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Grand Central faces challenge as it turns into hot spot for new homes

Margie Manning

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A rendering of the David Weekley Homes development planned for 2800 1st Avenue South.

David Weekley Homes, the largest privately held home builder in the United States, has bought land to build a 24-unit luxury townhome community in St. Petersburg’s Grand Central District.

It’s the latest project of at least a half-dozen residential developments planned or underway in Grand Central, the Main Street District between 16th Street and 31st Street and including Central Avenue, 1st Avenue North and 1st Avenue South.

Grand Central welcomes the growth, said David Foote, executive director of Grand Central District Association.

But he also has concerns about a “wild west of development” without a master plan that would address issues impacting public spaces, such as the landscaping or sidewalks. Without that plan, it’s up to individual developers to “do the right thing” for the neighborhood, Foote said.

He said he has asked city officials to help develop a master plan, but budget issues have prevented that from happening.

New projects

David Weekley Homes paid $1.75 million for a nearly one-acre lot in an Opportunity Zone in the 2800 block of 1st Ave. S. The sale price per square foot was one of the highest land prices for the area, according to T. Sean Lance, a founding partner at Vertica Partners, a Tampa-based investment advisory firm. Vertica’s subsidiary, Vertica Commercial Advisors, represented the seller in the deal.

The Weekley development is one of several residential projects — many of them with upscale homes — planned for Grand Central.

There is new construction or new tenants coming in on virtually every block in the district right now, said Max Boehmer, a Vertica founding partner.

Other projects on the drawing board or under construction include:

• Modern Tampa Bay Homes is developing a three-unit custom loft home project at 2700 Central Ave. Each unit will be 2,121 square feet with three bedrooms, three-and-a-half baths, a two-car garage, and an elevator, according to Lisa Story of Barkett Realty, which is marketing the project. See more details here.

A rendering of the development at 2700 Central Ave. from Modern Tampa Bay Homes

• Ash Developers has started its second mixed-use project in the area, with 14 condominiums and ground-floor retail, at 2800 Central Ave.

• Driftwood on Central, a live-work development at 2875 Central Ave. from St. Pete Development Company, is sold out. So is Six Point Row, a 19-unit townhome project from Onyx + East at 2611 1st Ave. N.

• Mosaic Development’s Gallery 3100, a 122-unit apartment complex at 3100 Central Ave., at the western edge of Grand Central, is projected to open this fall. Seventeen of the apartments at Gallery 3100 will be workforce units, half  for tenants with household income at up to 80 percent of area median income and the other half will be for those with household income at up to 120 percent of area median income.

Vertica is also under contract with the buyer on another undisclosed site in Grand Central, which is expected to close in the fourth quarter of the year and provide “several dozen” more homes, Boehmer said.

‘Wild west of development’

Boehmer said demand in Grand Central has been driven by its walkability and proximity to employment, shopping, and transportation networks.

Grand Central’s vibe, along with property values and zoning, contribute to developer interest, Foote said.

“Grand Central is 20 years old and no one paid attention to it for years because you have the beach and Tampa Bay and everything has been centered around those,” Foote said. “Slowly, it’s been a wave moving up Central Avenue, starting a couple of years when I started seeing businesses migrate from downtown and Central Arts and even the EDGE District into our district.”

He welcomes new development on property that has been poorly cared for and is under-utilized.

But Grand Central, which is the largest Main Street district in St. Petersburg, also lacks a master plan that other St. Petersburg districts have, and that means there are few standards that developers must adhere to, Foote said.

“We have this wild west of development coming in and they’re doing what they want to do,” Foote said. “We have to put a lot of it on developers to be good players when they come in and develop accordingly with what we’ve got going on already, and that’s a fight. Every time it’s a fight.”

Among other things, Grand Central needs better street lighting, Foote said. Two pedestrians were killed last month crossing a dark spot in the 2000 block of  Central Ave. The district also needs a way to deal with new transportation modes such as bikes and scooters, as well as public parking and landscaping.

“These are all little fires that we deal with one by one,” Foote said. “We need to have a master plan so we can move forward with a big vision and not put out all these little fires and put it all on the developers to listen to us about the kind of shade trees they should have or the width of the sidewalk … It’s all just 100 little battles that we could easily resolve if we had an approved master plan.”

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