ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — St. Pete city council members gave the green light to a new luxury condo/office project Thursday, paving the way for the demolition of seven existing apartment buildings.
The apartments are currently rented out to residents on a month-to-month basis. Those residents will be forced to move.
The existing 97 apartments, all built between 1916 and 1924, are spread out over seven smaller apartment buildings on 3rd Avenue North and 5th Street North near Mirror Lake and the Mirror Lake Library.
The existing buildings are: Lucerne (built in 1924), Hunt (built in 1916), Park View (built in 1918), Devoe (built in 1916) and Baywalk (built in 1916).
The new $63 million Cara Florida Properties luxury residential tower would have 270 condos and nearly 11,000 square feet of office space.
More than 50 St. Pete residents rushed to city hall Thursday morning to protest the new project, including Andrea Castaneda, who lives in one of the buildings scheduled for demolition.
“It's heartbreaking," she said while wiping back tears. "When my husband and I have children in the future I want to be able to show them 'That’s where we lived when we got married. This is where we had our wedding reception.'"
Castaneda only found out about the pending demolition when she saw a sign staked into the grass outside of her unit. "We had not heard about it from our landlord. None of our neighbors had heard about it. It was a complete surprise," she explained.
Despite three hours of pleas from residents and nearly 600 emails in opposition, St. Pete leaders voted in favor of the project which is expected to bring in an extra $500,000 a year in taxes and keep St. Pete growing and attracting new residents.
Don Mastry, the attorney representing the developer says it's a step forward for the city. “My belief is that it's not these old buildings attracting young people and business folks back, but new development occurring which has caused them to want to be in St Pete,” Mastry said.
Yet, current residents worry about where they will go next. Most pay around $750 a month for rent in the existing buildings and worry that new luxury apartments will force them out of downtown. The current rental rate across St. Petersburg averages just over $1,200 a month.
Two city council members voted against the project including Darden Rice. “This is gentrification with a capital G,” she explained.
Mayor Rick Kriseman urged council members to move the project forward, explaining that turning it down could lead to potential litigation and millions of dollars in damages.
“As we continue to try to attract business here and developers who are willing to build residential and office, if they don’t have certainty that when they file plans that follow the code that the project is going to get approved, there’s going to come a point in time when they will stop filing those, and our ability to continue to attract business and create jobs is going to impacted by that,” Kriseman elaborated to the city council members.
Kriseman added that he believes the city should consider raising the fees developers pay into the affordable housing fund.
According to city leaders, there are currently more than 2,000 residential units under construction or recently built in and near downtown St. Pete.