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TECO Energy looking for downtown office space

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TECO Energy making deals involving land, offices in downtown Tampa

Carl Cronan

Senior staff writer

TAMPA -- TECO Energy Inc. is making commercial real estate deals on two fronts as it narrows its options on relocating its downtown Tampa headquarters while selling its condemned parking garage site to a condominium developer.

Mayor Pam Iorio announced Aug. 31 that Novare Group Inc., an Atlanta-based firm specializing in upscale infill condo projects, is partnering with Tampa-based Intown Group to buy the block TECO owns at Ashley Drive and Tampa, Zack and Polk streets. Novare plans to build 400 units in a 31-story building geared toward residents ages 25 to 40, with prices between $170,000 and $270,000.

Working with Novare-Intown is Dick Beard, a driving force behind the 100 North Tampa and Bank of America Plaza office towers downtown. Beard, who attended the Republican National Convention, could not be reached for comment.

"They seem to have real momentum, a good project and they're ready to go," TECO spokesman Ross Bannister said. "We'd rather sell the property to somebody who would develop it sooner."

TECO, currently based in the nine-story TECO Plaza building across Tampa Street from the site, closed its parking deck on half the block for safety reasons last year. The other half of the block is used as visitor's parking for its headquarters.

Numerous downtown sites have been eyed for residential development, with as many as 14 condo projects in the works in the Channel District. Commercial real estate executives believe Beard's connection with the project gives it credibility.

"I would feel good about anything he's involved in," said Ray Sandelli, senior managing director with CB Richard Ellis Inc. and chairman of the Tampa Downtown Partnership.

Neither TECO nor Novare would disclose how much the land might sell for, but based on recent comparable transactions downtown it could go for $1.4 million to $2.4 million, said Bill Eshenbaugh, president of Eshenbaugh Land Co. in Tampa.

TECO also owns a block immediately north of TECO Plaza along with some adjacent land at Polk and Tampa streets, according to Bannister. He was not aware of any other pending deals by the utility to sell its property.

At the same time TECO is planning to sell one of its city blocks to Novare, it is seeking at least 200,000 square feet of office space downtown in either existing or proposed buildings. The company is working on its space search with Carter, an Atlanta-based commercial real estate brokerage.

TECO's lease in its current 277,000-square-foot space expires in early 2007, and the 750-employee company seeks to move into more efficient space with modern amenities and more competitive rental rates, Bannister said.

"We need to see what the costs and payoffs are and make a decision from there," he said. "We're a couple of years out from doing anything."

But TECO could choose to stay in its current space if no other suitable offices become available. Sherrill Hudson, the company's new chairman and CEO, has indicated a preference to remain downtown.

TECO's history downtown dates back to 1899 when it opened an office at Tampa and Whiting streets. Its headquarters moved to Tampa and Madison streets in 1931, then relocated in the mid-1950s to South Dale Mabry Highway and Kennedy Boulevard before returning downtown to TECO Plaza in 1981.

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