SOUTH TAMPA — When Richard Coley's son and daughter were little, he often took them to the park on Saturday mornings so his wife could sleep in.
The longtime resident of the Shell Point neighborhood, south of Ballast Point, would load the kids and the dog in the car, drive along Interbay Boulevard, stop at a McDonald's restaurant and head to Picnic Island Park for a couple of hours of fun.
Coley said he loved living in the area back then — in the late 1980s and 1990s — and knew the rehabilitation taking place in Hyde Park and along Bayshore Boulevard would make its way to the Interbay Peninsula.
It did, but it took longer for the reformation to move west across the peninsula toward West Shore Boulevard and Tampa Bay.
“It became cool to be south of Gandy on the Bayshore side, but not cool over here,” Coley said of neighborhoods along South West Shore, between Gandy Boulevard and Port Tampa.
That has changed, which is why Coley's company, Shamrock Realty Advisors, is building an apartment complex in the area. Bermuda Bay apartments, near the railroad tracks at West Shore Boulevard and Prescott Street, will be the latest in a string of new developments in the once heavily industrialized area.
The change from heavy industry to mixed-use residential is a natural one, real estate experts and city officials say. And now that the economy is recovering, developers and property owners are poised to complete this metamorphosis of some of Tampa's last waterfront property available for large-scale redevelopment.
For decades, West Shore Boulevard south of Gandy was home to industrial plants, propane tanks and shipyards. Trucks and trains still rattle through the area, to and from the old Port Tampa, but the industrial landscape that long has characterized the 2.5-mile stretch down to Interbay Boulevard slowly is transforming into something more upscale.
The condominium tower at the Westshore Yacht Club stands tall above the development's mix of town houses and single-family homes. Casa Bella, a complex of upscale, Mediterranean-style apartments, sits just to the south of the yacht club. Across the street is the newly-completed Jefferson Westshore, built on the site of the former Wenczel Tile Factory.
“Over the course of the last 20 years, it has become irresistible next to Bayshore, which has almost filled up,” said Ron Weaver, a long-time Tampa land-use lawyer who has worked on projects in the south West Shore area.
There are several reasons why the area is so attractive, Weaver said, and its central location is a major one.
It's close to MacDill Air Force Base, the West Shore Business District, downtown Tampa, the Selmon Expressway and Tampa International Airport. The Gandy Bridge provides easy access to Carillon Park, downtown St. Petersburg and the Pinellas County beaches.
“It's just such a natural kiss between St. Petersburg and Tampa, with the best of both.” Weaver said.
Most Tampa renters and home buyers specify that they want to live within 10 minutes of downtown, 10 minutes of the airport and 15 minutes of St. Petersburg and the Tampa Bay Rays, he said. The south West Shore area is one of the few places in the city that meets those criteria.
Developers also are eager to meet the housing demands of people who work at nearby MacDill, , which in 2011 became headquarters of U.S. Central Command. Not only are MacDill workers clamoring for more options nearby, but the base's international guests also want to live close to work, Weaver said.
Investors set their sights on south West Shore years ago, when many of the formerly industrial properties were rezoned for residences and other purposes. At the height of the real estate market, they pitched big plans for luxury condos and apartment communities.
Some of those plans were put on hold during the recession, when many developers were forced to cancel contracts or halt construction.
The 52-acre site of the proposed New Port Tampa Bay, which would have included 1,200 condo residences as well as shops and a marina, went into foreclosure and now is for sale. Property on the Rattlesnake Point Peninsula, home to the new Tampa Harbour Yacht Club, also remains on the market.
But it won't be long before those properties — and the site of the former Georgetown apartment complex farther north on West Shore Boulevard — are turned into residential and commercial developments, said John Selby, senior vice president with CBRE, a commercial real estate company.
The timing wasn't right when plans for New Port Tampa Bay and Georgetown first surfaced, he said. But both sites soon will be viable.
“Those two large sites are in play or certainly will be in play and be the next big developments in that area,” Selby said.
The South West Shore area also is desirable for redevelopment because of Tampa's growth and new, luxury condo and apartment communities in the Westshore Business District, he said.
Land buyers want to build residences on less expensive properties, but with all the amenities of expensive complexes in Channelside and the Westshore district. The Jefferson Westshore, where rents start at $1,070 per month, is a good example of that, Selby said.
“[They want] new product that has all the bells and whistles, but it would not be in the central business district, so I think they're weighing the rental cost,” he said.
And an “apartment boom” is taking place all over Tampa, said city Councilman Harry Cohen, who represents South Tampa. The stretch along south West Shore Boulevard seems to be one of the most popular places to build.
The city has invested time and money in the Port Tampa neighborhood in recent years, Cohen said. Workers broke ground on a state-of-the-art fire station there this summer, and they recently completed a makeover of Picnic Island Park.
“I think that the combination of all these things makes that area really hot, and you're seeing the market respond to the demand,” Cohen said.
The area is becoming more desirable over time and as more new developments move into the neighborhood, said Bob McDonaugh, Tampa's administrator of economic opportunity.
“It's proximate to water; it's proximate to the base, which is one of the largest employers around here,” he said. “Robinson High is now an IB (International Baccalaureate) school. So there are some changes that have influenced people wanting to live near there.”