Eden Tampa goes clothing-optional as residents wait for condo management to tell the naked truth

click to enlarge "The last thing I want to do is stare at a jungle of naked old people," says Sam Christian, right, with roommate Jon Rosenstadt in an Eden pool cabana. - Alex Pickett
Alex Pickett
"The last thing I want to do is stare at a jungle of naked old people," says Sam Christian, right, with roommate Jon Rosenstadt in an Eden pool cabana.

First off, Jon Rosenstadt and Sam Christian want you to know they aren't prudes. The tattooed and pierced Hillsborough Community College students get naked just like the rest of us — showers, sex, what have you. Hell, the 20-somethings have even skinny-dipped once or twice in their lives.

And another thing: They like their apartment complex, and they like their neighbors.

They just don't want to see them naked.

That seems to be the prevailing opinion of the young apartment dwellers I talked to while visiting Eden, the newly renamed and much-buzzed-about condominium complex near Westchase. Formerly the Arbors at Branch Creek, the complex is morphing from family-oriented apartment units into a "South Beach-style" condominium with a nude pool. The current residents are sure of that much, but the rest of their questions — Will we have to move? When will the pool open? Can we break our lease? — remain unanswered.

"The whole nudist thing doesn't bother me," Rosenstadt insists. "It's how they went about it. And how secretive they are now. Why the hell do we have to be left in the dark?"

While most renters learn about changes at their apartment complex through a letter or a friendly knock on the door by a property manager, Rosenstadt found out from the daily newspaper.

One morning in June, over a cup of coffee, he opened the paper to discover the apartment complex he's called home for the last seven months would become the newest destination for nudists in Tampa Bay.

"At first, I didn't believe it," he recalls. "Then, I found it funny. But then I was annoyed. I'd rather had heard it first than reading it in the paper."

The next day, management confirmed the changes in a letter sent to all residents, along with a survey politely asking, "Would you be opposed to a clothing-optional pool?"

Of course, the survey was just a formality. For months, the owners of the 350-unit apartment complex off of Hillsborough Avenue near Westchase had envisioned a condo conversion featuring a clothing-optional pool à la the swanky hotels of Miami and Las Vegas. Eden launched a website featuring a model gallivanting about the complex naked. Several cabanas, with white vinyl futons inside, appeared in the pool area. Clubhouse windows with a view of the pool area were frosted. The pool remained closed for days on end. When it does go nude, by the end of October, only residents 18 and up will be allowed in.

Throughout these changes, residents say, management never kept them informed.

Earl McLean, 27, and his 21-year-old girlfriend, Jessica Morrison, moved to the complex in March, in part for the pool amenities.

"Our friends with kids could have picnics out by the pool," McLean explains. "But you can't do that anymore. If I have a gathering of people, they can't bring their kids. They just took away that amenity."

(There is another, smaller pool area, albeit without a grill, that will remain open for minors.)

But more importantly, McLean doesn't know if he'll be able to stay in his apartment until his lease expires next year.

"If they end up putting this all through and we can't find another place, what are we supposed to do?" he says.

Rosenstadt and Christian are in the same boat.

"We just want to get the hell out of here," Rosenstadt says. "But we can't get an answer. We're basically stuck. We're still under our lease until next December."

Ashley Norman, spokesperson for Eden, admits the company hasn't had many answers for residents. The pool opening has been delayed by the recent tropical storms. And management is still talking to prospective condo buyers. (The complex is 90 percent occupied with condo dwellers and renters, she says.)

"Eden Tampa is available to address any concerns that current residents have individually," she wrote in an e-mail. "In the event that a current renter ultimately decides to leave the property, Eden Tampa will assist them in transferring to a sister property."

In addition, Norman says current renters will be allowed to stay until the end of their lease. She would not confirm if residents could break their leases.

But the real question is if the nude experiment will create the hip South Beach vibe Eden is after.

"We're definitely not targeting one age or another," Norman says. "I think there is a big difference between the nudist communities and families that embrace that life and what we're trying to do here. We foresee it filling its own niche."

Kenny Lombardo, 26, is not so sure. As he and his friends swill beer and devour hot dogs poolside, Lombardo recalls stumbling on a private pool party for prospective buyers on Labor Day. He found nine party stragglers in the hot tub. Nude.

"And you didn't want to look at any of them," he laughs.

His girlfriend quips, "Yeah, I'm now scarred for life."

The irony is, Lombardo and his friends don't have any reservations about jumping into the pool naked themselves. They don't need permission from Eden, just enough Jager shots.

"If we get enough alcohol," Lombardo's roommate, William Sepulveda, says, "I'm sure we will before the night is through."