High Society

Living the skyscraper lifestyle in a still-hypothetical downtown

click to enlarge ABOVE THE CLOUDS: A view from below of 32-story Skypoint. - Alex Pickett
Alex Pickett
ABOVE THE CLOUDS: A view from below of 32-story Skypoint.

It was like a scene from Melrose Place.

Twenty- and 30-somethings milled around the pool, drinking beer and mixed drinks. Guys in polo shirts barbecued on the brand-new stainless steel grills. Attractive women chatted under the lights of downtown Tampa's skyline. Watching it all unfold with a Captain and Coke in hand was 28-year-old Eddie Callejas, the party's host and a resident of downtown's most talked-about condo project: SkyPoint. For a few hours, downtown Tampa seemed to be a happening place to Callejas and his friends. That is, if they didn't look down to the empty streets below.

Since June, urban pioneers have slowly begun to populate the one- and two-bedroom units in this 32-story glass tower of 380 condos. According to a spokesperson for the developer, Novare Group, Inc., close to 100 residents have moved in. Most of the units were sold in advance of the building's opening, and closings have taken place on more than 40 percent of them.

Doctors, lawyers, students, investors — all putting their hopes and money into a still-hypothetical thriving downtown Tampa. City officials and business leaders are also betting on projects like SkyPoint, hoping the influx of people can push downtown Tampa from sleepy business district to true urban neighborhood. Much of that success depends on whether the residents of SkyPoint stay put.

The Bachelors

The next day, Callejas — dressed in a black Izod shirt — nurses a hangover inside his 15th floor apartment.

"I'm actually afraid of heights," he says, looking over his balcony to the pool down below.

Callejas, who works for a company that develops house-arrest technology, has outfitted his condo like any self-respecting bachelor: flat-screen TV, black leather furniture, Dalí reproductions and an inflatable Captain Morgan bottle by his bed. The hardwood floors and floor-to-ceiling windows give the 800 square feet a loft effect.

"I've always wanted to live in a downtown area," he says. "I'm single, so now is the time to do it."

Callejas is the demographic the SkyPoint developers are targeting — young professionals looking for an exciting place to live, work and play. Twenty-somethings play pool in the rec room, work out to XM radio in the weight room and watch movies on a widescreen TV in the media room. In a lot of ways, SkyPoint feels like an extravagant dorm.

"This guy here," Callejas says, stopping near his neighbor's door. "Every time I come up here, he's partying and got his stereo crankin'."

Callejas is having so much fun inside the concrete walls of SkyPoint, he's not too concerned about the dearth of activity below.

"I knew I was moving into a dead city, but then again I'm looking at Channelside, and I'm seeing a lot of the area improving," he says. "I do see the potential."

So does Dan Isenberg, 44, who bought a condo on the 12th floor this summer. Isenberg moved to Tampa a year ago after a divorce in his native Michigan.

"You can't beat the commute," says Isenberg, the Tampa Bay Lightning suite sales manager. He's even timed the walk to the St. Pete Times Forum: 14 minutes and 55 seconds.

Waiting on a long-distance relationship to flower, Isenberg hasn't decorated his one-bedroom condo yet. The requisite flat-screen is propped on a Rubbermaid container. His bed is just a mattress on the floor and a futon serves as his couch, where he can look out and see Raymond James Stadium, I-275 and the construction of Novare Group's next project, the upscale Element.

"A year from now I may be here and found the right girl," he muses. "Or I could sell my condo for a profit and go to Oklahoma. I just don't know."

The Optimist

Despite his swanky environs, Todd Williams says he doesn't let himself "act like I'm above people" (though, technically, living on the 10th floor, he is).

Williams and his wife Teri were the first people to close on a Skypoint condo.

"It makes you feel like you're living in a hotel," Williams says of SkyPoint, smiling. "Like I won the lottery, but it was only $220,000."

For him, that was a deal, considering how downtown Tampa is poised to become another downtown Atlanta (his words, not mine).

"[Tampa is] in the infancy of what it's going to be," Williams says. "In 10 to 15 years, this will be a real city all the time, instead of just during the day."

The Frustrated Realtor

"I don't want to wait 10 years," says Anne Blank, who owns a condo on the 13th floor. "What? Are you crazy?"

Blank, a longtime realtor and Carrollwood resident, bought her condo two years ago with the intention of renting it out. But since she started advertising for a tenant in July, she's only had one offer, and that one never panned out.

"A lot of people should be motivated to live here," she complains. "It should not be a hard thing to rent it."

"What's the trouble?" she continues. "[Downtown Tampa] is like a beautiful girl who can't get a date. If you can't make something this beautiful happen, what's wrong?"

Blank blames city officials for not doing more to bring the promised downtown renaissance to Tampa. She wants grocery stores, boutiques and a finished Riverwalk, not more condos.

"You can't have all the people down here go to Platt Street with the only Publix," she says. "You have to save some space to keep people coming down here. If they keep giving the land away for people to live here, they won't have anything to do once they're here."

The City View

For his part, Michael Chen envisions a thriving downtown sooner rather than later. As Mayor Pam Iorio's downtown development director, his job depends on it.

Chen has been working to promote the mayor's agenda of a residential community downtown that includes public investments (a revamped Curtis Hixon Park, a pedestrian-friendly Ashley Street) and attracts the right private investments. Both, he admits, have been a little slow coming.

"Despite recent factors that are beyond our control, our intent is there," Chen says.

In order to get the kind of retailers that will propel downtown to a new level, he says, there must be more people moving in downtown. More than the 1,350 units already open or under construction? More than the future 5,150 units that have zoning approval?

"I know we got [retailers] to where they're looking at us," he says. "But they don't see sufficient body count to attract their interests."

But that presents a chicken-or-the-egg question: How can you attract people to downtown without sufficient amenities?

For SkyPoint residents like Callejas, the answer isn't completely clear. But he does know one thing.

"All you have is Fly," he says of the popular restaurant on North Franklin, "and that gets old."

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