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Longboat Key Monday, Aug. 30, 2021 8 months ago

St. Regis developers seek town approval ahead of October groundbreaking

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Following demolition, deals and deliberations, St. Regis project is on the verge of final approval. Here's what to expect in the next two months.
by: Mark Bergin Staff Writer

While the property at 1620 Gulf of Mexico Drive has seemed downright dormant for nearly three years, activity in Town Hall is expected to pick up this month and next, with hearings related to  final consideration of Unicorp National Developments' plans to build The Residences at The St. Regis Longboat Key. 

The final building of the former Colony Beach & Tennis Resort was demolished in November 2018, and since then, developments have been limited to architectural drawing boards, courtrooms and title company closing rooms. But before concrete can pour, the town will have its say. 

Even so, Unicorp is planned a formal, invitation only ground-breaking ceremony on Oct. 25, less than a week after the Town Commission could grant final OKs. 

Here's a look at whats ahead in September and October:

Town approval needed

The Longboat Key Planning and Zoning Board has scheduled a special meeting for 9:15 a.m. Friday, Sept. 17 to hear the St. Regis application in dealing with several changes to what has already been approved.

The board will hear and make a recommendation to Town Commissioners.

The Town Commission is set to hold two quasi-judicial public hearings for the development on Oct. 6 and Oct. 20. If approvals are granted, building permits would follow. 

What changed?

Specifically, Unicorp plans to reduce the number of residential units  from 78 to 69. Also, two of the 69 condominium units would  be available for occupancy for less than 30 consecutive calendar days or one calendar month, whichever is less.

Unicorp CEO Chuck Whittall says he is hopeful the town will approve the changes to the St. Regis development so construction can begin on Oct. 25.

The development still plans to have 166 hotel rooms for a total of 235 units.

Unicorp CEO Chuck Whittall said he didn’t realize changes were necessary until developers were well into the design process.

“Unfortunately, the town of Longboat Key makes you do your entire site plan completely before you can get an approval, so we had to do all of that,” Whittall said. “It’s kind of the cart before the horse, and once we got into the design, we realized we couldn’t fit that many units on the property building the quality project we wanted to, so that’s why we scaled it back.”

Whittall said he is “hopeful” Longboat Key approves the changes to his plan.

Unicorp’s previous plans proposed 30 of the 69 residential units be authorized for use as either a residential unit or a tourism unit at the discretion of the individual owner.

“We ended up buying out all of the Colony unit owners, but eight of them I believe, and so we didn’t need as many of them to be available for rent,” Whittall said. “We agreed as part of our buyout that we would provide them essentially what they used to have.” 

Unicorp is also proposing some changes to the height around elevator shafts on the roof and some levels of public-space occupancy.

The proposed changes call for a reduction in the number of parking spaces at the St. Regis site from 475 spaces to the town-required minimum of 405 spaces. Some 342 parking spaces will be underneath the building and 63 will be outside.

Whittall was not concerned with the town’s new rules for restaurant parking. As of June 2020, the town requires one parking space for every 150 square feet of floor area.

Sales have reached a point at which Unicorp National Developments can move ahead with construction.

“We have plenty of parking,” Whittall said. “That was not an issue for us.”

Sales progress

Whittall said Unicorp has sold 84% of its residential units, which has surpassed the developer’s goal to have 50% sold by the time construction started.

“We only have nine remaining and we’ve kind of taken them off the market for the time being,” Whittall said.

Whittall said Unicorp believes the value of the remaining residences will increase once construction starts.

Michael Saunders & Co. is handling the sales of the St. Regis’ residential units. Simon Bacon, the company’s Executive Director of Developments, said condo buyers have signed purchase agreements dictating the price they are paying, provided initial deposits and will pay further deposits as construction reaches benchmarks.

“At this exact moment in time, our role is really secondary and is to provide whatever support we can to Unicorp as they go through this final approval process,” Bacon said. “Our sales team is working really diligently to continue to communicate with the purchasers and what is going on so that they are kept fully abreast.”

St. Regis buyers are not responsible for paying property taxes until they officially close on the condos, Bacon said.

Prices for residential units started at $2 million. Once the project is completed, the site could add about $1.5 million in taxes to the town’s budget.

Pending approval from the P&Z Board and Town Commission, Unicorp is scheduled to break ground Oct. 25 on the St. Regis development.

1620 GMD no longer

The St. Regis site will get five new addresses, according to Longboat Key Planning, Zoning and Building Director Allen Parsons.

The addresses will be 1561, 1581 and 1591 Gulf of Mexico Drive for the three proposed residential buildings.

The amenity building will have an address of 1571 Gulf of Mexico Drive and the hotel will have an address of 1601 Gulf of Mexico Drive.

The address of the current site is 1620 Gulf of Mexico Drive. However, odd-numbered dressed are usually west of GMD and even-numbered addressed are on the east side of the street.

Years in the making

The 17.6-acre piece of land has sat vacant since November 2018 when crews demolished the last building of the former Colony site.

In January 2020, legal proceedings finished up to terminate the condominium association of the former Colony Beach & Tennis Resort.

“I thought it was going to take us two years to get through the legal mess, the legal challenges,” Whittall said. “It took us eight years to get through.”

Whittall acknowledged how people created many great memories at the old Colony site.

“We see the same thing happening again,” Whittall said. “It’s just, moving forward in time, it’s a newer development, but we’re still seeing the same type of clientele that used to attend will be going there.

“I’m sure we’ll have presidents staying there and celebrities and locals and people taking their kids, and I think the same type of people who used to go there will go there again.”

Earlier this month, Unicorp also began construction to build Marriott’s new 300,000-square-foot world headquarters in Orlando.

Marriott will also manage the Longboat Key site under the St. Regis banner.

Like a parent choosing between a favorite child, Whittall struggled to pick which project was more special to him.

“It’s going to be one of the most special, if not the most special (project I’ve worked on),” Whittall said. “To build a five-star luxury on the Gulf of Mexico on (17.6) acres on the beach, it’s going to be a legacy type of development,” Whittall said.

Bacon credited Whittall and the Unicorp team for making the St. Regis site a reality.

“It’s so difficult to compile a piece of land like this, but then to be able to match it with the St. Regis and its services and the resort, I hate to use the word, but it’s really a unicorn,” Bacon said.

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Mark Bergin is the Longboat Key Town Hall reporter for the Observer. He has previously worked as a senior digital producer at WTSP, the CBS affiliate in St. Petersburg. Mark is a graduate of the University of Missouri and grew up in the Chicagoland area.

See All Articles by Mark

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