Development money coming back to Pinellas County beaches
ST. PETE BEACH -
For more than five years, it’s been an empty white shell encircled by a chain link fence.
With a new developer at the helm, though, construction crews are back on the site of Hotel Zamora, a three-story boutique hotel at 3701 Gulf Blvd. that backs onto the Intracoastal Waterway.
Once complete, the project will be the first new hotel built in St. Pete Beach in decades.
The project is also a sign that development money is returning to the beach.
The hotel is one of several building projects along the beaches of Pinellas County that died during the recession, only to be resurrected by new owners.
City leaders look to these positive signs with a sense of reserved hope.
“We’ve certainly got our fingers crossed. We’re certainly starting to move forward as a municipality with the understanding things are going to happen over time, incrementally,” St. Pete Beach Planning Director George Kinney said.
“I don’t want to jinx it, though.”
The Hotel Zamora got started quickly in 2007 with plans for 36 oversized rooms, a spa, boat docks and an on-site restaurant.
Development cash dried up quickly, though, and soon after the whitewashed exterior walls were erected, construction stopped.
The Ocean Glen at Waterside condominium project in Indian Rocks Beach didn’t even get that far.
Rather than a 54-unit town home and condo complex, the city got a concrete slab and a few walls at a 4-acre site across the street from the beach near the intersection of Seventh Avenue North and Gulf Boulevard.
Residents started calling it “Stonehenge” before the city ordered the plot to be razed in 2011, City Manager Chuck Coward said.
Last month, national developer Taylor Morrison bought the property from First Citizens Bank for $2.8 million.
The new plan, called The Cove at Indian Rocks Beach, calls for building 50 units in two-story townhomes above parking.
The city is reviewing those plans this week and could clear the way for building permits soon.
“I think it’ll be a visible sign that the economy is turning around and vitality is returning,” Coward said.
Another town home development and luxury condos are in the works just to the south in Indian Shores. Both are also on parcels where prerecession developments were planned.
Madeira Beach also expects to see a new Courtyard Marriott hotel on the Intracoastal Waterway, an upscale seafood restaurant on the beach and a new condominium in the next two years.
City leaders there have sought to lure investment by actively negotiating with builders and updating zoning rules.
St. Pete Beach has also adopted a new comprehensive development plan that allows for taller buildings and greater density in certain areas of the city.
The plan creates a pool of hotel room density shared by all properties within certain parts of the city. This gave developers of the Hotel Zamora the opportunity to increase its number of rooms to 50.
Aside from regulatory easing, though, what’s causing this recent uptick in activity on the beach?
“I’m sure there’s pent up-demand and, of course, tourism in general has been doing very well,” St. Pete Beach City Manager Mike Bonfield said.
Pinellas County had a record year in tourism last year, collecting more than $28 million in bed tax revenue.
Taylor Morrison is keeping the motivation for its building plans at Indian Rocks Beach under wraps for now, as shares in the company were recently made public, the company’s vice president of sales and marketing, Cammie Longenecker, said.
The company has been active elsewhere in Pinellas County, recently breaking ground on another town home development at the Loggerhead Marina in South St. Petersburg.
One significant change smaller towns such as Indian Shores will welcome is a spike in property tax revenue when empty parcels start turning into homes.
With five luxury condo beachfront units planned at the north end of town on Gulf Boulevard by St. Petersburg restaurateur Steve Westphal and a 54-unit town home complex on the former site of the Hungry Fisherman restaurant, property values would rise by tens of millions of dollars, Mayor Jim Lawrence said.
“Right now it’s being taxed as undeveloped property,” Lawrence said.
Kinney, the St. Pete Beach planner, says there are signs the development slump is ending and that cities need to be prepared for the change.
“I think people are starting to see that that is winding down and now is an opportunity to start thinking about the future here and what it might look like,” he said.