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Developer rings up plans for an old-fashioned loft

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Susan Stabley

Tarragon South Development Corp. plans to transform the former BellSouth switching station in downtown Fort Lauderdale into residential lofts after winning a bidding war to buy the six-story building.

Tarragon closed on the $8 million property, at 115 N.E. Third Ave., on Tuesday.

While most lofts in South Florida are new projects, this one mirrors the industrial and warehouse conversions found up north.

The former switching station dates back to the 1930s. Work is expected to begin in April to convert it into The Exchange - 87 lofts and 10 bungalows with a pool and health center on the roof, Tarragon South VP Danny Bivins said. Units will range from the high $200,000s to $400,000.

Construction, led by general contractor Suffolk Construction, should take 10 months.

Bivins hopes to keep the building's terrazzo floors and the stonework along the rooftop, but the structure's pale pink exterior will be removed as part of $12 million to $15 million in renovations that will add windows and a colonnade.

Part of the building's appeal includes ceilings that rise 13 feet and higher.

The project - listed for $7.75 million - had been up for grabs since January 2003, according to Stiles Corp. broker Byron Calhoun.

Calhoun said he had shown the 118,860-square-foot property more than 75 times to local and out-of-state buyers. In the end, Tarragon was one of four suitors.

The Fort Lauderdale company is the local arm of New York-based Tarragon Corp.

(NASDAQ: TARR), whose projects include Las Olas River House in downtown Fort Lauderdale.

Financing has been secured from Bank of America for both the acquisition of the property and construction, Bivins said.

Bivins said he's in talks with the city to use a nearby parking garage. Tarragon also has other parcels nearby that could be turned into parking areas, he said.

The Exchange joins a small club of genuine loft conversions in South Florida.

J. Max Development started work this summer on 17 loft spaces in a three-story industrial building at 1560 Lenox Ave., in Miami Beach. Last year, Midgard Development Group announced plans to convert the former Miami National Bank at Biscayne Boulevard and 81st Street into 73 lofts. Lombardi Properties turned a 1926 fabric factory, at 120 N.W. 25th St. in Miami, into the Terminal Building Lofts in 1999.

"In New York and New Jersey, they are comfortable with the term," said Diane Leiberman, a broker with SBI Realty in South Beach. "A lot of people in Florida are not sure what lofts are."

Her husband, Alan, is converting the Montclair Hotel in Miami Beach into 41 lofts. The Chad Oppenheim-designed project is set for completion in March.

E-mail Miami-Dade real estate/international business writer Susan Stabley at [email protected]

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