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Tampa Bay Area
Business Observer Friday, Mar. 2, 2018 7 months ago

No Small Plans

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Jay Tallman's Ascentia Development Group is co-developing a 24-story condo tower in South Tampa — the latest in a portfolio of ambitious and high-end projects.
by: Kevin McQuaid Commercial Real Estate Editor

Atlanta-based Batson-Cook Development Co.'s modus operandi is to secure the best sites in its target markets and link with a local partner to bring its projects to fruition.

Tampa was no exception. So when the company won the rights to acquire the 3-acre, waterfront tract that for decades had been occupied by the Colonnade Restaurant — one of the few remaining sites on Bayshore Boulevard zoned for high-rise development — it knew it had to be selective in choosing local talent.

Enter Jay Tallman, whose Ascentia Development Group was introduced to Batson-Cook through a Tampa land use attorney.

“When we looked at his past projects, we were favorably impressed,” says Batson-Cook President and CEO J. Littleton Glover Jr.

“We have three primary requirements we look for in an operating partner: One, they have to be honest. Two, they have to be really good at what we're asking them to do, and we concluded Jay's past performance shows he certainly knows what he's doing. And third — and most important to me — we have to like the individuals we're partnering with, and Jay is extremely likeable.

“To get someone who's talented and likeable, well, that fits the bill for us.”

The partnership has without question been mutually beneficial.

The 24-story Virage Bayshore, designed to contain 71 residences priced at $1 million to $5 million, is more than 70% sold out less than a year after it first came to market.

Built from architects Curts Gaines Hall Jones' plans, construction on the Virage began last October, with an estimated completion in 2019.

Tallman, whose Ascentia Development is managing partner for the project, calls the property “the crown jewel of condo tower sites in Tampa.”

He acknowledges, too, that the timing was right. When Batson-Cook acquired the Colonnade site, no new condo development had occurred in Tampa in a decade.

Listing agent Smith & Associates Real Estate also opened Virage's sales center just as many Tampa residents were becoming empty nesters. A number of Virage buyers, Tallman notes, were single-family homeowners who wanted something more urban — without completely giving up the airy square footage to which they were accustomed.

But while Virage might represent a capstone for many developers, for the 61-year-old Tallman the tower marks the continuation of a three-decades' long career that has resulted in some of the most storied upscale residential projects built on the West Coast of Florida.

Sarasota 'culture shock'

Tallman grew up outside Toledo, Ohio, and attended college in Denver, where he studied real estate and construction management.

After graduation, he went to work for U.S. Lend Lease, an Australian company with operations in Colorado that also maintained an office in Sarasota — left over from its development of the Midnight Cove condos on Siesta Key.

A few months into the job, a company executive suggested Tallman relocate to Sarasota — then a mostly sleepy retiree haven — to steep himself in the condo development business.

“It was culture shock,” Tallman says of moving to Sarasota in the early 1980s. “Because of the age difference between me and, well, just about everyone. I couldn't wait to get back to Denver.”

He stuck it out for a year before heading back to the Rocky Mountains.

But Florida's West Coast beckoned again, when the savings and loan crisis and books chock full of bad real estate loans threatened to put many trusts out of business.

Western Federal Savings & Loan was one such outfit. It had taken over a planned-unit development called Tampa Palms through foreclosure but didn't have the expertise to manage it.

In 1987, Tallman was hired to right the proverbial Tampa Palms' ship. It was there that he met developer Ed Oelschlaeger, whose EcoGroup Inc. was aiming to develop a series of ambitious residential and mixed-use projects.

Together, they teamed up to build Vizcaya, a 50-unit, $50 million development on Longboat Key -- a project that reunited Tallman with Sarasota.

Sarasota Revisited

Though he was living in Tampa at the time, Tallman and his wife decided Sarasota would be a better place to raise a family and headed south.

By 1999, Tallman had partnered up with Tom Brown and they formed US Assets Group.

Over the next eight years, the pair would develop some of the most notable projects in the Sarasota area: the $52 million En Provence, on Longboat Key; the $110 million Orchid Beach Club, on Lido Key in Sarasota; the $64 million Beau Ciel condo tower in downtown Sarasota; and the 700-acre Founders Club.

When the recession hit, it took with it the consumer demand for the high-end projects in which US Assets specialized. The pair dabbled at plans for a luxury, six-unit project on Longboat Key that didn't materialize, then parted ways in 2011 so Brown could focus more on doing projects with his son.

Two year later, Tallman was approached by a Chicago investment bank, Bixby Bridge Capital LLC, about a piece of land it had purchased on Longboat Key as part of a loan portfolio deal from M&I Bank.

Tallman knew the 5-acre property well: He'd made an unsuccessful run at it in the 1990s.

Bixby Bridge offered to bring Tallman and Ascentia in as its development partner.

The first thing Tallman did was to decrease the project's proposed density, to 16 units.

“I really wanted to do something special there,” he says. “Developers often make the mistake of trying to cram units into a site to maximize sales. To my mind, that's a mistake. More often than not, I've found that reducing the number of units creates more value. And that's because you often get better views that way.

“If I've learned one thing over the years, it's that views -- especially with waterfront properties -- mean so, so much.”

Aria, as the 16-unit development came to be called, sold out before a shovel hit the dirt, at prices ranging from $3.6 million to $4.4 million and more.

With Virage underway, Tallman is considering his next project, likely something in Sarasota.

“We've been fortunate to do quite a few notable projects, architecturally distinctive projects,” Tallman says. “We've always put a huge emphasis on quality, and we've built a reputation on that principle. I've always felt that if I did what I said I'd be someone people could count on, someone they'd continue to want to do business with. It's worked.”

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