Washington D.C.-based Dantes Partners, the development firm overseeing the affordable housing aspect of the Tropicana Field/Gas Plant District redevelopment, now has another historic local project in the pipeline.
Pinellas County Schools (PCS) officials announced Wednesday afternoon that they selected Tomlinson Community Partners (TCP) to transform the 99-year-old Tomlinson building into attainable workforce housing for teachers and staffers. TCP is a joint venture between Black-owned Dantes Partners and Goshen + Cornerstone. The group will incorporate 40 apartments with retail space and amenities into the preserved three-story building. The former St. Petersburg Junior High School and adult education center overlooks Mirror Lake downtown.
They will also construct an 11-story tower above a three-level parking garage and another seven-story midrise. While PCS leadership could have sold the site to a developer, they ensured 113 employee households could continue living where they work.
“To attract and retain the best teachers and district employees, we must proactively provide accessible and appealing housing choices,” said Superintendent Kevin Hendrick in a prepared statement. “The innovative and collaborative approach of the Tomlinson Community Partners aligns with Pinellas County Schools’ goal to support the housing needs of our dedicated educators and employees.”
The 113 workforce housing units are for those earning between 90% and 120% of the area median income. Estimated monthly rents will range from $1,263 and $2,160, according to size.
The remaining 112 units are available to the public at market value, with monthly prices between $2,156 and $2,771. PCS employees will have free access to numerous amenities, including a common area for teachers, a gym and parking.
TCP edged out Minnesota-based Sherman Associates to redevelop the property. The group proposed a long-term ground lease with PCS that includes $90,000 in annual payments, with a yearly interest increase of 3.5% over 50 years.
Buwa Binitie, CEO of Dantes Partners, previously told the Catalyst that his focus for the estimated $62.2 million project is on successful collaboration rather than steep profits.
“Being chosen to redevelop the historic Tomlinson building is a responsibility we do not take lightly,” Binitie said in a prepared statement. “It is our sincere hope that this development will not only meet the immediate housing needs but also fosters a more integrated, inclusive community that supports the success of all its residents.”
Joining Dantes in the development group are Ft. Lauderdale-based Alexander Goshen and Miami-based Cornerstone Strategic Partners. Miles Alexander III, managing partner of Goshen + Cornerstone, is also a certified minority business enterprise owner, an Army veteran and a Purple Heart recipient.
Dantes Partners was already selected to oversee affordable housing at the Trop Redevelopment, and Alexander Goshen recently submitted a proposal to lease the parking lot at 800 1st Ave. S. and create around 200 affordable and workforce units.
“The two firms embody deep local knowledge and a shared vision for equitable housing,” Binitie added.
That vision extends from personal experience and commitments.
While Binitie was traveling and unavailable for comment at press time, he explained in April that providing attainable housing is in his – and his company’s – DNA. Like many schoolteachers, staff and other workers around St. Petersburg and the county, he once drove over an hour to reach his downtown offices.
Regardless of how much Binitie made as a burgeoning businessman, he always had to leave the “great urban cities” that he always dreamed of living in when it was time to clock out. After launching a development firm, his focus became building housing for “a young Buwa.”
As Hendricks noted in the announcement, creating affordable housing undiscernible from market-rate units also became a priority for Dantes Partners. Binitie said people “still want to look good,” regardless of income level.
Similarly, he said the joint venture with Goshen + Cornerstone stemmed from a promise made to himself once he established his firm. Binitie considers himself self-taught and committed to sharing his expertise and experience with “individuals that look like myself.”
St. Petersburg Junior High School opened in 1924, and became the Edwin H. Tomlinson Vocational School in 1931. It then transitioned to Tomlinson Adult Education Center in 1978.
The facility shuttered in December 2021 “due to various financial reasons,” including declining enrollment. A sign still hanging on a wall during a November 2022 tour stated that its purpose was “to provide a quality learning environment which enables adults to become literate, economically self-sufficient and productive members of society.”
Preserving the building was always a priority for district officials, who asked potential developers to think outside of the box when formulating concepts.
“Together, Pinellas County Schools and Tomlinson Community Partners are committed to creating a space that also honors the building’s rich history,” said Clint Herbic, chief operations officer for PCS, in the announcement.