Kim credits County Commissioner Kathy Castor with convincing the commission to approve the Channel District's TIF proposal, which returns property tax money for redevelopment efforts in blighted neighborhoods. Although this helps with neighborhood improvements, it is also an incentive for development that would not necessarily benefit "the low and middle income residents" it was intended to help.
The biggest blow to the Channel District Council's efforts was last year's City Council vote to allow high-rise development. After an eight-hour meeting the Council voted to allow a developer's request to build 30-story towers in an area where the height limit had been 60 feet. The deadlocked Council vote went in favor of the developers after Mayor Iorio's representative voiced her support for the towers. Councilwomen Linda Saul-Sena and Rose Ferlita, longtime supporters of the neighborhood association, were the only votes against. After that, property values saw no height limit. The low-rise, pedestrian-friendly neighborhood that the Markhams had fought for looked increasingly like a pipe dream. Ironically, the property tax increase made running a profitable medical clinic impossible, but it also meant that when they sold they would make an incredible return on their investment.
The Markhams sold their property to St. Petersburg developer Roger Gatewood, who will build The Villages of Channelside on the site. Gatewood met their requirements that the development be low-rise, include gallery and retail space and feel like a neighborhood.
In spite of the lost battle, Kim Markham believes in the future of the Channel District. "By 2006, the area is going to be exciting and fresh, but it is not going to be what we envisioned in 1993."
The Markhams are going home to Hawaii. Richard will continue to provide medical care to the needy on the island of Molokai. I suspect Kim will be back for key neighborhood, City Council and County Commission meetings.
WHO'S STAYING? WHO'S MOVING IN? There is a high level of confidence among developers, bankers, and real estate professionals that there is a ready-made market for the condo developments now being built. One good sign: banks are requiring high percentages of end-use presales versus investors. Prospective residents who put money down are not likely to forfeit a down payment, while investors looking to flip the property can abandon the deposit at a smaller risk. Presales have been brisk.
Still, current plans don't seem to include housing affordable to residents of low to moderate income, including the elderly. As the district makes the leap from blighted status to luxury living, the poor will be left behind, unless Granny can afford the penthouse. Meanwhile, a few intrepid artistic souls are hanging on.
STILL IN THE HOOD
Artists Unlimited, Inc., 223 N. 12th St.
Genie and Bill White's three-story former manufacturing building. Artists Unlimited, Inc., their not-for-profit artist studio cooperative, is on the first two floors; the Whites' live-in loft is on the third.
Studio Core, 108 N. 11th St.
A small warehouse building leased to artists for studio and gallery space.
Luisa Meshekoff, dancer, dance and yoga instructor, 204 N. 12th St.
Meshekoff has lived and worked in her 1926 brick building since 1994. She is in the process of renovating and obtaining historic designation for the building. Part of a family of New Yorker renovators, she jokes, "Our family motto is buy low, sell low." She is staying. "Ask me for coffee, ask me anything, but don't ask me to sell."
Dominique Martinez, the dragon guy, 114 S. 12th St.
You know, that drunk-looking sheet-metal dragon at Rustic Steel Creations on 12th Street. I hope Dominique and the dragon stay. They increase the funky factor immeasurably.
Stephen Dickey, sculptor, N. 12th and E. Twiggs streets
Sculpture studio in a former warehouse adjoining a charming brick building. If Dickey sells, it's a guaranteed teardown. High-rises likely.
Spectrum Video Production, 112 S. 12th St.
A truly tasteful renovation, and an example of what can go right in the district. Puts the lie to the argument that there is no building worth saving here and that everything must go.
Davis & Harmon, PA
Undergoing renovation and restoration by esteemed architect Steve Smith of Cooper Johnson Smith for law offices and first-floor retail. Along with Meshekoff's building, this may be the only charming historic brick building to survive.
Model-T Building and Victory Lofts, 12th and Whiting streets
Both buildings are fully occupied. Model T is a renovated four-story 1920s former car storage building. Real lofts, not just a feeling. Victory Lofts is a new seven-story building with neo-lofts. Slick industrial outside with balconies that look just like fire escapes. Don't look for a ladder, though.