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  1. St. Petersburg

Altis Cardinal builds what it describes as hip, cool apartments on the edge of Historic Kenwood

South Florida developer builds 251 new apartments, bringing the total it owns in the neighborhood to 429
SCOTT KEELER | Times Workers complete a portion of the exterior of the Stone Lofts, under construction in St. Petersburg, left. In the background is the building shell of the Steel Lofts, scheduled to begin construction in April
Published Jan. 28

ST. PETERSBURG —– A 10-acre development of hip urban apartments is rising on the edge of Historic Kenwood, on grounds once associated with abandoned office buildings and behind a now-demolished derelict motel.

When complete, Altis Cardinal, the South Florida firm responsible for the metamorphosis taking place off 34th Street N, near the main post office, will have invested $100 million in the area and amassed six apartment buildings totaling 429 units.

And the company, which says it has acquired and developed more than $1.4 billion in real estate since 2009, says it is not finished.

There is, after all, another derelict motel adjacent to Altis Cardinal's sprawling development. It's next to the former Mosley Motel, where poor families subsisted week-to-week amid squalor and crime, and which Altis purchased and demolished. It replaced the motel with a self-storage building that has space for retail on the ground floor. An almost empty strip center nearby presents further expansion possibilities, as does the former Social Security building that is now a shuttered restaurant.

But Frank Guerra, founding principal of Altis Cardinal, is reticent about revealing specifics concerning his company's future investments.

"We are in active discussions to expand the campus in the immediate neighborhood, with more than one property owner," he said.

City Council member Amy Foster, who represents the area, said she is pleased with the redevelopment and what it means for the neighborhood.

"I couldn't be more thrilled with the significant investment that Altis has made in that corridor," she said. "They've been great community partners. I'm glad that news has spread about how great the heart of our city is, not just downtown."

Foster added that when the Mosley was in operation police calls in the area numbered more than 300 a year. Now, she said, ''That entire general area only had about 50 calls in the last two years."

The South Florida developer's foray into St. Petersburg's now hot apartment market began in 2012, with its purchase and subsequent renovation of the 178-unit, 12-story Skyline Fifth building. Newly renamed the Sea Glass Tower, the apartments at the time featured less than picturesque views of the rundown Mosley.

After buying the former Skyline apartments, the company began assembling nearby parcels — starting with the Mosley — and now owns a 12-acre spread bounded by 34th and 31st streets and Fifth and Third avenues N.

Leases for the first of 251 new apartments are expected to be signed in February. Renters will move into a long vacant six-story office building that's been transformed into what Altis is calling the Stone Lofts. The 1960s building features 11- and 12-foot exposed concrete ceilings. During a tour of the nearly complete building, property manager Nicole Griffith pointed to the lobby's restored tile walls. The building, which is almost complete, also has a sky lounge with floor-to-ceiling windows with downtown views.

Two other buildings, each three stories, are also ready for lease. Called the Sunshine Flats, they have 9-foot ceilings and have been built on the site of a demolished commercial building.

The second phase of construction is scheduled to begin in April. It will include a new four-story, wood frame apartment building, to be known as the Wood Flats. Work will also begin on the conversion of a second former office building that will be reborn as the Steel Lofts. The building has already been gutted, retaining its diamond shapes on the exterior walls, and promises soaring exposed steel beam-ceilings.

Guerra said it made sense to repurpose the two abandoned office buildings. "It's more environmentally friendly, which is a big deal for our millennium renters," he said.

The apartments, named collectively Elements on Third — a nod to the main entrance at Third Avenue N — are being marketed for their proximity to downtown, without downtown prices. The studios, one- and two-bedroom units will rent for about $1,100 to $1,600 a month.

Guerra touts the 10-acre apartment community's amenities, which include fitness centers, a club house and two pools — one featuring a mural by local artist Chad Mize — dog parks and pet spas with bathing tub, dryer and grooming station. He said a business center with a conference room and office services also is planned. Additionally, the Sea Glass Tower, which includes two penthouses, will undergo another renovation.

"We have a product that doesn't exist in St. Petersburg, which is 11- and 12-foot ceiling lofts," Guerra said. "In addition, we have another thing that doesn't exist in St. Petersburg, a walkable, 10-acre campus that doesn't exist in the urban core."

The units are targeted to young professionals, singles and couples, Guerra said. "It really caters to our employment centers, the hospitals and universities," he said.

If there's any doubt about who's being wooed to Elements on Third, its website gives a hint. The apartment community with its ultra-modern décor is, "On the Corner of Hip and Cool."

Contact Waveney Ann Moore at wmoore@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2283. Follow @wmooretimes.

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