As downtown St. Petersburg has been undergoing a construction boom for several years, city planning and zoning officials are understandably concerned about ensuring that new downtown buildings fit in with their surroundings. So in 2005, when representatives from multifamily and mixed-use developer Miles Development Partners and architecture firm Lord, Aeck & Sargent first discussed with the City their plans for a large condominium development, planning and zoning officials said the structure - on about an acre of land by a busy thoroughfare that accesses Interstate 175 - would stand little chance of approval if it exceeded seven stories. City officials also suggested that an appropriate structure would step down in height as it got closer to its neighbors.
"It wasn't a practical suggestion," said Eric Brock, head of Lord, Aeck & Sargent's Housing & Mixed-Use Studio and design principal for the St. Petersburg project. "A stepped building would have been unnecessarily complex and would have limited the density that Miles needed as well as the number of units with views of downtown St. Petersburg and the nearby Tampa Bay."
Responding to the Challenge
So the Lord, Aeck & Sargent design team created a different piece of urban architecture that has a positive impact on its surroundings and is a win-win-win solution for the developer, planning and zoning officials, and St. Petersburg residents.
Known as The Sage Condominiums, the recently completed 112-unit structure has two low-rise, street-facing portions separated by a landscaped entry courtyard with a fountain, and a 12-story tower portion set back from the street; all three building sections are joined by a two-story lobby and an upper level amenity terrace. The low-rise sections include a five-story wing that provides emphasis to the corner of the busy thoroughfare, and a four-story wing that relates sensitively to neighboring low-rise apartment buildings.
The design solution allowed the team to conceal the building's 213 controlled access parking spaces behind the low-rise portions of the building and underneath the tower.
The Sage's design also includes a downtown civic improvement - the relocation and improvement of a neglected public alley to the back of the building, where there is now a new street with lights, trees and storm water enhancements. "The new streetscape gives the building a distinctive resident parking entrance, something that's important for an urban multifamily development," Brock said. "And by relocating the alley, we were also able to increase space for the building itself by about 5 percent."
Brock said that the project team overcame a challenging, ambiguous zoning requirement with a design that pushes the height and density back from the street and closer to the freeway. "From the street level, it's not overwhelming, and there are more desirable views than there would have been with a stepped solution. The streetscape is nice, and there's a civilized and urbane procession from the public realm to the semi-public courtyard to the lobby and through the building to the homes and amenity spaces.
"The Sage is a good piece of urban architecture that makes downtown St. Pete a better place," Brock continued. "The building will stand the test of time; it may need to be freshened up, but it won't need to be reconfigured."
The $32 million, 262,000-square-foot building includes one- two- and three-bedroom units with floor-to-ceiling windows and private balconies that provide panoramic views. Eleven floor plans range in size from 869-1,700 square feet.
All of The Sage's common areas convey a simple, peaceful yet sophisticated feel. The building's elegant two-story lobby features limestone flooring and wood paneling. Amenities include a club room with a bar, which opens via folding glass walls to a landscaped roof terrace, swimming pool, and sun deck with a kitchen and grilling area. A fully equipped fitness studio, conference facility and a resident media lounge are additional amenities.
"The Sage is just a clean, transitional aesthetic, neither overly modern nor overly traditional," said Bruce Wise, Miles Development Partners' director of design. "The end product exceeded our expectations. Lord, Aeck & Sargent delivered a very special product to downtown St. Petersburg, one that they and we are very proud of."