ST. PETERSBURG — Month upon month of relentless pile-driving nearly drove neighbors crazy.
But two years after construction began, downtown St. Petersburg’s newest apartment tower is finished, offering such amenities as a yoga studio, glass-tiled sauna and rooftop pool with sweeping views of Tampa Bay.
The 18-story AER at 330 Third St. S is “truly a destination, not an afterthought,” said Granvil Tracy, president of the Miami-based developer American Land Ventures.
Tracy was in town to host city officials, business people and others at Thursday’s “grand opening” even though 50 of the 358 apartments already are occupied. Rents for the studio, 1-, 2- and 3-bedroom units range from $1,605 to $4,755.
“We’re going for the top 5 to 10 percent of the market,” Tracy said of tenants who so far include professionals and are about evenly split in age between those over and under 40.
AER’s ground floor has the feel of a contemporary luxury hotel with 19-foot ceilings and multiple sleekly decorated areas meant to encourage tenants to mingle and “create a sense of community,” Tracy said. There is free Wi-Fi, complimentary coffee throughout the day, a Twitter wall showing real-time tweets from CNN and other sources, and an electronic concierge board that shows nearby restaurants, shops and cultural facilities.
On the roof of the $85 million building, tenants can gather around the fire pit, play pool, take Pilates and yoga classes and hold private parties in a club room with bar.
“My business is a 12-month business, people sign a 12-month lease,” Tracy said. “The real challenge is to get people to stay. It’s like running a cruise ship — you have to keep introducing new activities to get people engaged.”
A native of Miami, Tracy attended Admiral Farragut Academy in the 1970s “when there was nothing going on in St. Petersburg.” It was only a few years ago, when a friend encouraged him to take another look, that he realized the city had changed dramatically. His company is under contract to buy a half-block area and build a smaller tower across Third Street from AER.
Along with downtown Tampa, South Tampa and the West Shore area, downtown St. Petersburg is considered among the hottest apartment markets in Central Florida. Several projects have been completed in the past few years and others are under construction.
Later this year, the 348-unit Hermitage is scheduled to open at 151 Seventh St. S across from a new Publix. A few blocks away, an Ohio developer is building a nine-story, 366-unit complex at 201 Fourth St. S.
One expert sees no signs that the market is getting overbuilt or that interest is cooling among developers.
“All that demand and such a limited supply of buildable acreage to develop is why we’re bullish on downtown St. Pete,” said Kevin Kelleher, senior director at the Tampa brokerage Franklin Street. “Downtown St. Pete is extremely robust, and we’re seeing good gains year over year in rents. I would expect to see people achieve 10-plus-percent gains.”
AER is the newest of eight condo and apartment projects that American Land Ventures has developed in Florida. It expects to break ground later this year on a residential tower next to the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa.
Since 1989, the company also has acquired land for several other major developments, including Tampa Palms.
Because AER in St. Petersburg is so tall and just three blocks from Tampa Bay, concrete pilings had to be reinforced and sunk far into the earth. That led to constant pounding six days a week that rattled wine bottles at a nearby liquor store, prompted dozens of complaints to police and even drove some area residents out of town during the long, noisy summer of 2014.