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Monday, October 30, 2006

Million-dollar St. Pete townhome plan betting on Old Northeast allure

Tampa Bay Business Journal - October 27, 2006
by Michael Hinman
Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG -- J Square Realty Associates is working with Samter Homes to develop five $1 million townhomes on the corner of Beach Drive and 11th Avenue North to be called Merecido.

The project is being proposed just ahead of zoning changes coming in March, but the developers behind the five-unit building in the midst of Historic Old Northeast say they are not looking to stand out.
The tri-level units will be 3,000 square feet and will utilize an architectural style that pays homage to the homes predating the 1960s that surround it.

"There's a lot of 1950s and 1960s vintage condominiums on this section of Beach Drive, but no one has built anything new there in a long time," said Jay Miller, president of J Square Realty. "It has a little bit more of a residential ambiance for those who are attracted to the historic charm of the Old Northeast." Hedging bets.

The developers have yet to put a price tag on the construction of the property but feel they can sell each unit for a little more than $1 million. That would be a significant change over the single-level rental units now on the site that Samter President Peter Bennett said were renting for $300 to $500 a month.

With new condominium sales continuing to drop in the region, it is risky trying to build in a climate that has been favoring buyers over sellers, Bennett said. But he believes absorption of existing inventory will be more rapid than some think.

"I lose a lot of sleep over it, but I have to believe the fact that all of the studies are saying people are moving to Florida and that they are going to need houses," Bennett said. "The marketplace is just going to be back to what it used to be a few years ago before it was inflated by investors."
Samter is hedging its bets on a few other multifamily projects as well, including the mostly complete 175-unit Villas of Carillon in North Pinellas County, a $70 million project offering 2,000-square-foot units beginning at $400,000. Samter also is getting ready to start a 52-unit project on the Anclote River near New Port Richey, also expected to sell at about $400,000 a unit.

"People aren't interested in projects that will be done 10 or 12 months down the road," Bennett said. "They want product that is going to be ready 30 days out. It's back to if you build it, you hope they come."

Staying consistent Samter and J Square are expecting to pre-sell two Beach Drive units and then market the others when the structure is finished in spring 2008.

With a lot of the St. Petersburg market is completely built out, more and more infill projects are popping up, especially in what is considered to be historic neighborhoods, said Susan Ajoc, St. Petersburg's Neighborhood Partnership director. Because of that, the city council is trying to concentrate more on maintaining the character of its neighborhoods through new zoning regulations set to be put in place by next March.
"We don't have a lot of vacant land, and we have quite a number of houses that have been in existence for a long period of time," Ajoc said. "What we want to do is make sure that what is being built is compatible with the rest of the neighborhood. The intent is to add some language to our zoning code to protect the character of our neighborhoods."

Old Northeast
The Historic Old Northeast Neighborhood, one of the oldest neighborhoods in St. Petersburg, was first built in 1911. It overlooks Tampa Bay and is home to some 9,000 people living in a mixture of home styles that range from old Mediterranean to bungalow. It's located between Fourth Street North to the bay between Fifth and 30th avenues north.

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