A lofty development: Halflants and Pichette add ownership stake to design and construction services

25 Dec 2017 10:54 PM | AIA Gulfcoast (Administrator)

A lofty development: Halflants and Pichette add ownership stake to design and construction services

Renowned for the modern architecture in both their residential and commercial projects, Michael Halflants and John Pichette are embarking on a new endeavor — the complete development of their own property, adding ownership to project concept, design and construction.

Halflants + Pichette Studio for Modern Architecture bought a vacant piece of property across Tamiami Trail from Whitaker Gateway Park, one of Sarasota’s waterfront parks. The partners, whose studio earned the American Institute of Architects’ award for Tampa Bay 2016 Firm of the Year, plan to build 21 condos over retail and parking in their Whitaker Lofts project.

The structure promises to further enliven a stretch of the Trail that is already undergoing a renaissance. The project’s architecture will add visual appeal to the resurgent neighborhood.

“It’s a bold modern design that curves around the site,” Halflants said. “The projection of balconies and the building recess will create a constant play of shadows throughout the day.

“The ground floor facing the street will be glazed and lined with retail spaces. A wide exterior stair will serve as the residents’ gateway to the park. This opening will also serve as an opportunity for public art.”

Whitaker Gateway Park will be far easier to access without risking a mad dash across the highway once the Florida Department of Transportation completes a planned roundabout at 14th Street and the Trail. Whitaker Lofts will rest on the land between 14th and 15th streets. The roundabout, Halflants said, “would slow down traffic and offer easy pedestrian connection with the park.”

The location offered other compelling characteristics. “Jessica Simmons and Kim Cressell did a wonderful job in opening the neighboring Reserve coffee shop,” he said of the business that includes a and bookstore directly across 14th Street. “The site is also connected to downtown with the new iRide,” a free shuttle service.

Besides Whitaker Gateway Park, Centennial Park and Pioneer Park are both a short walk away. The Rosemary District is only a few blocks farther. Three blocks to the north, the 160-unit Strand condominium project is being developed on Whitaker Bayou.

“Four blocks north, Ringling College has been expanding its campus,” Halflants said. “I also enjoy the fact that Sasaki Associates has been selected to redesign the city’s nearby 42-acre waterfront.”

And, in the future, Halfants hopes, an old rail line not too far away, will become an extension of the Legacy Trail, an 11-mile paved trail for biking and walking.

“I live in Indian Beach and my office is in the Rosemary District,” Halflants said. “As such, the (Whitaker Lofts) site is halfway between my house and my office. I had been thinking about its development opportunities for a while.”

The project is currently undergoing early site work, and floor plans, sales prices and a completion date have yet to be set. “We just purchased the piece of property this summer,” Halflants said. “We are only in the early design phase.”

The units will range in size from 750 square feet garden units to 1,500 square feet, two-story units with private rooftop terraces.

With Whitaker Gateway Park stretching from the Trail to Sarasota Bay, those terraces will provide unobstructed views of the bay and beyond. “The lower units will enjoy their own private gardens,” he said.

The architect said development regulations complicated their project and are responsible for the high prices of downtown real estate. “The allowable densities in the City of Sarasota are far too low,” he said. “This has created a market of large luxury units.

“While we are planning to offer a high level of finish, the units will be more efficient than other condominium projects under development and have a far more reasonable sale price.”

By Chris Wille
Real Estate Editor

Posted Dec 22, 2017 at 4:26 PM

While Halflants and Pichette have plenty of experience in design, they lacked one key element until seven years ago when Pichette became licensed as a contractor. “This allowed us to expand our services to also include construction,” Halflants said. “We’ve since completed 10 projects that we both designed and built.

“Development was a logical extension. While we are focused on this first venture, we will continue to look for other development opportunities in the future.”

The architects needed an additional player to launch the Whitaker Lofts project, an investor-partner.

“I purchased the property this summer with Ash Nainar, who is a former client of ours,” Halflants said. “We recently designed and built a house for Ash and Noma on Anna Maria Island. Ash had enjoyed the process and we felt honored that he was willing to join in on a short notice to embark in a new design venture with our firm.”

Why take on the additional responsibilities that come with an ownership stake? “We put a lot of thought into our designs,” Halflants said. “In the past 10 years, we were honored with more design awards from the American Institute of Architects than any firm in Florida. We know that design has value, yet we never earn more for designing a project well. Taking on the development reins would allow us to benefit from the design.”

Halflants and Pichette have been working on a number of housing projects. “I’ve also been teaching the housing class at USF’s Graduate School of Architecture for more than 10 years,” Halflants said. “We are well suited to look at a multi-family site and understand its design and development potential.”

He said he finds inspiration in the work of others who focus on quality in all phases of a project. “Florida certainly has its share of inconsiderate developers, but I’ve admired a number of developers we’ve been working with,” he said, citing Rosemary District-based Risdon Group President Steve Bradley; Karel Dudych of Rosemary District Development LLC; and Alex Hay, executive director of property with DRAPAC Capital Partners.

They “are all able to look at a disused piece of property and imagine a better future,” Halflants said. “They have committed their resources to quality design with the intention of creating communities and an engaging pedestrian environment.”

That sounds like the vision behind Whitaker Lofts.


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