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Mixed-use complexes gaining popularity

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There are plans for at least eight mixed-use developments, where residents won’t have to drive to shop or to have fun. By MEGAN SCOTT Published May 16, 2005 DUNEDIN – The commute is getting shorter for North Pinellas residents. That’s because developers are creating urban lifestyle centers, where people can work, live and play, without ever jumping in the car. The complexes, also known as mixed-use developments, are becoming increasingly popular. Pinellas County is nearly built out, and these days, a growing number of people want to stay close to home. At least eight mixed-use centers are planned in mid and North Pinellas. And Pinellas County economic development officials are encouraging the creation of even more. “One way to make the best use of available land is to do mixed-use,” said Mike Meidel, economic development director. “You’re able to put houses close to where people work and shop so you cut down on road trips. “One of the primary reasons we’re supporting it is to cut down on the transportation impacts of redevelopment.” Local municipalities seem to be in agreement. Dunedin commissioners approved a preliminary site plan last week to replace Stirling Hall on Broadway with 16 residential condos and 9,000 square feet of commercial space. The condos would start in the $500,000 range. Preliminary plans call for five stories, with retail on the street side and office space in the back. “We just think it’s a real prime location for what we want to do,” said Thomas Heironimus, president of Lehigh Realty Investments, the developer. “What I see as the appeal is less dependence on the car, walking to a restaurant when you want to go out.” In Clearwater, developers want to transform the sites of City Hall and Calvary Baptist Church into a $250-million, mixed-use development. Plans call for 157 residential units in a 25-story tower along with 10,000-square-feet of retail. Another 157-unit tower would be built on the church site, with 10,000 square feet of retail. And earlier this month, Boulder Venture South bought Crossroads Mall in Largo, with plans to build 548,000 square feet of retail shops, 90,500 square feet of offices and 250 condominiums and apartments. The Clearwater company hopes to also build a multistory big box store, a four-story, 120-room hotel and a two-story, 16-screen movie theater with stadium seating, said John Sabow, director of development. “This is a new trend,” said Sabow, referring to the mixed-use boom. “The urban style mixed-use center, where you live, work and play with residential, office and retail, is becoming quite popular.” But Richard Gehring, who plans to develop a mixed-use project on the site of the Bay Palms Motel, Sun Blest Apartments and a Victorian style home in Dunedin, said urban centers are not necessarily a new idea. Before the growth of suburbs, people lived, worked and played close to home. Offices, restaurants, grocery stores and movie theaters were within walking distance. “The post-World War II era, we really blossomed into an auto-dependent culture, where we spread everything out and related to driving everywhere,” said Gehring, principal with Prime Dunedin. “It’s taken us 50 years to say urban and community life in a traditional neighborhood is important.” Gehring, who partnered with Jim Egnew and Clearwater lawyer Bill Kimpton to form Prime Dunedin, is planning to construct 46 upscale condos, starting in the $600,000 range, with more than 10,000 square feet of retail. Mixed-use complexes are much harder to build than, say, a development that is solely townhomes or retail, said Dave Goodwin, economic development director for St. Petersburg, which in recent years has seen its share of urban centers, including the Cloisters and Florencia on Beach Drive. He said the process of zoning and land use change can be more complicated. Some cities, he said, might use obsolete zoning codes, which don’t allow for mixed use. And there is no easy formula for developing an urban center, said Meidel. “Developers have to sit down and say, “For this to work, I’m going to want this many square feet of retail shops, and this many office jobs,”‘ he said. “This is how many square feet I am going to put in, and then they have to develop a site plan on how it’s going to look.” The developments, though, generally do better if there is an anchor destination such as a downtown or a big box retailer, said Sabow. Similar to a mall, the anchor serves as a locomotive for the center, driving more people to that location. For example, Bill Touloumis, president of Olympia Development Group, envisions a grocery store at the Safety Harbor Resort and Spa, which he hopes to redevelop one day into a mixed-use center. Touloumis has started construction on Harbour Pointe, an urban center at Main Street and Bayshore in Safety Harbor. Thomas George, president of Prelude Construction, is planning an L-shaped strip center with shops and restaurants facing Main Street in Dunedin. Downtown would serve as an anchor for the center, which would mix commercial space with luxury apartments. Meidel is hoping that the burgeoning of mixed-use centers helps the county develop a mass transit system. “Ultimately, if it’s a large enough project it can serve on a future mass transit system,” Meidel said. “Nobody seems to be willing to build mass transit first. It’s too expensive and the ridership isn’t there.” But it could be in the future, said Bob Ironsmith, economic development director for Dunedin. He said urban centers will continue to appeal, especially with the rising price of gas making people reluctant to drive. But he added that’s not to say suburbia will go away. There are many people who don’t mind commuting and enjoy their suburban lifestyle. “Some people still want to be on the cul de sac,” he said. “Some people want to cocoon and get away from it all. “I would say there is a growing percentage that are looking for something a little different. They have had their fill of taking care of the pool, cutting the grass, and driving everywhere.” –Megan Scott can be reached at 445-4167 or Source:
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