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Developer requests $14.8 million for Raytheon site project

Mark Parker

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The proposed Azalea Gateway project would bring 1,000 housing units to west St. Petersburg. Renderings courtesy of Arc3 Architecture.

Plans for the embattled, 29-acre former Raytheon Technologies site in west St. Petersburg have changed for at least the third time in three years.

A local developer now hopes a proposed public-private partnership will see the project, dubbed Azalea Gateway, to fruition. The development could eventually feature 1,000 mixed-income apartments at 1501 72nd St. N.

However, funding remains an issue. Azalea Porter Land LLC, led by Les Porter, now seeks $4.9 million from the city and $9.9 million from Pinellas County to begin the project’s first phase.

“By financially supporting our efforts with Azalea Gateway, we are working together to address the housing crises and ultimately will be adding 300 affordable homes for people in our community,” Porter said in a prepared statement sent to the Catalyst.

Rents

According to a city application submitted June 10, just 48 of the 320 units built during the first phase would fall under the “affordable” category, with an 80% area median income (AMI) limit. The document states that those monthly net rents would range from $1,305 to $1,808.

The $104.6 million first phase would include another 48 workforce housing units for those earning up to 120% of the AMI. Those monthly rents range from $1,791 to $2,712. The remaining 224 market-rate apartments would feature monthly rents between $2,051 and $3,261.

“As our city grows, it is crucial that we ensure our teachers, first responders, hospitality workers and others have access to safe and affordable living options,” Porter said. “In order to do that, we need public-private partnerships.”

The first phase would provide 48 affordable homes for those earning up to 80% of the area median income.

Previous proposals

Despite decades of contamination issues, Porter purchased the expansive property southwest of Tyrone Square Mall in 2021 for $10.5 million. He initially envisioned building housing, a lagoon and a sports complex.

The city council approved those plans in February 2021. Forward Pinellas, the county’s planning agency, voted against the project and associated land use changes the following month.

Porter scrapped the lagoon and sports complex and presented a revised project – once expected to welcome guests later this year – in July 2023. After three hours of ardent debate, council members unanimously approved the proposed $200 million, 1,058-unit mixed-income development.

More than 60 residents opposed the updated plans at the meeting, while 13 favored its approval. An online petition garnered over 1,400 signatures.

“The city funds will be a critical part of the capital stack to make this project a reality,” Porter wrote in the recent application.

Contamination

Extensive environmental remediation efforts began after Raytheon purchased the property in 1995. Mark Van Lue, housing development manager for the city, explained that the developers could not utilize groundwater.

The site also has stormwater management restrictions, and Van Lue said the developer must implement vapor barrier controls beneath living spaces. “As part of our due diligence, as we go through this application process with them, we’ll learn more about that,” he added.

The application states that environmental reviews will continue, and issues remain following a “Phase One” assessment in March 2021. Azalea Gateway is approximately a quarter mile from school, grocery store and transit line.

A submitted site plan for Azalea Gateway. Screengrab, city documents.

Approval?

Van Lue said there is no timeline for funding approval. He noted that it would likely take “some level of assistance” from the city and county “to make the project pencil out.”

“There will be a review, study, discussions and negotiating in terms of what they’re providing and what the sort of return on investment would be for the city,” Van Lue said. “And ultimately, we’ll get to a place where we either can’t support what they’re asking for, or we may arrive at some level that the mayor and administration feel is reasonable and supportable.

“But we’ll have to see how that negotiating period comes out.”

The submitted site plan shows each of the first two phases featuring three buildings with 320 units, a pool, a clubhouse, a leasing office and a parking garage. However, wraparound surface lots will account for 1,081 of 1,174 total spaces.

The site plan did not illustrate Azalea Gateway’s final phase. It shows a nine-acre vacant space. “Each phase of the project will take approximately two years to complete construction … for a total of six years from beginning construction to full lease-up,” Porter wrote in the application.

The developer stated Azalea Gateway will “deliver a huge amount of much-needed housing supply to the St. Petersburg market.” Van Lue agreed with that sentiment.

“I do think it would make a dent in our efforts to … help get the prices and costs down so that people can afford to live here in St. Pete,” Van Lue said of potentially adding 1,000 mixed-income units to the city’s inventory. “On a project of this size, as you can imagine, it’s going to be that will take some time, and we’ll have a lot of discussions, analysis and things we’re going to need to do.”

5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Phillip Ten

    July 5, 2024at7:28 am

    I love the mention of “affordable” units, “affordable” for who?
    I imagine someone looking for a nice profit who has the money to invest in such a project would think these prices at $1300 to $1800 are “affordable”.

    From the article
    “just 48 of the 320 units built during the first phase would fall under the “affordable” category, with an 80% area median income (AMI) limit. The document states that those monthly net rents would range from $1,305 to $1,808.”

  2. Avatar

    Terri Wright

    July 4, 2024at5:30 pm

    Can this developer guarantee to families that in 10, 20 or 30 years that the health of the renters will be good. Why should we as a community have to worry about what the impact is going to be on traffic, sewage and water that this is going to bring. If he bought the land to develop and unfortunately it looks like he’s going to, why should the people have to help him with expenses.

  3. Avatar

    Steven Brady

    July 4, 2024at2:36 am

    Whenever you see quotes like this, hold onto your wallet. Mention affordable housing, which is a terrible idea for government to be involved in, but sounds really virtuous and caring, and people will agree to the most ridiculous proposals. They don’t even look at the facts or the economics of the deal. Because the supporters probably can’t figure out the truth or the numbers. And are relatively easily tricked by sound bites. Unfortunately.

    Safe living options? What housing in St. Petersburg is not safe? The whole concept that people are living in unsafe housing is ridiculous.

    It’s like politicians wrapping themselves in the US flag. Talk about left-wing populism… now brought to you by profit driven real estate developers. Not that there’s anything wrong with profits…

    “As our city grows, it is crucial that we ensure our teachers, first responders, hospitality workers and others have access to safe and affordable living options,” Porter said. “In order to do that, we need public-private partnerships.”

    I am paying for a regular house about $1000 a month in property tax. $12,000 a year essentially. For a home built in 1958. Why not talk about reducing the local tax burden? And whether taxpayers are getting what they are paying for.

  4. Avatar

    VLH

    July 3, 2024at10:57 am

    Wish everyone had been this diligent about “discussions, analysis and things we’re going to need to do”, with the Hines Land Grab deal.

  5. Avatar

    Rbruce

    July 3, 2024at10:16 am

    Not one penny for private development. Tell Porter to find some way else to get rich.

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