Monday, December 11, 2017
Business

St. Pete panel rejects plan for 300-foot high Bezu tower downtown

ST. PETERSBURG — In a victory for residents of an historic building where Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig once lived, the city’s Development Review Commission unanimously rejected plans for a soaring condo tower next door.

"I think it’s a terrific tower architecturally," commissioner Calivin Samuel said, but he and other commissioners agreed that the 300-foot-high Bezu would be dramatically out of scale with the neighboring Flori de Leon and other nearby structures.

As soon as the vote was taken Wednesday evening, opponents — many of them wearing Stop Bezu buttons — burst into cheers, applause and even tears.

"I am elated. I am emotional now," said Joan Caldwell, a resident of the 90-year-old Flori de Leon, once home to Ruth and other New York Yankee greats who held spring training in St. Petersburg.

Todd Pressman, representing developer Michel Regignano, said the decision will be appealed to the full city council.

"The DRC is stopping progress of the wonderful economic development of downtown St. Petersburg," Pressman said.

But some opponents said projects like Bezu risk turning St. Petersburg into a mini-Miami or Manhattan.

"This little paradise that is our city is about to become another conglomeration of stone and concrete monoliths," said Jeanne Reed, a former New York City resident now living at the Flori de Leon.

RELATED COVERAGE: Downtown St. Petersburg’s condo boom shows no signs of slowing

The city’s planning and zoning staff had recommended approval of Bezu, a 23-story, 29-unit condo tower at Fourth Avenue NE and First Street. The five-story base of the building would include parking for 60 cars, shielded from public view by architectural grating, vegetation and works by local artists. Atop the massive base would be a slim 18 -story residential tower.

"This will be needed housing in a tight market," Pressman said, referring to the high demand for condos on and near popular Beach Drive.

Opponents, though, said Bezu would be far too big for its narrow parcel. And at 300 feet it would be four times as tall as the 75-foot Flori de Leon a few yards away.

"Allowing the developer to shoehorn a big box (onto the site) and put on top of that a huge anemic tower and then put the whole hot mess next to a historic building is not in the public interest," said William Herrmann, a charter boat captain who lives in the Flori de Leon.

Herrmann noted that the Flori de Leon, built in 1927 and now a co-op with residents 55 and older, has no central heat or air-conditioning. If windows were kept open in cooler months, as they usually are, exhaust fumes from the Bezu’s garage would waft in and cause potential air quality and health problems.

Other Flori de Leon residents cited safety hazards with cars exiting Bezu’s garage onto First Street N and turning onto busy Fourth Avenue, a main thoroughfare into downtown St. Petersburg off 1-275.

"This an extremely dangerous corner," Elizabeth Bell said, citing a recent accident with injuries involving a flipped vehicle.

Amy Black, who lives in the two-story Mount Vernon condos nearby, stressed that area residents don’t oppose new construction but want it in keeping with the existing character of the neighborhood.

"We welcomed Rowland Place as a stellar example of good development,’’ Black said, referring to a new midrise condo building on Fourth Avenue NE. She said residents also liked the four New York-style brownstones proposed by a previous owner of the Bezu site.

The clamor over Bezu was reminiscent of that over another recent condo project: Bliss, an 18-story tower that critics also said was too big for its Fourth Avenue NE site. Opponents of Bezu noted that it would take up a much larger area of its site than Bliss does of its parcel.

RELATED COVERAGE: Developer, city of St. Petersburg win Bliss condo lawsuit

"There is way more at stake here than Bezu," Herrmann told commissioners. "If this applicant is allowed to build more than double what is standard, what hope do you guys ever have of saying no?"

Contact Susan Taylor Martin at smartin at tampabay.com or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate

   
Comments
Record numbers are signing up for Obamacare in Florida as enrollment period draws to a close

Record numbers are signing up for Obamacare in Florida as enrollment period draws to a close

With just four days left to enroll for health insurance on the federal exchange, advocates for the Affordable Care Act say Florida is headed for a record-breaking year. In week five of the six-week open enrollment period, about 823,180 people signed ...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Driven by demand, Planned Parenthood opens second clinic in Tampa

Driven by demand, Planned Parenthood opens second clinic in Tampa

The floor-to-ceiling glass windows are heavily tinted and the inside is hidden behind rows of curtains. Security cameras monitor every corner, and only patients with an appointment and valid identification can pass through the intentionally cramped e...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Hotly anticipated Ichicoro Ane is now open in St. Petersburg

Hotly anticipated Ichicoro Ane is now open in St. Petersburg

Noel Cruz seemed remarkably chill. As did his partner Kerem Koca. All around them in the Station House building in St. Petersburg, workers pounded the last nails, bartenders unpacked boxes of glassware and jewel-toned bottles of Amari, and the kitche...
Updated: 12 hours ago
Medical field accounts for 7 of 10 highest-paying jobs

Medical field accounts for 7 of 10 highest-paying jobs

The nation’s highest-paying jobs don’t quite track with the fastest-growing jobs in Florida. According to a new study released today by California-based CareerCast, the highest-paying jobs are largely in the medical field and require post-graduate de...
Published: 12/12/17
Outback Steakhouse co-founder Chris Sullivan steps off Bloomin’ Brands’ board

Outback Steakhouse co-founder Chris Sullivan steps off Bloomin’ Brands’ board

Chris Sullivan, co-founder of Outback Steakhouse, resigned from the board of the restaurant chain’s parent company last Wednesday, according to a Monday filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The document, filed by Tampa-based Bloomin’ B...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority plays beat the clock on GOP tax bill

Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority plays beat the clock on GOP tax bill

TAMPA — With the Republican tax bill poised to eliminate the opportunity, the Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority on Monday said it had refinanced a big chunk of its debt to save money in the future.The authority borrowed $152 million from the bo...
Published: 12/11/17
JW Marriott Clearwater Beach project still on target despite some bumps

JW Marriott Clearwater Beach project still on target despite some bumps

CLEARWATER BEACH — While Tampa is excited about its first JW Marriott hotel, plans are moving ahead for a $130 million JW Marriott property on Clearwater Beach, despite some hiccups. "We’ve done really well in our opinion," Uday Lele, developer of t...
Published: 12/11/17
HSBC says U.S. will dismiss criminal charges against it

HSBC says U.S. will dismiss criminal charges against it

HSBC said Monday that U.S. authorities were preparing to dismiss criminal charges against the bank, five years after it reached an agreement to avoid prosecution related to lapses in its money-laundering controls.In 2012, the bank, one of the world’s...
Published: 12/11/17
Major auto manufacturer offers longer hours, incentives to fix airbags

Major auto manufacturer offers longer hours, incentives to fix airbags

TAMPA — With nearly 200,000 people around Tampa Bay still driving around with defective airbags that could kill them, a major automaker is trying to dramatically cut that number down this week.Fiat Chrystler Automobiles U.S. has launched Airbag Recal...
Published: 12/11/17
This 6-year-old kid made $11 million in one year reviewing toys on You Tube

This 6-year-old kid made $11 million in one year reviewing toys on You Tube

When most people think back on the child celebrities of their time, they likely think of child movie actors, the well-trained stars of showbiz. For some, these were stars like Mary Kate and Ashley Olson, or Macaulay Carson Culkin from "Home Alone." F...
Published: 12/11/17