest Development Partners of Altamonte Springs has a contract to buy most of the Kmart site for a 308-unit apartment project.
Longtime Realtor Frank Bozikovich, who represented Phillips Development in its purchase of the Home Depot property, is enthusiastic about other prospects in the district. He said the shuttered Skyway Diner, which opened in space once occupied by Denny's, has been leased by Bayfront Health St. Petersburg for a physicians' facility.
"Bayfront has the option in the lease of demolishing the former Denny's if they feel it is more financially feasible to build their own, slightly larger facility," he said.
Bozikovich said he also brought St. Petersburg Kidney Care South to the district and has a contract for the closed Regions Bank, another 34th Street S property.
The Realtor, who lives in Broadwater, one of the Skyway Marina District's surrounding neighborhoods, is also behind the deal for the former Kmart. Mark Ogier, principal of ContraVest, said the company expects to close on the site in the second quarter of 2019, when construction will begin. St. Petersburg FL Retail LLC, which owns the property will retain a small portion of the 11.2-acre site for a restaurant, Ogier said.
ContraVest, which built the Courtney at Bay Pines in St. Petersburg and is completing the Addison on Long Bayou in Seminole, plans to build another apartment community at the Kmart site. The project will be known as the Addison at Skyway Marina.
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"What we like about the site and the Skyway Marina District is it is well located near to downtown and close to the beaches. The size of the site allows us to do surface parking and not have a parking garage," he said, adding that makes the project less expensive and will allow for competitive rents.
The property also offered the advantage of being in an official redevelopment district to which the city is committed, he said.
Another vacant property that could soon be filled is the former Ponderosa restaurant at 3800 34th St. S. Realtor Kent Rodahaver, who has lived in the area since 1986, said the building has drawn solid interest.
"We're at the present time negotiating with three different buyers. ... We really, really want to get the best fit in there. We want something that's going to be beneficial to the area, kind of like the Getaway," he said of the restaurant that opened earlier this year at Maximo Marina.
"I ultimately brokered the deal to bring the Getaway Restaurant to the district, as well as the new Waylen Bay Yacht Sales office on 37th St. S," Rodahaver said. Like the Getaway — which got the $50,000 in city incentives offered to the district's first qualifying sit-down restaurant — the sales office is also leasing space at Maximo Marina, which just completed a $25 million renovation.
Rodahaver, who sits on the Skyway Marina District's board of directors, is also a member of a committee discussing the Phillips Development art.
"It's really nice that they reached out to the community. There's a lot of traffic that travels and goes right past the Skyway Marina District," he said "I think it would be a great community awareness piece."
The artwork is expected to cost $300,000, with about $4,000 to $6,000 a year for maintenance, Don Phillips said. As the district's first mixed-use development, the completed project is eligible to receive up to $1 million in city incentives. The developer, which will put $200,000 toward the mural and $100,000 of the incentive money has been approved by the City Council for the artwork.
It was in 2016 that the company revealed its plans for former Home Depot site, but major construction will not begin until early in 2019. The storage facility was built first to provide a revenue stream, Phillips said.
"It took us about two years to get our approval from HUD," Phillips said, referring to a particular type of financing that will make the project more affordable to build. And, "You can be more aggressive with the rent," he said. A two-bedroom apartment will rent for about $1,600.
Bozikovich credits the area's progress to the creation of the Skyway Marina District and the city's accompanying stimulus.
"Without that, I can tell you, based on all of the effort and all of the work I have put in through the years," he said, "that was absolutely instrumental in unblocking the logjam."
Efforts to invigorate the area date back to 2010, when City Council member Steve Kornell, neighborhood leaders and business owners began discussing a revitalization plan. The area now known as the Skyway Marina District stretches from 30th Avenue S to 54th Avenue S, and includes businesses west, such as Maximo Marina.
"It's exciting to see the progress," Kornell said. "I think that the next frontier is more office space. I'd like to see some Class A office space and also a corporate headquarters near Ceridian. I think that would be a game changer, so we've got some housing, some entertainment, some office space, shopping. That's what makes a full district."
Contact Waveney Ann Moore at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2283. Follow @wmooretimes.