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Will work for food? Try Harbor Dish Community Cafe in Safety Harbor

Harbor Dish Community Cafe is a restaurant where people can eat healthy foods for whatever price they can afford to pay. And they may leave with something more enriching than a good meal.

They'll feel themselves as part of a caring community.

"There is something for everyone at the cafe, not just food," says Christina Sauger, founder and director of the nonprofit Harbor Dish, Inc., and the community cafe at 123 4th Ave. South in Safety Harbor.

The cafe is awaiting approval from the city of Safety Harbor for its permit.  Sauger anticipates opening in late March or early April.

Harbor Dish will rely on volunteers, grants, donations and a handful of paid staff members including a chef, volunteer coordinator and cafe administrator. Patrons will dine buffet-style and pay the suggested discount price or whatever amount they can afford.

People also can "pay it forward" for another person. Or volunteer for one hour and get a meal voucher.

Not all of the volunteer work must be cafe-related. Educational programs and mentoring also are part of Sauger's broader goal of helping the working poor, seniors, people with disabilities, veterans and at-risk youth.

"Whatever skills people have they can share," says Sauger.

Harbor Dish already is holding "pop-up" events and working with other nonprofits and social agencies in the community.

A job training program, culinary training for disabled veterans, Bright Future scholarship hours, life skills for children aging out of foster care and gardening classes are among future enterprises that could be supported by Harbor Dish. An event stage and a community garden also will bring the community together for family-oriented activities.

The model for Harbor Dish is the national nonprofit, One World Everybody Eats community cafe movement. About 40 cafes are operating across the country with about 20 additional restaurants preparing to open, Sauger says.

The most well-known of the cafes is Soul Kitchen in New Jersey supported by the Jon Bon Jovi Foundation.

One World Everybody eats recently held its 2015 summit at the Safety Harbor Resort and Spa.

Sauger visited five community cafes in New Jersey, Tennessee and North Carolina before organizing in Safety Harbor. The cafe's location is the former home of her great-grandmother.

Renovations at the house began in October 2013. A new roof, paving stones, a stage and a fence are among donated items. Sauger is covering basic costs of mortgage and utilities but once the cafe is up and running, it is expected to become self-sustaining.

The cafe is in need of commercial kitchen appliances and capital funding. Sauger estimates about $10,000 to $15,000 is needed to open.

Sauger has two engineering degrees and worked as a real estate broker for 25 years. But her care giving began at age 15 when she brought homeless people home for her mother to feed. 

She carried that over into her adult life.

"I was feeding people out of my house because I saw there was a need," she says. She was particularly touched by the struggles grandparents have caring for their grandchildren.

"We wanted to take this to the next level," Sauger says. "We want to see what we can do in a bigger way."

Waypoint Homes aids restoration at Tampa Heights youth development and community center

For more than four years volunteers have shown up weekend after weekend to put in sweat equity to salvage the historical Faith Temple Missionary Baptist Church for a new mission. By March the church is expected to be ready for its debut as the Tampa Heights Youth Development and Community Center.

The final push to complete the makeover is coming from Waypoint Homes and its WIN (Waypoint Invests in Neighborhoods) Program. On successive Thursdays in January a dozen or so WIN team employees work room by room to hang doors, install drywall, put up light fixtures, and finish up trim work. 

The single family rental company owns property throughout Tampa Bay including in the Tampa Heights neighborhood. As part of its WIN program, Waypoint Home sponsors a number of projects to give back to those communities. 

"We search out projects," says John Rapisarda, regional property manager. "We love to do something where we impact the neighborhood where we rent and own  homes."

Company officials are offering materials and company volunteers to finish renovations at the community center for its March opening. Some of it vendors also are contributing materials and labor including Sherwin Williams which is providing flooring.

Waypoint Homes employees will install the flooring.

"It was perfect for us because in addition to contributing financially we want our team to contribute their time," says David Diaz, Waypoint Home's regional director.

The Tampa Heights Junior Civic Association, which is spearheading the renovation project,  provides free youth programs year-round, including after-school and summer activities. The renovated church will include a computer lab, art classroom, recording studio, dining/kitchen area, 300-seat auditorium and performance stage.

"We like everything about this program," says Diaz. "They follow the kids from kindergarten to make sure they graduate from high school."

Over the years national chains, such as Sears, and local businesses, such as CGM Services: Air Conditioning and Heating, have contributed labor and materials to the project. Nonprofit Rebuilding Together Tampa Bay and Richard Gonzmart of the Columbia Restaurant Group also are contributors. 

The total in donations and volunteer labor  likely is close to $1 million, says Lena Young-Green, president of the Tampa Heights Junior Civic Association. Once Waypoint Homes completes its work, the last step is finding a vendor and materials to replace the roof, Young-Green says. 

The Beck Group is helping with this search.

Local architect John Tennison, with Atelier Architecture Engineering Construction, has supervised the volunteer work and guided restoration efforts. 

"It's been enlightening working with people who come by to help," he says. "It's surprising how many people want to give their time and effort. It's a great program and people see that."

Tampa invests $30M in water lines, cycle track

The city of Tampa will invest nearly $30 million in three infrastructure projects that aren't likely to stir up the kind of excitement that comes with news of a new residential tower or hotel in downtown.

But those projects, mostly out of sight and below ground, are part of a long-term effort to expand and upgrade the city's aging water lines to meet the demand of a growing urban population.  Among the benefits are increased water pressure and fire hydrant flows.

Construction will begin on all projects in January and last approximately 18 months. Each project costs slightly under $10 million.

"It's not something shiny and flashy but it's something equally important," says Tricia Shuler, a construction engineer for CH2M Hill, the engineering firm hired by the city to oversee the projects.

Former Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio started the expansion and upgrades to the city's utility infrastructure nearly six years ago in East Tampa. Since then, various Utility Capital Improvement Projects (UCAP), also by CH2M Hill, have replaced and extended water and sewer lines into the downtown area and South Tampa.

One noticeable change will be the conversion of Cass and Tyler Streets from one-way to two-way streets and the construction of a cycle track where bicyclists will be separated from vehicular traffic by a concrete barrier.

"It's going to become a very appealing asset through downtown," Shuler says. "People will feel like they live in a big city."

The changes to Cass and Tyler are part of Invision Tampa, a blueprint that emerged from Mayor Bob Buckhorn's efforts to redevelop the downtown core and surrounding neighborhoods. The goal is to restore the downtown's street grid which for years has been dominated by one-way streets.

CH2M Hill also will bury box culverts to ease flooding along Rome Avenue and Cypress Street. This will set the stage for future storm water projects.

Work will continue on installation of a 36-inch water transmission line from David L. Tippin Water Treatment Facility to South Tampa.  In December CH2M Hill completed construction of a 500-foot tunnel across the Hillsborough River to minimize the impact of pipeline installation on the environment.

Additional work will extend the pipeline from North Jefferson and East Cass streets, then along Tyler to Fortune, west across the river and end at North Boulevard and West Cass.

Bus riders get new transit center in Pinellas Park

Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority is setting ridership records and filling a need for a growing urban population in Pinellas County. Two express routes also carry riders to and from downtown Tampa.

Now the new Pinellas Park Transit Center at 3801 70th Ave. is filling a "huge hole'' in customer services for riders in the middle of the county, according to Brad Miller, PSTA's chief executive officer, who spoke at the center's grand opening on Jan. 13.

The transit center is the first Customer Service Center in 13 years. The last was opened at Grand Central Station in St. Petersburg in 2002. Riders at the new transit center can buy tickets, figure out bus schedules or get a quick question answered by a PSTA employee.

The facility replaces the former transit center behind the Shoppes at Park Place. Boulder Venture South, a commercial real estate company with offices in Clearwater, donated the land. CHTR Development, LLC, built the transit center after winning the contract with a low bid of about $360,000.

"This is the first public/private partnership in our system," says Bill Jonson, PSTA'S board chairman. "It turns out to be a welcome one."

The transit center has public restrooms, a 2-station customer service booth, security cameras, an ATM machine, a new sidewalk and a raised traffic table for safer pedestrian crossings.

In November 2014 voters rejected a "Greenlight Pinellas" proposal for a 1 percent sales tax to pay for a 30-year plan to improve transit service and potentially have light rail service connecting St. Petersburg and Clearwater. 

"PSTA is in sort of a transition phase right now, looking beyond Greenlight Pinellas, looking at ways we might be more efficient and provide the best services," says Miller. "No matter what our funding status, our size or growth, we have to maintain our (commitment) to our customers."

In fiscal year 2013-2014, riders boarded PSTA buses about 14.5 million times or about 35,000 more boardings than the previous fiscal year, according to PSTA records.

Fitlife Foods opens in Downtown Tampa, offers meals to go

Fitlife Foods is ready to offer office workers and downtown residents what they want in healthy "grab-and-go" prepared foods along with what owner David Osterweil calls "cravable" eatables.

The on-the-go concept for breakfast, lunch and dinner is located in a 500-square-foot slot on the mezzanine floor of the Bank of America building at 101 Kennedy Blvd. It is the seventh Bay area Fitlife Foods to open since the restaurant's launch in 2011 on Dale Mabry Highway in the Carrollwood neighborhood.

A second Dale Mabry location in South Tampa also is open as well as locations on South Howard Avenue and in Brandon, Clearwater and St. Petersburg.

"We want to be where our customers are and downtown Tampa is a growing, thriving part of our community," says Osterweil.

At least five new residential towers in downtown and the Channel District are expected to be under construction within the next couple of years. New hotels, restaurants and shops are on the horizon. And the Channel District is poised for an explosion of new development following the announcement from Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik of plans for a $1 billion investment into Tampa Waterfront District with new residential, dining, entertainment, office and hotel developments.

Brian Bern of Franklin Street and CBRE Group Inc. negotiated the lease. Architect Richard Hartmann of Hartmann Architecture is the store's designer.

Fitlife Foods takes a new approach to the fast-food market.

Customers can purchase one meal and go or during a busy week opt to buy multiple meals to take home. The goal is to save time and eat healthy, says Osterweil.

A top menu item is Tampa Bay BBQ Beef and Mac 'n Cheese. Other items include Feel Good Chicken Tenders and a spicy eggplant Parmesan. About 70 percent of the menu is gluten-free. There also are Paleo and vegetarian dishes.

To help in menu selection, Fitlife Foods provides information on calories, allergens, carbohydrates and sodium.

"We cater to a lot of the specialties," Osterweil says.

Operating hours are 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday-Thursday, and 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Friday. Within a month Osterweil anticipates starting a delivery service.

Big Brothers Big Sisters moves national headquarters to Tampa

The welcome mat is out for former Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio. But Iorio is the one bearing a welcome home gift for the Tampa Bay region -- the national corporate headquarters for Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.

In April 2014 Iorio took on the top job at the 110-year-old nonprofit headquartered in Irving, TX. She was Tampa's mayor from 2003 to 2011. As chief executive officer of Big Brothers Big Sisters, she spent her weeks in Texas and weekends at home in Tampa.

Effective March 31, the commuting ends and Big Brothers Big Sisters moves into 6,900-square-feet of office space at Corporate Center One at International Plaza in the Westshore Business District. The rent is free for five years courtesy of Parkway Properties.

The Beck Group is donating the carpets, paint and other materials to make the offices move-in ready. Bill Adams of ROF is providing furniture and design services. And an anonymous Tampa donor is paying moving expenses.

"From a civic stand point, I couldn't be more proud that Big Brothers Big Sisters is calling Tampa home," says Iorio. "I couldn't be more optimistic about the future of the organization in Tampa."

A corporate headquarters in Tampa comes as a plum prize in a city, and a region, that is awash in on-going and soon-to-happen construction for residential towers, shops and restaurants in the urban cores of Tampa and St. Petersburg.

"Wow. This is a really a big deal," says Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman. "We are getting ready to explode in this community. I'm glad, Pam, you and your organization have decided to spark the fire. They are going to bring their company here. There is such a spillover for that."

Iorio and Murman spoke at a gathering at the Tampa Convention Center to announce the relocation. About 150 people attended, including Joseph Lopano, chief executive officer of Tampa International Airport and Kanika Tomalin, deputy mayor of St. Petersburg. 

The move from Texas is expected to bring 20 jobs to the community. While a few employees from Texas might opt to re-locate, Iorio says most jobs will be filled locally.

As national headquarters, Tampa will host board members and staff from 331 affiliate organizations across the country for meetings and conferences. That translates, city leaders say, to more hotel beds filled and more money flowing into the local economy from dollars spent at area restaurants, shops and entertainment venues.

"This is how you become known as a headquarters community," says Rick Homans, CEO of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation (THEDC).

Iorio says she had committed to two years as chief executive officer of Big Brothers Big Sisters. A request that she consider a longer commitment led to the decision to relocate.

The THEDC served as facilitator, pulling together a business plan in about two months to sell Tampa and the Bay area as a good move. Iorio says she told her organization, "Even if you take me out of the equation, Tampa Bay is a great place."

Dallas had been corporate headquarters for the organization for only about a year following a move from Philadelphia.

Pinellas and Hillsborough counties have merged their Big Brothers Big Sisters organizations into one of the largest affiliates in the country. Iorio says 3,500 children are served in the Bay area and about 1,000 are on a waiting list to have a Big Brother or Big Sister as a mentor.

IBM retiree Alan Cohen is a Big Brother to 13-year-old Sir.Giogio (last name unavailable) who is the middle child of a single mother. For the past six years, Cohen has taken Sir.Giorgio to sports venues, Busch Gardens and tutors him once a week.

"I know I am able to make a difference in one person's life," says Cohen. "I have a friend in Sir. Giorgio."

Holiday Inn Express will be first hotel in Trinity in West Pasco County

Pasco County is looking toward an active 2015 as new residences, restaurants, offices and shopping malls go vertical. Among the newest announced projects is the Holiday Inn Express -- the first hotel in the Trinity neighborhood of West Pasco.

The 86-room hotel will open in late 2015 at Trinity Corporate Center, off State Road 54 and within proximity of the Medical Center of Trinity. Wells Fargo Advisors is the anchor tenant for the 21,000-square-foot corporate center.

"This is a growing area with lots of new retail, new hospitals, a lot of rooftops, meaning more homes and that will mean more weddings ... graduations," says Michael Holtz, owner of St. Petersburg-based MPH Hotels, Inc . Holtz has developed more than 150 hotels in 20 states.

Synovus Bank is backing the approximately $9 million investment. The hotel's design is by Dunedin-based David L. Wallace & Associates. Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Florida Properties Group is the broker of the sale and purchase of the property.

The Holiday Inn Express that will soon be under construction is the new prototype of the hotel chain, Holtz says.

It will have a contemporary look, 17 suites, a spacious lobby, high-speed and wireless Internet access, a fitness center, board room and conference room, and a swimming pool and hot tub.

There also will be an outdoor patio with barbecue pits. "It's a whole new concept where guests can meet and get to know each other better," Holtz says.

Though this is Trinity's first hotel, there is room for more, he adds.

"I think Pasco County is being aggressive now and there are other opportunities coming along," Holtz says. 

Fodder & Shine and Bourgeois Pig open in Seminole Heights

More restaurant doors are open in the Seminole Heights neighborhood of Tampa, and the eclectic dining choices just keep growing.

Fodder & Shine, at 5910 N. Florida Ave., is serving a dinner menu of delectable Florida cracker-style cuisine from grilled frog legs and fried liver and gizzards for starters to grilled smothered quail and roasted pork for the main courses. In between table mates can devour a diverse array of sides from crackling cornbread to cathead biscuits. The bar serves craft beers, cocktails and wine.

Breakfast and lunch menus are on the way.

The Bourgeois Pig, at 7701 N. Nebraska Ave., is bringing Bohemian chic with an old world flair to the neighborhood. A menu of "adult comfort food" offers starters of softened goat cheese spread and olive oil poached yellow fin tuna; entrees of beef stroganoff on the bone, lamb osso buco, and Brittany fish stew. The Oz bar is stocked with craft beers, hand-crafted cocktails and craft liquors, and a selection of "old world" wines.

Chef Chris Juers is a California transplant.

The Pig welcomes the well-behaved pooch. Morning coffee and lunch will begin in February.

"It's pretty awesome," says co-owner Lysa Bozel. "We've had a good response from the public. The neighborhood has been very supportive."

Bozel and her husband Michael Bozel restored a 1920s bungalow, putting their personal design stamp on each detail including a fireplace and 4-foot chandelier in the main dining room. The Bourgeois Pig sign outside and the Oz bar top are the work of artist Dominique Martinez of Rustic Steel Creations in Tampa Heights.

The Bozels also operate Mockingbird Vacation Rentals with several rental homes in Tampa neighborhoods.

Fodder & Shine is the second Seminole Heights' restaurant for owners Greg and Michelle Baker. Nearly four years ago, the couple opened The Refinery, at 5137 Florida Ave. The Florida-centric restaurant changes menus three or four times a week. In 2014 Southern Living magazine placed The Refinery among the top 100 restaurants in the South. Chef Greg Baker is a four-time James Beard semi-finalist. The Bakers have built a national reputation for fine dining and shone the spotlight on Seminole Heights as an emerging foodie neighborhood. 

Among restaurants and bars attracting patrons to Seminole Heights are Rooster and the Till, Ella's Americana Folk Art Cafe, Independent Bar and Cafe, The Mermaid Tavern, Angry Chair Brewing, Florida Avenue Brewing Co., San Carlos Tavern & Grill, El Rincon Catracho, Reservations Gourmet to Go, The Front Porch Grill and Bar, and Cappy's Pizza.

TGH opens second primary health care center in Pasco County

Tampa General Hospital continues its expansion into Pasco County with the opening of the Tampa General Medical Group Family Care Center in Wesley Chapel.

The medical facility opens Jan. 7 at 2324 Oak Myrtle Lane, on the north side of State Road 56, off Cypress Creek Boulevard. Operating hours are from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday - Friday. This is TGH's 13th Family Care Center and the second in Pasco County.

"We're trying to find our sites where growth is high," says Jana Gardner, VP of physicians practices operations. "The area is growing like a weed, kind of like Brandon."

The interchange of I-75 and S.R.56 is a booming area for new development in the Wesley Chapel area including the planned master-community of Cypress Creek Town Center, Tampa Premium Outlets mall and the Cypress Creek Ice & Sports Complex.

Tampa General opened a family care center, for patients age 18 and older, in the Trinity area of Pasco in October.

The Wesley Chapel facility has two doctors, Stephanie Talton-Williamson and Cheryl Roberson. They will offer health care to patients age 12 and older. Services include physicals, immunizations, illness visits and management of chronic health conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

Talton-Williamson is board certified in internal medicine. She completed her residency and earned a medical degree from Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans. Roberson is board certified in family medicine. She completed her residency a the Via Christi Hospital St. Francis in Wichita, Kansas. Her medical degree is from the University of Kansas in Kansas City.

The family care center also is the address for Tower Radiology Center which will be a convenience for physicians and patients, says Gardner.

 TGH officials plan to open a 14th Family Care Center in Fishhawk community in LIthia in late January.

Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik plans $1B Investment in Downtown Tampa

Game changer may be a cliche but it seems to fit Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik's vision of a $1 billion investment to create a "live, work, play and stay" neighborhood in downtown Tampa's Channel District that will propel economic growth in Tampa for decades.

"We have a virtual blank canvas of 40 acres ... to develop an entire district to revitalize downtown and change this area for an entire generation," says Vinik.

In the last four years Vinik's real estate team, Strategic Property Partners, quietly amassed vacant lots surrounding the Lightning venue, Amalie Arena. Vinik compares the purchases to the under-the-radar land deals made decades ago for Disney World in Orlando.

For many, his vision for Tampa holds the promise of being a seminal moment in the city's history.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn tags Vinik as a "city builder."

"We are on the precipice of something absolutely amazing. ... This is a day they will look back on and they will say this is where it started," says the mayor.

On Wednesday Vinik and his creative team presented their vision plan for the  district and Channelside Bay Plaza to an overflow crowd at Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina. Among dignitaries were Buckhorn, University of South Florida President Judy Genshaft and Florida Commerce Secretary Gray Swoope.

Over the next five to seven years Vinik proposes to create the Tampa Waterfront District as a vibrant 18/7 retail, dining and entertainment mecca as well as a business center for corporations, entrepreneurs and innovators.

Plans are to add nearly 3 million square feet of commercial and residential development. Upon completion, estimates put annual economic output at about $900 million. About 3,700 direct jobs will be added to Hillsborough County's employment rolls with an average salary of about $78,000. Annual tax revenues will be boosted by as much as $35 million, based on projections by Oxford Economics.

Seattle-based Cascade Investment, founded by billionaire Bill Gates, is the funding partner. "We do have financing to complete the billion dollar project and hopefully go beyond when it is done," Vinik says.

On land donated by Vinik, USF plans to build new facilities for the Morsani College of Medicine and USF Heart Health Institute. Student housing also is a possibility. 

By summer of 2015 the first dirt will turn as work begins on infrastructure and a new street grid that will see Old Water Street expanded and some lesser streets vacated. 

"We hope USF follows shortly behind that," Vinik says.

The struggling Channelside Bay Plaza will see its west end torn away to open up views of the waterfront and Harbour Island. A bridge across Channelside Drive will link the dining and shopping plaza to an existing parking garage. A water taxi, ferry, wharf, a new park and boardwalk will connect residents and visitors to the district's prime asset -- the waterfront.

A new Mexican restaurant, Hablo Taco, will open in the plaza in January.

A mixed-use development on a vacant lot across from the Marriott will have a hotel, residences and a retail row that will connect Tampa Convention Center and Amalie Arena. Improvements to the Marriott, which Vinik recently acquired, also are planned.

The TECO Line Streetcar will be expanded.

Vinik emphasizes that he is working from a vision plan. A master plan is yet to come and he wants input from everyone in the community. A crowdsourcing website, TampaWaterfront20/20, invites comments and suggestions.

In 2015 Vinik says his team will concentrate on marketing Tampa and the Channel District's future.

The Lightning owner says people who've never been to Tampa often don't understand the potential of what the city can become. He recalls some questioned his decision to re-locate to Tampa when he bought the hockey team. "This is a great place to live, a great place to work, a great place to stay," he says. "The quality of life is second to none."

And Tampa is attracting millennials and young professionals, as well as empty nesters, who want to enjoy the urban lifestyle. "The millennials, they don't want to be in suburbs. They don't want cars anymore. They want to rent," Vinik says. "This trend is well documented. It's a reason we feel so confident in what we are doing." 

Channel District resident Sid Hasan moved to Tampa more than a year ago from Washington, D.C. He is a founder of CUPS (Channel District Urban Professionals Society), which is seeking to create a collective voice for Channel District business owners and residences.

Vinik's plan, says Hasan, "validates why I moved her from D.C. I thought this was a perfect place to re-invent myself. This is incredible." 

Historical figures honored on Tampa Riverwalk

A Jewish immigrant who became Tampa's first mayor and a West Tampa businessman and civil rights leader are among the latest group of trail blazers to be honored with bronze busts installed on The Tampa Riverwalk's Historical Monument Trail.

For the third year the nonprofit Friends of the Riverwalk revealed its six annual honorees. About 200 people came to see the busts unveiled in a ceremony outside the Tampa Convention Center. 

"I marvel at the courage, sacrifice and perseverance, the guts, that these people have shown," says attorney Steve Anderson, president of the Friends of the Riverwalk. "They are truly inspirational."

The busts, created by sculptor Steve Dickey, will recognize the accomplishments of Blanche Armwood, the namesake of Armwood High School, who was an educator and community activist; Herman Glogowski, a Jewish clothing store owner who became mayor of Tampa at its incorporation in 1886; Gavino Gutierrez, the "first citizen of Ybor City" who brought cigar magnates Vicente Martinez Ybor and Ignacio Haya to Tampa; Bena Wolf Maas, who founded the Children's Home and was the wife of Abe Maas of the Maas Bros. department stores; Hugh Campbell MacFarlane, the Scottish immigrant and attorney who founded West Tampa and nurtured its cigar industry; and Moses White, a prominent West Tampa businessman and civil rights leader.

They will join 12 other historical figures selected for the trail since 2012. As many as 30 people will be memorialized. Informational monuments also will be placed along the trail.

The Riverwalk is the city's waterfront promenade that is envisioned as an approximately 2.5 mile community connector as well as an entertainment and cultural mecca for residents and visitors. The last major segment of the walkway through downtown, a link under Kennedy Boulevard, is expected to be completed in early 2015.

Aloft Hotel, Ulele restaurant, the Tampa Museum of Art and the Straz Center for the Performing Arts are among the businesses and cultural centers already populating the Riverwalk. With a Riverwalk completed from MacDill Park to Water Works Park, the design is intended to attract restaurants, shops, hotels and special events to make the Hillsborough River a downtown destination.

Who else from Tampa's history deserves a bronze bust along the Tampa Riverwalk? Post your comments below. 

St. Pete's much anticipated Locale Market opens in December

Tampa Bay foodies are enthusiastic about the grand opening of Locale Market on Wednesday, Dec. 17, in downtown St. Petersburg’s upscale Sundial Shopping Plaza.  

The inspiration of well-known celebrity chefs Michael Mina and Don Pintabona, Locale Market will be a combination restaurant, bakery and upscale grocery store featuring many locally sourced food, including gator, seafood, produce and caviar from Sarasota, as well as handcrafted items, such as specialty soaps from Thrive Handcrafts in St. Petersburg.

Additional extras include three wood burning grills, fresh-squeezed juices, a 60-day dry aging room for beef, fresh-made pasta bar, bakery and open-air kitchens and cook stations where customers can watch food being prepared. There will also be indoor and outdoor seating. An opening date for the wine bar and a restaurant, FarmTable Kitchen, have not been scheduled, but both will be located on the second floor of the 22,000-square-foot new gourmet marketplace.

Locale joins the line-up of other new retail shops and restaurant at Sundial St. Pete, the former BayWalk shopping area that developer Bill Edwards, CEO of the Edwards Group, has been putting together for several years in downtown St. Petersburg. Local artist Mark Aeiling of MGA Sculpture Studio, in St. Petersburg created the life-size bronze sculpture of dolphins that are part of a dramatic courtyard art scene that also includes a giant sundial.

Celebrity chefs Mina and Pintabona have impressive credentials. Mina is a James Beard award-winning chef and restaurateur, while Pintabona is a cookbook author and served as the first executive chef for The Tribeca Grill, actor Robert DeNiro’s famed restaurant in New York City. 

The two are enthusiastic about Locale Market, which will officially open to the public at 3 p.m. on December 17.

“We couldn’t be more excited to share our culinary marketplace with an area that understands fresh ingredients, unique experiences and community gathering,” says Pintabona.

University Mall gets new owner, new future

University Mall is heading for a makeover.

New York-based RD Management is the new owner of most of the enclosed mall's assets. Hillsborough County records show the company paid about $29.5 million for the property, at 2200 E. Fowler Ave.

The anchor stores, Dillard's, Macy's, Sear's and Burlington Coat Factory, appear to be part of the mall's future and are not included in the purchase. New tenants are potentially a warehouse club, fitness center and a grocery store as well as medical offices or student housing. Hints of the mall's future are viewable in a conceptual plan posted on RD Management's website.

Among vacant retail space with big box potential is the nearly 159,000 square feet once occupied by J.C. Penney's. No word on what retailer might move in there, but other RD Management properties lease to BJ's Wholesale Club. One of the company's mixed use redevelopment projects of retail and housing is in Gainesville, next to the University of Florida.

The mall is in proximity to a ready customer base of nearly 47,000 students at the University of South Florida as well as 16,000 faculty and staff, according to RD Management.  But the University area also is close by four hospitals including Florida Hospital and H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center, Busch Gardens, office parks and more than 265,000 residents within five miles of the mall.

University Mall has been struggling in recent years to keep up with its competitors and facing growing vacancies. But in October, the mall got a burst of newness when Studio Movie Grill opened in the defunct Regal 16 movie house.

The 14-screen movie house offers restaurant-style dining in the theater, first-run movies, a bar and full lounge. Alternative programming and special events also are offered.

Studio Movie Grill representatives also cite the USF student population and the potential growth in the University area as reason for seeking out a lease at University Mall.

Gateway North brings luxury apartments to Largo

Gateway North is the newest luxury apartment complex in Largo, a city that is encouraging more large-scale residential projects with a moratorium on parkland fees.

The fees generally are collected from developers to offset the city's costs for upkeep and additional park amenities to accommodate residential growth. The moratorium is scheduled to end in May 2016.

Gateway North likely would not have been built without the moratorium and the savings to developers of about $1 million in parkland fees, says Anthony Everett, director of Central Florida's division of the Atlanta-based Pollack Shores Real Estate Group

"It was forward thinking of the city to take this positive step and prime the pump to get something going," Everett says.  

Gateway North, at 2681 Roosevelt Blvd., offers 342 one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments ranging in monthly rents from $945 to $1,619. The complex is the first large-scale, market-rate residential complex to open in Largo in at least the past decade. The economic downturn in particular put the brakes on residential development.

Amenities include a 2-acre lake with jogging trails, business and fitness centers, a resort-style clubhouse and pool, and trolley stops for the Clearwater beaches.

The complex offers access to shopping, entertainment, businesses and bus stops, off nearby U.S. 19. Among options are a new Walmart Super Center, WaWa's convenience store and gas station, the St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport and quick access to Tampa Bay bridges.

Pollack Shores Real Estate Group, which developed Gateway North, anticipates the residential community will have broad appeal to young professionals as well as people working in nearby county offices or in proximity to the airport.

At least 120,000 vehicles travel past Gateway North and area businesses daily. 

"I'm sure 300 people would prefer to live close to where they work," Everett says. "It's going  to be a very convenient place to live."

Largo is looking at additional residential construction that in total could put up to 1,200 apartments into the market.

Among current projects are The Boulevard, a 260-unit, market-rate apartment complex at 2098 Seminole Blvd., north of Largo Mall. The site is former home to an RV park. Broadway Apartments will have 288 market-rate apartments on 66th Street, near Ulmerton Road. And Bay Isle Landing is a project of 96 town homes on Roosevelt Boulevard near the Bayside Bridge.

"These are high quality market rate apartment projects," says Robert Klute, Largo's assistant community development director. "That's something we very much want to see."

2 major Tampa streets get new trees, flowers in $1 million makeover

Two gateways into Tampa will look prettier after a $1 million makeover from the city of Tampa and the Florida Department of Transportation.

The grant from the state's Landscape on State Roadways program will pay for new landscaping along Hillsborough Avenue from the Hillsborough River to Interstate 275, and along Dale Mabry Highway from Gandy Boulevard to MacDill Air Force Base. The landscaped design along Dale Mabry, which ends at the air base, will be a tribute to fallen soldiers.

“Just as we did throughout the urban core, we’re expanding our beautification efforts and working to transform our arterial roads to become the welcome signs they should be.  A community feels about itself the way it looks,” says Mayor Bob Buckhorn in a news release announcing the grant. “These roads are true gateways throughout our community.” 

The Hillsborough Avenue gateway runs through Seminole Heights, which is an emerging neighborhood that is home to a growing collection of premier dining destinations, boutiques and micro-breweries.

Nearly 10 years ago the area was spruced up with a landscaped median and a red-brick wall on Hillsborough Avenue between Central and Florida avenues.

"It's just a little tired looking," says Brad Suder, planning and design superintendent of the city's parks and recreation department.

Landscape architect Celia Nichols of Lutz-based Nichols Landscape Architecture will design new landscaping for the roadway, which Suder says will cost between $300,000 and $350,000.

Approximately $800,000 will be spent along Dale Mabry on a landscaped memorial leading to the entrance of MacDill that will honor fallen soldiers. Suder says the design, which is about 50 percent completed, is being done in-house by city employees.

These projects are part of the city's "Opportunity Corridors" efforts, which began in 2012. 

"We really want the city to look like a vibrant city that is open for business and positioned to encourage more business, and to have a better experience for visitors,"  Suder says.

Among the beautified roadways are Bayshore Boulevard, Ashley Drive, Franklin Street, Doyle Carlton Drive, Union Station and Interstate 275 ramps at Orange and Jefferson streets. More than 700 trees were planted in the downtown area along with lighting and irrigation.
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