Three buildings, including two built in 1920, could soon make way for a 25-story tower with 152 residential or short-term rental units near downtown St. Petersburg.
Clearwater-based Valor Capital proposed the $55 million hybrid project, called 4th and 4th in renderings. Despite objections from preservationists, City Council found the development compatible with the Intown Redevelopment Plan (IRP) at Thursday’s meeting.
The half-acre property at 332, 340 and 344 4th Street S. – near the intersection of 4th Avenue – currently consists of a two-story and three-story apartment building built in 1920 and a four-unit condominium complex opened in 2003. Attorney Don Mastry, representing the developer, noted that the century-old structures lack official historic designations.
“We’ve demolished many buildings that were more than 50 years old that were not historic for redevelopment,” Mastry said.
Manny Leto, executive director of Preserve the ‘Burg, agreed that the city code does not require officials to protect non-designated buildings. However, he said sections of the IRP instruct them to maintain historic, cultural and aesthetic integrity in redevelopment areas.
Leto added that it also highlights the importance of utilizing the city’s existing housing stock and ensuring infill developments are compatible with the surrounding neighborhood. He said a forthcoming Preserve the ‘Burg study found that 81% of St. Petersburg’s small multifamily buildings were built before 1960.
He explained that those units provide much-needed affordable housing.“Monthly housing costs for owners and renters of historic properties are lower than for renters and owners in the rest of the city,” Leto said.
“What that’s showing, in plain English, is that this existing housing stock is providing a level of affordability.”
Mastry pushed back on Leto’s assertions, which he also submitted in a letter to city officials. “If the Preserve the ‘Burg letter is correct, our downtown would have never been redeveloped,” Mastry said.
City staff and council members acting as the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) found the project consistent with the IRP. Valor Capital must contribute $550,000 to the Housing and Capital Improvement Trust Fund and receive approval from the Development Review Commission (DRC).
If approved, the ground floor will consist of a residential lobby, 4,893 square feet of commercial space and a 130-space parking garage. The hybrid service model will allow condominium owners to offer their units as short-term rentals.
Councilmember Ed Montanari questioned if that contradicts the city’s short-term rental ordinance. Zoning official Corey Malyszka said the development must operate like a hotel.
“And by definition of a hotel, you have to have onsite staff 24-7,” Malyszka added. “It cannot be a bed and breakfast; it cannot be an Airbnb.”
City attorney Michael Dema explained that “calling it a hotel directs it away from the short-term rental and transient accommodation definition, and the protections residential neighborhoods get with that.”
Malyszka said the tower will feature a 25th-floor sky bar. An uncovered plaza and covered courtyard will be visible from 4th Street and 4th Avenue.
He said corner balconies on each floor would overlook the city. Malyszka said the semi-transparent, four-story podium would display movement on the facades “that relate to 4th Street and 4th Avenue, as a metaphor of the city’s progressive and art-related spirit.”
City staff found that the building’s height and design are consistent with several other residential towers in the immediate area. Examples included The Sage on 4th Avenue South, which only encompasses 13 stories, and the 18-story Camden Pier District on 3rd Street South.
“It’s been said that as the CRA, you can just approve these projects as the DRC is going to look at them,” said resident Bill Herrmann during the open forum. “I respectfully submit that that is inappropriate. “When you turn your hat around as the city council, you have a strong voice in preserving the character of St. Petersburg.”
The project was unanimously approved, with Councilmembers Gina Driscoll, Richie Floyd and Copley Gerdes absent.