Frank Bozikovich, a sales associate with Commercial Partners Realty Inc., likes a challenge.
That’s why, after playing a key role in the turnaround of St. Petersburg’s Skyway Marina District, he’s turned his attention to Union Central, the newly established district that runs along 34th Street from 22nd Avenue North to 3rd Avenue South in St. Pete.
Union Central has been portrayed inaccurately as a low-income area, Bozikovich said, similar to the perception a few years ago of Skyway Marina District to the south.
While there are some rundown buildings and vacancies in Union Central, the area has great demographics, he said. He’s already done a couple of small deals in Union Central and hopes to do more.
“I feel excited by this. Not that I’m done with the Skyway Marina District, but the heavy lifting there is done. I can see now what’s going to happen. There’s more I’m going to do, but in terms of new challenges, I wouldn’t mind tackling a new area,” Bozikovich said.
For the past several years, Bozikovich has focused on the Skyway Marina District, the area along 34th Street South from 30th Avenue South to 54th Avenue South. Bozikovich lives in the district and has been working for at least a decade to bring new residential and commercial projects to the area. His efforts got a boost after the election of Mayor Rick Kriseman, who put a laser focus on the district, calling it “a cradle of opportunity.”
In 2015, one year after he was elected, Kriseman and I took a drive through the district. The mayor pointed out many assets, including $1 million waterfront homes and the 10-minute drive to downtown St. Petersburg. He also pointed out a vacant nine-acre parcel at the north end, where Home Depot had once planned to build a store. We drove a few blocks south to a boarded-up K-mart that closed in 2009.
Bozikovich has had a hand in transforming both those sites. He represented Phillips Development, which bought the Home Depot site in February 2017 for $4.2 million. Phillips has built a storage facility on the site to serve as a sound buffer for Interstate 275, and currently is building Sur Club, with 296 apartments. Bozikovich now is scouting for upscale restaurants for the outparcels on the site.
Bozikovich also represented the K-mart owner, who sold the property in July for $8.8 million to ContraVest Development Partners. ContraVest is building The Addison at Skyway Marina, a 308-unit Class A apartment community.
He’s currently working on the sale of the Bay Breeze Motel at 3900 34th St. S., which is expected to sell in April or May. The buyer plans to demolish the existing structures and build a 65-unit apartment complex, with “affordable” rentals.
One month ago, Bozikovich listed an 11,189-square-foot office building at 2861 34th St. S., just north of the official district boundaries. The site has attracted strong interest, he said. “This is going to be new blood, new investment coming into the district,” Bozikovich said.
Most of the office space in the district is leased, with the 2919 vacancy rate just 1.9 percent. Retail space was even tighter, a slim 0.22 percent in 2019, according to the city’s recent State of the Economy presentation. It was the first year the city broke out statistics for Skyway Marina, a sign that the District has come into its own, Bozikovich said.
Wealth of contacts
It takes someone like Bozikovich with vision to put up with the naysayers, said Glen Stygar, acquisitions director for Phillips Development in Tampa.
When Bozikovich first showed the Home Depot site to Stygar about five years ago, his first thought was, “tumbleweeds.”
No one wanted to go there, Stygar said, but “to me it looked like a good opportunity, seeing what was going on in downtown St. Pete.”
Phillips started construction on Sur Club in November, and expects to complete the project in the spring of 2021.
In addition to Sur Club, Phillips is building Woodie’s Wash Shack, an eco-friendly car wash “experience,” further south on 34th Street near Walmart.
“We’ve got a lot invested in the district and we’ll be there a while. We may even find another project there. I may end up living down there,” Stygar said.
Bozikovich has had a great impact on Skyway Marina District development, said Gary Jones, economic development officer with the city of St. Petersburg.
“Frank has been in this business for quite some time and has a wealth of contacts,” Jones said. “Getting the word out on opportunities in this area has made a difference. We’ve done a lot of outreach and marketing and publicity pieces. Frank has been the private side of that.”
There are still several Skyway Marina District properties in need of redevelopment, including several small motels.
“There are grayfield properties [those that are underperforming the market] that are really in need of redevelopment, but they are tougher because they are smaller and not as easy to promote,” Jones said.
One of the biggest potential developments could be on the site of the 13-acre Skyway Mall, which has drawn a lot of interest from potential developers, but little cooperation from the current owners, Jones said.
‘Highest and best use’
For Bozikovich, real estate is much more than transactions. It’s about vision.
“I drive around and I love just looking and reading the tea leaves, looking at the topography, the neighborhoods. I start dreaming. What if this corner became something else? I see something and I think, what is the highest and best use for the site,” he said.
That’s probably why Jones called him just over a year ago, when plans for Union Central were on the drawing board. Bozikovich met with Kimley-Horn, the consulting firm hired for the project, and his input helped with the master plan for Union Central. That plan was approved by the St. Petersburg City Council on Dec. 12.
“We’re going to use the same model we have for Skyway Marina, taking marginal properties and trying to redevelop those with something the community would like to see,” Jones said. “What we found is you need to include new multifamily development. It’s easy for developers and it’s a profit point for them.”
He cited a joint venture between Mosaic Development and Brookview Realty Group as an example. The developers are building a 122-unit apartment building at the site of a former SunTrust Bank branch at 3100 Central, on the boundary between Grand Central and Union Central. “That’s the type of development we’ll see more of in Union Central,” Jones said.
Union Central already has retail development, unlike Skyway Marina a few years ago. In Union Central, the push will be for “multi-use” products, with residential and commercial uses on adjacent parcels, not necessarily integrated into a single building, Jones said.
Bozikovich is talking to a couple of motel owners on 34th Street North in Union Central, where the highest and best use for the land is not a motel, he said. He hopes to get listings for their properties.
“I’ve started in Union Central like I started in Skyway Marina. No one sees it. It’s under the radar. It will take three, four or five years. You can’t do these things overnight,” he said.