Developer Blake Whitney Thompson dropped plans for restoring the Masonic Temple in downtown St. Petersburg and instead will build a 20-story, 51-unit condominium building on the site.
The Blake Building at 114 4th St. S. is intended to provide an ownership opportunity downtown to working professionals, including new residents to the city who have moved here from other parts of the country.
The project will cost about $40 million, according to site plans Thompson submitted to the city on Monday. In addition to condos, it will have 111 enclosed parking spaces, 58 bicycle spaces and 10,400 square feet of ground-floor commercial space. It will be designed for a post-Covid market, said Thompson, who is founder and CEO of Blake Investment Partners.
“I wanted to focus on a very sophisticated building from a technological perspective and I wanted to build a very healthy building from a fitness perspective, with a big outdoor space for everyone,” Thompson said.
He hopes to start site work in the fall and begin construction in January. He said he has strong capital partners so he won’t need to seek financing. He’s skipping the pre-sale phase and will move right into construction. Even in the design phase, 15 people already have told him they want to buy a unit.
The Masonic Temple was built in 1955 and served as an assembly hall for the Masons in the 1960s and 1970s. Thompson bought it in October 2017 for $2.5 million. He bought an adjoining property, a former Regions Bank drive-thru, one year later for $890,000
“I tried for the last couple of years to figure out a way to retrofit the Masonic lodge and I just couldn’t do it. The costs to do it were huge, it’s really ugly and there’s nothing historic about it,” he said. “It costs more to renovate it than it costs to tear it down and build again … Then Covid put an arrow through the heart of an idea of an event hall.”
The Masonic Temple building will be razed, but part of it may live on in the Blake Building. Elements of the marble storefront of the existing building will be salvaged or replicated into the storefront of the new building along both street-fronts, the site plan said.
Thompson is working with renowned architect Joseph M. Antunovich, founding principal and president of Antunovich Associates in Chicago.
“I think it’s time to elevate the architecture in St. Pete and to make these buildings 100-year buildings,” Thompson said.
He’s also working with Red Bison, a Bellevue, Washington-based tech firm.
The Blake will be one of the first post-Covid buildings, with touchless technology and the ability to control everything from the residents’ phones, from elevators to opening doors to package delivery. Red Bison will update the building from a tech perspective every three to five years, he said.
The first floor of the building will have floor-to-ceiling glass to highlight the commercial space and to engage pedestrian sidewalks along 4th Street South and 2nd Avenue South. There will be three floors of parking above the ground floor lobby and commercial space, with the 51 condos occupying floors five through 20.
Condos will range from 1,500 to 2,500 square feet each, with large balconies for outdoor spaces. Most will be two bedroom, two bath units with a den. Some condos will have three bedrooms and three bathrooms with a den. There will be a penthouse unit as well.
The building will have a pool, a workout facility with Peloton equipment and a temperature-controlled wine cellar. The project also will include trees and indigenous plants on the streetscape landscaping.
Thompson hasn’t yet announced prices for the Blake condos. He’s working with Compass, one of the largest real estate brokers in the country.
While there’s a lot of focus on affordable housing in downtown St. Pete, there’s also a market for the high-end project Thompson is planning, he said.
“In no way is this to diminish the need for affordability. But the high rents make it very compelling to own something if you are a working professional or a family of working professionals and you are blessed to have income that can support a higher-end project. For those people there haven’t been enough units built that people could buy and there certainly haven’t been enough units built post-Covid with all of these out-of-towners moving in to satisfy them,” Thompson said.
The building is located in an area zoned for various residential and commercial uses. Thompson is asking for streamlined approval of the site plan and a variance that would allow the drive aisles in the parking garage to be 22 feet wide, instead of the required 24 feet.
In order to maximize the density of the project, Thompson has agreed to provide financial support for the city’s affordable housing fund and to buy transfer of development rights from a locally designated landmark. Purchasing TDR’s prevents historic properties from being demolished.
He also plans to donate the Masonic Temple sign to a local Masonic Lodge.