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Business Observer Friday, Mar. 26, 2004 18 years ago

Leading the Trend (Overview)

This overview of the construction and expansion guide is provided free of charge.

Leading the Trend (Overview)

The contrast is quite noticeable. Drive through the downtowns along Florida's main Gulf Coast cities, and it's obvious which cities have the heartbeats that are gaining in strength.

Tampa? No. Despite being the largest city in the West Coast's most populous county and the financial and business center of the region, Tampa's downtown core, except at lunchtime, is heartless - a chess board of tall office buildings and tasteless layer-cake parking garages. And here's a telling sign: There's not one stand-alone Starbucks in the heart of downtown Tampa.

St. Petersburg? Yes. It's thriving. Go there on a Friday or Saturday night, and it's hopping - with restaurant goers, moviegoers and the youth teeming into Janus Landing for the latest in rock music.

Sarasota? Yes. It's on the front end of a growth spurt. And downtown Bradenton? It's starting to come to life but at a slower rate than Sarasota.

With this year's special edition on Expansion & Construction, GCBR focused the cover story on one of the strongest universal trends along the Gulf Coast: the resurgence of downtowns. Sure, suburban expansion continues, most evident in this market by the residential and retail booms occurring east of Interstate 75 in southeast Manatee County. But as our cover report illustrates, downtowns are coming back.

St. Petersburg and Sarasota are at the top of the trend. Indeed, if you haven't been to downtown St. Petersburg in a few years, go. And as you cruise the city's downtown core and beautiful bay front, try to think back 15 years. It was dead.

The city's patriarchs thought they could bring St. Petersburg back to life with a master developer to handle several square miles of downtown. And they thought a Major League baseball team and stadium would regenerate downtown St. Petersburg. But neither worked. The master developer went bust, and the stadium is too far removed from the city's bay front. Not to mention: Who wants to see a losing baseball team?

What jump-started downtown St. Petersburg is what is goosing downtown Sarasota - residential development. But St. Petersburg also received a boost from an important ingredient: Longtime St. Petersburg developer Mel Sembler built a destination - Baywalk, the city's popular restaurant, retail and theater complex.

To be sure, there's a lesson there.

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This year's Construction & Expansion edition also contains five mini-profiles and question-and-answer features with five leading developers in the Manatee-Sarasota area. To an extent, risk-taking developers drive the construction industry. So we wanted to hear what they see in their and our futures. Staff Writer David Wexler interviewed developers Mike Carter, Ali Ebrahimi, Rex Jensen, Mike Miller and Fred Starling. It's not surprising that they're all optimistic about the future here, but they also share some advice that would be wise for our region's political leaders to follow.


Other features you'll find in this edition:

× An analysis of economist Henry Fishkind's three-year forecasts for commercial construction along Florida's Gulf Coast;

× Details on what finally ended up in Sarasota County's revised commercial zoning codes;

× Our annual list of the largest contracting firms in the regions;

× And capsule profiles of the 20 largest commercial projects in the region.

Altogether, the residents of this region should feel buoyant about what's happening. When you add up the total dollar value of just the 20 largest projects, these projects represent $900 million - nearly $1 billion - of capital investment. That's a resounding endorsement that all those developers and investors risking their capital see this market as a place to be. The place to be.

- Matt Walsh, Editor

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