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Will St. Petersburg see more ‘boutique’ condo towers?

Mark Parker

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Workers with Ellison Construction prepared to hoist a beam as part of The Nolen's topping out ceremony Dec. 21. The 23-story luxury condominium tower will include just 31 residences. Photo by Mike Ossola.

The development group responsible for a new, unique condominium tower in downtown St. Petersburg celebrated reaching a construction milestone before the new year.

The Nolen, a luxury tower at 126 4th Ave. NE., reached its highest point Dec. 21. While its 288-foot height places it among the city’s 10 tallest buildings, the 23-story Nolen will feature just 31 residences.

For comparison, a recently proposed 18-story tower would feature 279 units. Bowen Arnold, principal at Tampa-based DDA Development, said constructing boutique buildings presents community benefits and challenges for developers.

“It’s going to be more expensive on the cost side, but you can get a higher price for the units if you do something that’s unique and kind of special to the market,” Arnold told the Catalyst. “It’s only a half-acre site. So, to do a 23-story building on a small lot like that is very expensive.”

A rendering of The Nolen. Image: DDA Development.

While Arnold declined to announce the total project cost, the development group is sparing no expense to create private, luxurious residences near Beach Drive. The Nolen is green-certified and features a resort-style heated pool, spa, fitness center, salon and private lounge.

The units offer expansive terraces, waterfall stone countertops and myriad other upscale amenities. However, stakeholders believe privacy is the boutique tower’s main selling point.

Floors five through 15 will feature a north and south-facing unit. Each of the top eight stories will only house one residence.

All 31 condominiums have a private elevator. “I think at any given time, probably a third of the people will be somewhere else in the building,” Arnold said.

“You’ve got a fully amenitized building and staff for a relatively small number of people,” he added. “So, I think that’s attractive.”

David Moyer, director of sales developer services for listing agent Smith & Associates Real Estate, said most downtown condos developed in the past decade are “for the masses.” He compared the Nolen’s living experience to a single-family home.

Moyer noted that all single-floor plans have sold for about $4 million each. Several half-floor units remain available for around $2.4 million.

Bowen Arnold (third from left, background), principal with DDA Development, and David Moyer (fourth from left, background), director of Sales Developer Services at Smith & Associates Real Estate, with other members of the development team. Photo provided.

St. Petersburg continues experiencing exponential growth, and many residents have expressed concerns over a lack of parking and increased traffic. Moyer said each unit at the Nolen includes two parking spaces with electric vehicle charging capabilities – or about 62 total.

For comparison, the recently proposed 18-story tower features a 382-space parking garage. Arnold believes boutique buildings help alleviate many growth concerns.

“That’s, again, not why we did this,” Arnold said. “But I do think it’s more helpful.”

Jason Mathis, CEO of the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership, called boutique towers like the Nolen “a labor of love.” He said similar projects could appeal to local developers who understand the city’s needs and “niche opportunities” in an evolving urban center.

However, Mathis noted the increased financial risks as boutique towers do not provide the same return as larger projects or market-rate apartments. He believes the city will see similar developments in the long term due to a lack of space.

“Sometimes, people who don’t understand the economics of these projects have a knee-jerk reaction,” Mathis added. “Urban infill multifamily projects significantly add to our tax base. They are the most environmentally sustainable way for people to live.”

He said many people forget new development was needed to accommodate the current population. Mathis explained that buildings like the Nolen provide space for those relocating to the city or calling it their second home without pricing out longtime residents.

While he expects a construction pause until interest rates and construction costs decline, Mathis believes there is demand for mid-rise affordable and workforce housing projects moving west from downtown along the SunRunner route.

In the meantime, he said increasing the housing stock across all price points ultimately lowers costs for everyone. “This kind of development is exactly what St. Pete needs right now in our evolution as a city,” Mathis said.

Arnold expects Ellison Construction to complete the Nolen in August or September. Despite the increased risk and upfront costs, he would also “consider” building another boutique tower in the area.

“I don’t want to do 200 units,” Arnold said. “Somewhere between 30 and 50, I think, is a good estimate – if you do a really high-end, elevated product.”

 

 

 

 

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    Bill Herrmann

    January 3, 2024at11:23 am

    Let me begin with, despite the efforts to describe me otherwise- I do not oppose redevelopment.

    Ironically, Rick Kriseman and I agree, our city should “continue growing, but in a smart way that honors the character of the community.” Stated differently, if we are going to allow very tall buildings, they should have a design the lessens the visual impact of the height.

    How is that done?

    Anyone who has redecorated a home knows that if there is a long narrow room or hallway, placing a stripped carpet or planked floor along the length of the area will make the space appear narrower and longer. Circus clowns on stilts wear vertical stripped pants to accentuate their height. The same applies to the façade of a building.

    Tall box-like buildings with towers that have a repeating façade floor after floor, accentuate the height and increase the perceived mass and scale of the structure. The repeating pattern presents to the eye as a vertical line. There are numerous examples of these uninspired designs where each floor looks the same. Although I opposed it because of the extreme height/base ratio, the museum tower got it right. The architect varied the outside of the building to break-up the massing. The 400 Central building’s horizontal lines will break-up the massing. There are 2 or 3 recent projects where the architect did a great job of breaking up the verticality of the building.

    Going forward there are two challenges.

    First, we need to make sure new structures have engaging designs- uninspired buildings with floor after floor of the same design should not be approved as they fail the ‘mass and scaling’ test in the code.

    Secondly, St. Petersburg’s redevelopment continues to leave the working class behind. Few of the people who approve the plans for, build, or inspect these buildings can afford to live in them. To be clear, I am advocating for housing that mid-level workers can afford. Failing to provide housing opportunities for those mid-level workers is neither prudent nor sustainable.

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