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Great Dame

By Hannah Wallace April 30, 2007

Like all great dames of the early 20th century, Bradenton’s historic Riverpark Hotel has a checkered past. 

Built in 1925 at the corner of Manatee Avenue and U.S. 41 by a railroad baron, it was once downtown Bradenton’s social center. Guests included all strata of society from Al Capone to Rita Hayworth. But the hotel’s most recent incarnation was as an assisted living facility. 

Then the Kendar Corporation of Bradenton stepped in and helped the seven-story Pink Palace return to a more stately life by transforming it into Riverpark Grande, a mixed-use development with 40 condos, restaurants, stores and office space.

At a ribbon cutting ceremony in February, city officials hailed the project as the gateway to a revitalized downtown Bradenton. “City officials were head over heels with the possibilities and we were able to get the permits in 30 days,” says Kendar CEO Darrell Reha.

Riverpark Grande’s plans call for 20,000 square feet of commercial space on the ground level, including a restaurant or two, retail and office space, with “build it your way” condos above. “With the new judicial center downtown, it’s brought a lot of interest from the legal arena,” says Reha.

The building is registered with the state historical society. Because the exterior couldn’t be altered, Kendar “gutted everything to the bone shell,” according to Reha.

It’s literally been a labor of love, with issues like lead paint and asbestos removal, as well as a restoration of the original wrought-iron railings and hand-painted ceiling beams. “I didn’t realize what an undertaking it was,” Rhea says. ‘We had to figure out how to take it down and preserve the structure. We took our time doing it.”

With nothing but a shell, Reha is offering condo buyers the opportunity to design their own space. “It’s like building 40 individual houses,” he explains. The building's domed roofs will allow for four two-story penthouses on the seventh floor ranging from 1,400 to 1,800 square feet and selling for about $1.25 million. On the remaining floors, condos will range from one-bedroom units for about $360,000 up to three-bedroom units for about $850,000. "No two floor plans are exactly alike," he says.

There will be community and exercise rooms in addition to an outdoor rooftop kitchen on what was once a band shell where outdoor concerts were held in the early days. Kendar is building a three-story building with a parking garage, a rooftop swimming pool and sun deck.

Reha expects build-out to take a year and the first residents to move in spring of 2008.

Kendar Corp., primarily a residential developer incorporated in Florida in 2004, is also building nine $900,000-and-up homes at the Meadows in Sarasota and nine at Shaw’s Point in northwest Bradenton. 

Residents at Riverpark Grande—Reha’s largest residential project to date –will be living with a rich history with plenty of colorful ghosts. The hotel was built by H.C. Van Sweringen of Cleveland, who came from a wealthy family with railroad investments. During prohibition, when jazz and flappers brought together the rich and famous, and a cast of unsavory characters supplying them with booze, the hotel was called “Queen of the West Coast.” Reha hopes that this rich history and the promise of a revitalized Bradenton will provide a strong marketing hook.

With the residential real estate market stagnant, Reha is only mildly concerned about pre-sales. A 25-year resident of Bradenton, he says he has a sentimental attachment to the Riverpark, as do a lot of residents. “We’ve got a good priority list of people,” he says. “And 40 units aren’t a lot. Most of the banks are comfortable with the number of units and we only need 20 [presales].”

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