DevMar Development, the company that wants to build a boutique hotel in the Edge District, has a political heavyweight on its staff.
Former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker joined DevMar as director of business development in late January, said Mark DeMaria, CEO of DevMar.
The move comes as DevMar, currently headquartered in suburban Detroit, begins to plan a headquarters move to St. Pete and switches its development focus to the Florida Gulf Coast and central Florida.
On May 2, the St. Petersburg City Council, meeting as the Community Redevelopment Agency, will consider DevMar’s proposal for an 11-story, 139-room hotel with retail and restaurant space at the southeast corner of 1st Avenue North and 11th Street North. The city’s development staff is recommending approval.
DevMar already is working on Vantage Lofts, a residential and retail project at 1st Avenue North and 16th Street in the Edge District. The company ran into some franchise utility issues and Baker stepped in as a consultant to help work through those, DeMaria said.
“He’s very passionate about urban development and we see eye to eye on how to redevelop downtowns, downtowns that want to become active,” DeMaria told the St. Pete Catalyst.
Baker is an attorney who served two terms as mayor, from 2001 to 2010. He ran for a third term in the last mayoral election and lost to incumbent Rick Kriseman.
“This allows me to be part of a group that believes the same things I do. Downtowns are important and having people living in downtown improves the quality of life in the entire city and makes downtown more active,” said Baker, who described himself as a “new urbanist.”
DevMar also has a strategic relationship with Jonathan Daou, president of Eastman Equity, which has restored at least a dozen buildings in the Edge District. DevMar bought land for the Vantage Lofts project from Daou’s EE 16th Street Holdings for $2.25 million in August 2017, according to Pinellas County property records.
“I’m very excited about being in the Edge District. It’s become one of the coolest places in St. Pete right now,” Baker said.
Baker called Daou a “catalyst” for the area.
“What attracted me was the energy and the authenticity of the Edge District, let alone St. Pete. What a great city it is,” DeMaria said. “It’s getting more traction now, but it was under-rated.”
He likes the walkability of St. Petersburg, as well as the growing population throughout the Tampa Bay area and the job creation that’s come with that. “It’s obvious to see the future ahead for St. Pete.”
The proposed hotel will have a mid-century architectural style, with large storefront windows along 1st Avenue North, 11th Street North and Baum Avenue North. The $24.5 million project will include 1,600 square feet of retail space and 1,900 square feet of restaurant space on the ground floor, with parking on the second floor, fitness and meeting space on the third floor, and most of the hotel rooms on the fourth through 10th floors. The 11th floor will have an outdoor pool and deck area and an indoor lounge.
The restaurant will be upscale and include covered sidewalk dining, buffered from 11th Street North by a generous open air garden, according to a memo from architectural and planning firm Fusco Shaffer & Pappas. The building also will have exterior artwork, with a grand mural painted on the stucco on the east wall of the parking garage.
The company has not yet announced the hotel flag, but it will be a boutique brand that allows for customization without any cookie-cutter specifications, DeMaria said. He expects it will cater to a mix of business and leisure travelers, including those who want to do a weekend trip and stay in the city.
“Because of St. Pete’s proximity to the beaches, a lot of people would like to spend their days out at the beach and their evenings in the city and enjoy the entertainment and action the city offers,” he said.
There’s plenty of room in the market for additional hotels of all types, including the upscale hotel DevMar is planning, he said.
The hotel has a working name of Edge Hotel, but DevMar is collaborating with a marketing firm on the branding process.
DevMar is actively looking at additional developments in about 10 Florida cities, mid-size and larger communities ranging from Ocala and Winter Haven to Fort Myers and Orlando, Baker said. The projects primarily would be rental apartments, with some hotels as well.
Baker, who was president of The Edwards Group from 2013 to 2018, also serves on the advisory board of Coast Autonomous, a company that makes experimental, self-driving electric vehicles for cities looking to ease their mass transit woes. He just authored his third book, “Beyond the Sunshine: A Timeline of Florida’s Past.”