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City gets six bids for Towers at museum site

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Grady Pridgen's plan has 200,000 square feet of office space, 250 residences and 150 hotel rooms.

Proposals from companies including Progress Energy run from an office tower to a mixed-use complex to a luxury hotel for the Florida International Museum property.

By CARRIE JOHNSON, Times Staff Writer

Published July 20, 2004

ST. PETERSBURG - The Florida International Museum site has become a hot property, with developers proposing to convert it into everything from a luxury hotel to a colossal office building.

Monday was the deadline to submit proposals for the prime piece of city-owned property. The city received six offers but kept the details private under a Florida statute that allows sealed bids to be exempt from public records for 10 days.

"We need time to disseminate the information and make a recommendation," said Ron Barton, the city's economic development director.

Still, a few developers made their offers public, including Grady Pridgen and Liberty Group of Companies, based in St. Pete Beach.

The push to develop the block bounded by First and Second avenues N and Second and Third streets began last month after Progress Energy submitted a letter of intent to the city, outlining its plan to build the city's first new office tower in more than a decade.

The company offered to pay $1.5-million for less than half of the property, leaving the remainder open for other development. The building would have more than 200,000 square feet of office space and would house more than 600 Progress Energy employees.

After receiving the offer, the city gave 30 days' notice of the transaction, giving others the opportunity to bid on the property.

Progress Energy was one of the bidders Monday, offering a new proposal that would use the entire block. Spokesman Aaron Perlut said he could not release details.

"We've very, very excited about it," he said. "Progress Energy is very committed to being a part of the renaissance of downtown St. Petersburg."

Also submitting a bid was Pridgen, one of the area's busiest developers. He proposed a $100-million mixed-use project that would include 200,000 square feet of office space, 250 residential units and 150 hotel rooms overlooking Williams Park.

Pridgen said he offered to pay $6-million for the entire block, or $75 per square foot.

The St. Petersburg developer already has several other projects in the works, including a mixed-use development along Central Avenue, a 42-story residential tower on Third Avenue N and a $350-million project at the Imperial Yacht Basin off Gandy Boulevard.

Liberty Group of Companies also offered a mix of hotel rooms and condominiums.

Its proposal included a 120-room hotel, 86 residential lofts, a restaurant and retail space, with a 280-space parking facility.

"We have been looking for a place for a hotel in St. Petersburg for two years," said Punit R. Shah, the company's director of new development. "This seemed like the perfect site."

The company moved its headquarters from Youngstown, Ohio, two years ago and is building a Holiday Inn Express & Suites in Sebring. Liberty Group also plans to build waterfront condominiums in Tierra Verde, according to its Web site.

Shah would not disclose how much the company offered for the Maas Brothers site but said it was higher price per square foot than Progress Energy's initial bid.

One company may have been too late to have its proposal reviewed by the city. Joel Cantor, chief executive of Gulf Atlantic Real Estate Inc., submitted his bid at 2 p.m., one hour after the deadline.

He said city officials were undecided whether they would consider his offer, which included a multistory office building, three levels of lofts and space for an arts facility, such as the Salvador Dali Museum.

Cantor's company, which renovated the former William C. Cramer federal office building and turned it into the BayView Tower in 1999, offered $9-million for the block, with a $500,000 deposit.

Once the bids have been reviewed by the city's economic development staff, Barton will give a summary or a recommendation to the City Council. The council isn't expected to vote until late August.

Council member James Bennett said he was encouraged by the interest.

"We had an obligation to the public to put that property out for bid," he said. "We need to get as good a deal as we can for the land."

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