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NY developer expects to break ground on downtown St. Pete project this year

Margie Manning

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A two-acre vacant parcel at 4th Street and Central Avenue, just a block from the Tampa Bay Times building

Red Apple Group expects to spend $250 million to $300 million on its planned 50-story condo and hotel development at 400 Central Ave. in downtown St. Petersburg.

Red Apple Group owner John Catsimatidis (Credit: Wikipedia)

“We hope to have a shovel in the ground in the next few months,” John Catsimatidis, founder of the New York-based development company, told St. Pete Catalyst in an interview Friday. “We’re in discussions with the city and willing to cooperate with them.”

“We have been discussing their plans at the planning and zoning level,” said Alan DeLisle, city development administrator. Nothing official has been filed yet, he said.

The project has been highly anticipated. Red Apple paid $16.5 million for the land in 2017, according to Pinellas County property records. The  site previously was home to the Pheil Hotel, demolished in 2016, and it’s been vacant since then.

Why pull the trigger on the project now?

“We just finished our Coney Island site [a residential development] and needed something to do,” Catsimatidis said.

A growing population in downtown St. Petersburg, a vibrant business community and a scarcity of available land in the heart of downtown make it  feasible, real estate developers have said.

A rendering of the Red Apple Group’s proposed development at 400 Central Ave. in downtown St. Petersburg

The company lifted the veil on the project Thursday, with a full-page ad in the New York Times, describing the structure as one of the tallest in western Florida. ONE, a 253-unit condo development with a hotel that just opened at 100 1st Ave. N., is 41 stories, while Riverwalk Place in downtown Tampa is 52 stories.

Some critics have said that tall buildings will take away the vibe of the city, but at a State of the Economy presentation last week, Mayor Rick Kriseman said the city needs density and height in order to keep growing.

“My progressive friends need to understand that height done properly is a good thing. A skyline can be our friend,” Kriseman said last week.

Red Apple will comply with Federal Aviation Administration requirements on height, Catsimatidis said.

The New York Times ad said the project would include luxury condominium residences, designed by Arquitectonica, an international firm headquartered in Miami. The ad also said there would be an exclusive full-service boutique hotel and event space.

“We’re talking to some of the major hotel chains that want to be in St Pete,” Catsimatidis said.

He also anticipates ground-floor retail, featuring smaller stores that reflect the pulse of the city, he said.

This is Red Apple’s first project in St. Petersburg, although the company bought the now-defunct Florida-based Pantry Pride grocery chain more than 30 years ago.

Catsimatidis’ wife is from St. Petersburg, so he calls himself a Floridian by default.

“I want to do something that we are all proud of,” he said.

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