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A class act: new St. Pete Pier expected to be drawing card

Piers that jut hundreds of feet above water are costly to build. Keeping them current, so they attract and entertain visitors year after year, requires a redo every so often. So what people are witnessing in downtown St. Petersburg, the reconstruction of its pier spanning some 3,400 feet above Tampa Bay, hasn’t happened for about 45 years.

“It’s transformative,” says Chris Ballestra, managing director in charge of development for St. Petersburg’s downtown.

Since the first pier was built in 1889 as a railroad trestle, the city has had several piers that served as a major community gathering space. This redo is actually the city’s eighth. It replaces the Inverted Pyramid Pier completed in 1973, which was torn down in 2013.

“The old pier was very nice, but all the action was way out into the bay and there was nothing in between,” Ballestra explains. “We’re activating the whole site.”

The $76 million project features a Lawn Bowl capable of handling crowds of more than 3,000 for special events, plus a Splash Pad, an interactive water play area; Spa Beach, offering a naturalized shoreline for beach enthusiasts; a Marina Lawn for outdoor recreation such as shuffleboard and swings; and a Coastal Thicket, which turns parts of the stroll out to the pier head into a nature walk.

Because it is so expensive, there are very few cities that have these long piers. Which means this new pier can be “a calling card” for St. Pete, he says, along the lines of the Navy Pier in Chicago, Pier 39 in San Francisco or Santa Monica Pier in California.

“We want to compete on a very large stage around the world,” Ballestra says.

Despite its complexity, the project has been going smoothly. “It’s a very challenging construction market right now, a very competitive environment,” he says. “We’re locked in on the numbers. We don’t have any surprises, which is how we need it to be.”

Construction began on the new St. Pete Pier last June, with the activity centering around the pilings and deck above the water. “Building the pier itself is an extremely complex project,” he says. “By example, the old pier had 1500 pilings. ... For everyone one of our pilings, there three of our old pilings around it.”

Construction will go vertical in late spring or early summer, he says. Updates are available through the city’s website; click on “The New Pier” under City Initiatives.

“We wanted to preserve the community’s expectation,” he says. “We are building for a 75- to a 100-year lifespan.”

An estimated 1,000 are being employed during construction, and some 400 are expected to have ongoing jobs when the pier is completed. The main contractor is Skanska, a major project development and construction company with U.S. operations based in New York City.

While approval is still pending, the city has identified two potential pier occupants: Doc Ford’s Rum Bar and Grille, themed on novels by New York Times best-selling author Randy Wayne White, and Tampa Bay Watch, a Tierra Verde nonprofit which would run an environmental learning center open to the public.

When work is completed, the pier district will be connected with the rest of downtown. “Within the district, there’s shuttles that link directly to downtown that are free,” Ballestra explains. “We worked very hard to make sure we had an integrated process.”

A grand opening is slated for April, 2019, so there’s still a lot of work remaining. “You’re going to see a lot of construction activity,” he adds.

The project comes at a time of uncertainty -- and promise -- as the city grapples with what to do with the 86-acre Tropicana Field property following the Tampa Bay Rays’ announcement Feb. 9 that it would be moving to Ybor City. “We’re very excited to get that site redeveloped, period,” he says.

Ballestra calls the pier and Tropicana Field “bookends to a downtown.”

“What we’re doing with the pier is a full rebuild, creating its own district,” he says. “Tropicana is ultimately a bigger project, with clearly long-term implications to the city.”

He expects the results to be positive. “It’s exciting,” he says. “I feel ... very happy for our community given what’s in store in the next 50 years.”

SOHO Blind Tiger settles into walkable community

A trip to Roberto Torres’ South Howard Avenue coffee shop is an average 7- to 12-minute walk for many of his customers. When they arrive, they experience the aroma and flavor of coffee from afar: the floral and tea-like favors of coffee from Panama, the citrusy tones of coffee from Brazil, the nutty taste of coffee from Columbia, and the fruitiness of coffee from Rwanda.

This is Blind Tiger Cafe, part of a walkable community on both sides of Howard Avenue in South Tampa. The floor, with its map of Tampa and its neighborhoods is like a “love letter” to the city, acknowledges the native of Panama, who moved to Tampa 12 years ago.

Inspired by the speakeasy, another name for blind tiger, Torres opened his first cafe in Ybor City in late 2014. His goal was simple: meet Seventh Avenue’s need for a coffee shop.

He soon learned high walkability, high density and a neighborhood feel was a winning formula for the rest of Tampa too. So he and partners opened shops in Seminole Heights, the Tampa Bay Times building downtown, and more recently, South Tampa. His 17,000-square-foot shop at 934 S. Howard Ave. features a polished concrete floor with a map by Robert Horning of Tampa Murals.

“We wish to be sort of like this destination in Tampa,” explains Torres, who is partnering with Luis Montanez and Christopher Findeisen in the cafe and Black & Denim, a Tampa apparel firm. “This is where we got our start.”

The Blind Tiger Cafe also features a bold tiger on the wall by Tampa’s Pep Rally Inc. It offers traditional coffee drinks like cappuccino, along with specialty drinks. “For example, we have this one, Expresso Bombon -- two ounces of expresso over two ounces of sweet and condensed milk,” he says. “When you mix it, it’s like liquid candy.”

Blind Tiger, which is open from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily, also serves up breakfast sandwiches, turkey and veggie sandwiches, salads, smoothies, beer and wine and cheese plates.

Located in The Morrison building, Torres' latest cafe houses a 300-square-foot haberdashery. The cafe is partnering with Brent Kraus in The Ella Bing Haberdashery, featuring bowties and neckties, suspenders, leather goods, clothes and shoes, with 10 percent of the proceeds going toward The Crisis Center of Tampa Bay.

I think there’s a lot of synergy,” Torres says. “A lot of people that go say ‘oh it’s a shop’ end up being customers from our shop and vice versa.”

The Morrison, located near the Lee Selmon Expressway, includes 48 apartment units in the complex, with two-bedroom, two-bath apartments from 1309 to 1320 square feet listed at $2,500 a month. It offers perks such as bike racks, covered parking, fire pits, an elevator, a fitness center and community entertainment area, pool, sauna and rooftop sundeck.

Joining the Blind Tiger Cafe in the business space are the restaurant Zoës Kitchen, specializing in Mediterranean cuisine; Club Pilates; and Bulla Gastrobar, a fun/casual meeting space inspired by Spanish tapas restaurants.

What’s next for the Blind Tiger Cafe? More coffee stops, of course. “We don’t know exactly where,” Torres says.

Channel Club, new grocery opening soon in downtown Tampa

A transformation is underway in the Channel District just south of Ybor City and east of Tampa’s downtown. Dominating the landscape is the 23-story Channel Club, a $90 million mixed-use project easily visible from the Selmon Expressway.

The roof went on this month, and construction at the 37,000 square feet complex is on track for leasing, beginning in June.

“We hope to have the first folks moving in in late September of this year and open up the Publix at the same time,” says Ken Stoltenberg, co-director of Mercury Advisors, developer of the project.

“It’s an exciting time to be there,” says Stoltenberg, whose firm is also developing the neighboring Grand Central at Kennedy condominiums, which rises some 15 stories high.

The Tampa Bay Rays on Feb. 9 announced plans to move from Tropicana Field in downtown St. Petersburg to Ybor City, a move expected to draw more traffic to the nearby Channel District. A 14-acre site bounded by 4th Avenue on the north, Adamo Drive on the south, Channelside Drive on the west and 15th Street on the east had been identified by Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan in October.

Just a few blocks away, construction also is underway at the $152.6 million Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute, an anchor at the $3 billion Strategic Property Partnersdevelopment at Water Street downtown. The 11-story building across from the Amalie Arena is expected to attract at least 2,200 students, faculty and staff to the 53-acre project.

Construction began last September at Channel Club at 1105 E. Twiggs St. in this former warehouse district near Port Tampa Bay, which is transitioning into one of the Tampa Bay Area's hottest urban scenes led by a residential neighborhood that is increasingly home to start-up companies, art venues and locally-owned restaurants, pubs and shops. The complex features 324 apartment units, a restaurant, fitness center, and hair salon, making it a “truly walkable community,” Stoltenberg says.

“You have everything,” he says. “Anything you normally would run around and do for errands on a Saturday morning, you can walk,” he says.

Half of the first floor will be occupied by Publix.

At the mixed-use Grand Central at Kennedy, located at 1208 E. Kennedy Blvd., Crunch Fitness recently opened its 22,000 square foot center. With Quality Distribution Inc. and Saint Leo University, Tampa Campus, the facility is 90 percent occupied, he says.

The $145 million development includes 392 condominiums, around 80,000 square feet of office space, and 108 square feet of retail.

Grand Central’s East and West buildings were built in 2007, but the 2008 recession interrupted sales. In 2016, the property was approved for 3- to 5-percent financing rates through the Federal National Mortgage Association, known as Fannie Mae. The rates were applied when buyers made the units their primary residence.

Also coming to the neighborhood are Hampton Inn and Home2Suites, a dual-brand Liberty Group project under construction at the southeast corner of Kennedy and Meridian Avenue. It is expected to attract cruise ship passengers embarking from Port Tampa Bay and guests at the new USF College of Medicine.

Headed to Clearwater Beach for spring break? Check out free bus rides

Clearwater Beach has long been one of the premiere spring break destinations in the country, routinely topping media lists for best beaches. It took TripAdvisor’s top beach title in 2018 and in 2016, and was number 4 in 2017. (It was also the only beach in the United States to make TripAdvisor’s 2016 list of top 25 beaches globally.)

Because of its popularity, the area also has long been plagued by traffic congestion and parking woes. So, with the start of the 2018 spring break season, city officials are continuing a partnership with the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) to help alleviate these issues.

For the second consecutive year, the city of Clearwater and the PSTA will offer a free Park & Ride service to beachgoers.

City residents and out-of-town visitors will be able to park for free in designated lots and a trolley will pick up them up from two locations -- the Harborview Center Park & Ride lot and in front of Clearwater City Hall, between Cleveland and Court Streets, says Councilmember Bill Jonson, who is also a PSTA board member. 

Through April 29, the trolleys will run every 15 minutes, and will operate Monday to Thursday, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Friday and Saturday, 9 a.m. to midnight.

“[Traffic is] always a problem at spring break,” Jonson says “For the citizens and our guests, we’d like to mitigate is as much as we can.”

In the past, the city created additional parking areas or offered discounted trolley rides. About a year ago, the public/private North Beach Parking Plaza with 702 spaces opened, he adds. “I still think it’s the best-kept secret on Clearwater Beach.”

Last year, the city and PSTA thought they might be able to increase trolley ridership to the beach if they offered free rides rather than discounting fares. 

“We figured let’s just make it free and see if people will ride it,” Jonson says. Though they saw a slight increase in ridership last spring break, he hopes those numbers increase again this year.

“It’s a really good alternative for someone who doesn’t want to pay the parking rates and who’s willing to sit back and read a magazine or something [on the trolley] as they head to the beach,” he says. “We’re going to offer it to people, and if they ride it, we’ll continue to offer it each year.”

It will be needed even more, he adds, as Clearwater Beach’s tourism appeal continues to grow. 

“We have a fantastic beach. We have fantastic amenities out there and during spring break, there are a lot of people who choose to enjoy them,” he says. “When they choose to enjoy them, all we ask for is some patience. We’re trying to make it as easy as possible for people to visit.”

For more information, visit the City of Clearwater's website.

Once abandoned airport area logistic space gets major upgrade

A Naples company is breathing new life into a 45-year-old complex on the north side of Tampa International Airport, which had been vacant for about a decade. The $11 million Westshore Logistics Center is expected to create -- or bring -- 50 to 100 jobs to the neighborhood.

“Because of my risk taking, and the county’s support, we are creating new jobs and a significant tax base,” says Gerard Keating, owner and CEO of Keating Resources, the project developer.

The property had become a hazard -- and work involved major demolition and rehabilitation to four buildings totaling about 167,000 square feet.

Keating Resources, owned by Keating, secured a $403,648 grant from Hillsborough County as part of its Redevelopment Incentives for Pilot Project Areas program, which targeted four redevelopment areas. These include the North Airport Redevelopment Area, the 56th Street Redevelopment Area, the University Redevelopment Area and the Palm River Redevelopment Area.

In addition to bringing jobs to the neighborhood and creating an estimated $126,981 annual ad valorem tax stream, the grant program helps the county by removing blight, promoting private capital investment, and enhancing small business.

“The [more suburban] county is new at this game,” explains Eric Lindstrom, Competitive Sites and Redevelopment Manager for Hillsborough County’s Economic Development Department. “Tampa has done it for a number of years.”

XPO Logistics moved into about 21,900 square feet of leased space about two months ago. The other three buildings were completed last week; Cushman and Wakefield is handling leasing for the remaining 144,780 square feet.

The Westshore Logistics Center at 5400 Southern Comfort Blvd. sits at West Hillsborough Avenue and the Veterans Expressway in a five-mile area with some 216,087 people. The property, which originally contained smaller units, now is slated for eight office/warehouse units of approximately 20,000 square feet each. It was completely remodeled into a professional space with new roofs, new LED lighting, new doors, new storefronts and windows, interior and exterior paint, a new fire sprinkler system and more.

Its flexible space accommodates both office and warehouse, and features two glass front office entrances per building.

The upgrade comes at a time when TIA is bustling. The airport had a record number of travelers in 2017, when it logged more than 19.6 million passengers. The airport has been upgrading, adding 69 new shops, restaurants and services. A new 1.5-mile SkyConnect train connecting passengers to a state-of-the-art rental car center is now open, along with a second phase of construction to include expanded Main Terminal curbsides, offices, a hotel and more.

Hillsborough County, which set aside about $2 million for the grant program, has committed $819,735 to six projects so far. Its first was The Danger Zone, a 3,000-foot office project in the North Airport Redevelopment Area, to which it committed $38,698.

It took awhile for the companies to develop plans and submit their applications. “We’re getting going now,” Lindstrom says. “It’s really starting to heat up.”

CRED: Tampa program teaches community redevelopment skills

Looking to make a difference? If you have an interest in real estate or community redevelopment, an upcoming training program can help.

The class attracts people from varying backgrounds, from affordable housing developers to policy makers, community development staff and board members and students in business, urban studies, and architecture.

“We’d love to have non-traditional individuals that may have a passion for community development, but don’t really know how to get started,” says Angela Crist, director of the Florida Institute of Government at the University of South Florida in Tampa.

Members of the class, expected to include up to 25, put together recommended projects based on real-world problems, with the goal of actually implementing them. That might be a plan to utilize open space left by a former neighborhood grocery. Or an artist-themed community or even a townhouse project as in-fill in a developed area.

“It is a grassroots program. They have to work on a viable project,” Crist says.

The Community Real Estate Development program, known as CRED, is a certification program held annually to help people gain a better understanding about community real estate development, the financial aspects of property development and real estate development management.

“Our ultimate goal is that we are changing people’s behavior,” explains Crist. “At the end, they are looking at it [community real estate development] through a different lens, so they can go out and improve their community.

The class, which costs $150, meets on Friday afternoons and Saturdays from March 2 through April 14. It is being held from noon to 4:30 p.m. Fridays and from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays at Tampa Housing Authority, 5301 Cypress St., Tampa.

The deadline to register is February 16. Apply online here.

The program presents diverse segments of the commercial redevelopment field, utilizing USF professors and community talent to teach and mentor. “Every class they have is like a lunch and learn or various speakers," Crist says.

CRED is sponsored by the Housing Finance Authority of Hillsborough County, the Housing Finance Authority of Pinellas County, Tampa Housing Authority, and Sun Trust Foundation.

Participants can earn a certificate from USF.  The class can be used for continuing education units for professionals or academic credit for college students though an independent study course at USF.  

Certification maintenance credits are required for a number of professionals including planners, and development and planning education staff.

College students find the program to be very hands-on, Crist adds, helping them to understand the process from “soup to nuts.”

Class members also benefit from the course’s networking potential because it draws together developers, lenders, and government officials/staffers in a non-threatening environment.

Although the class has been held in North and South Florida, it is only available in Tampa Bay this year because of scheduling and capacity issues, Crist says.

As urban core grows in Tampa, challenges begin to match ambitions

Spend a few years away from Tampa, especially as a native, and you'll better appreciate the great strides made in improving the urban quality of life in Downtown and its peripheral neighborhoods -- and the new/growing challenges that have yet to be fully addressed.

At a recent event organized by New Town Connections, guest speaker Randy Goers (the City of Tampa’s Urban Planning Coordinator) reminded the 30 or so attendees of all the public investments made since 2012 to accommodate young, educated, and non-native urban residents and workers that now live in approximately 13,000 new dwellings in and around Downtown.

Back then, the 2012 InVision Plan called for things that are now a reality, like a complete and continuous Riverwalk, several urban parks, public art, traffic calming and streetscape improvements, and more bicycle/pedestrian paths.

The wider context has changed drastically in that time too. Just think, in 2012 UBER and Lyft were in their infancy. The partnership that makes the free Downtowner shuttle service possible wasn’t yet hatched, and Jeff Vinik hadn’t announced that he would be enabling a $3 billion investment project we now know as Water Street Tampa, which will change the city in ways we can’t fathom. (So yay for big things to come!)

And yet, for all the ways we are better off now, we face more complicated issues. New housing and density is great for a sense of vibrancy and adding to the urban landscape, but how affordable is it? The median income in the region remains, well, more than a little sad.

Worsening congestion was also top of mind among those in attendance last week at local coffee roaster The Blind Tiger’s newest location on South Howard Avenue, which is just one neighborhood now flush with new infill density and no room to expand roads.

By making small tweaks with bike-ped infrastructure, leisure is easier, but we still aren’t quite a transit, bike, or on-foot city. We have too many broad swaths of pavement designed to move automotive traffic, and are largely still a car-centric urban area thanks to anemic investment in more robust transportation options and service.

Increasing parking woes at Oxford Exchange and Mise en Place near the University of Tampa are a good example of what we may face more of in the coming years if we remain in our cars. The city will inevitably begin to charge for street parking in busy areas like Tampa Heights and Hyde Park.

As one gentleman originally from Chicago pointed out: “Tampa’s parking is cheap!” Very true, and our valet stands usually only charge $5, if anything. Perhaps they should be charging more?

This group of intelligent, engaged urbanites sounded oddly rehearsed: Give us more options. Jane Jacobs, a famous urban activist and author, once said, “the point of cities is a multiplicity of choice.”

Those choices could be: where to live, how to get around, and where to buy take-out dinner. From a livability perspective, things will further improve with the addition of a Publix grocery store to The Channel District and another massive urban park, Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park, across from The Straz Center.

Pier 60 at Clearwater Beach undergoes renovation in time for spring break 2018

Pier 60, an iconic Clearwater Beach landmark, will be partially closed to the public while it undergoes renovations during the next several weeks.

Construction includes the replacement of the bait shop roof, siding and windows, as well as the installation of a new central air unit to replace the old system. Workers will also make improvements to several pavilion columns and roofs.
“The building has not seen construction in about 25 years,” says Jason Beisel, the city’s communications coordinator. “The roof is leaking and window frames are rotting.”

He added, “Furthermore, the Atlantic hurricane season starts June 1. After minor damage during [Hurricane] Irma [in September,] the importance of repairing the roof became more apparent.”

The $375,000 project, funded by the city, began January 22 and should be completed by March 14, in time for the busy spring break season, Beisel says.

He estimates that the pier has approximately 250,000 annual visitors, and is hopeful the construction won’t impact tourism or regular programming too much.

“The pier will remain open as much as possible while maintaining the safety of the public,” he says.

The Sunsets at Pier 60 Daily Festival, a free daily event that began in 1995, “may occur in the adjacent Pier 60 Park for a short period of time,” Beisel adds.

The pier’s history in Clearwater goes back to the early 1900s. Its current concrete version, known as Pier 60, which is approximately 1,250 feet in length and 20,160 square feet, was built in 1994, he says.

A multipurpose facility, the pier offers visitors and residents access to fishing activities, dining, shopping, entertainment and the beaches. Daily, weekly, monthly and annual fishing passes are available.

Nonprofit buys former restaurant for new Wimauma Opportunity Center

A former restaurant, tucked away behind trees near Walmart at State Road 674 and U.S. Highway 301, is poised to become a hub for entrepreneurs in the growing Wimauma community of Hillsborough County’s South Shore.

Enterprising Latinas Inc., a nonprofit working to empower low-income Hispanic women in Tampa Bay, acquired the building and 2.25 acres of land from Roy and Rachel Loken for $735,000, says Liz Gutierrez, ELI Founder and CEO.

The property, formerly a breakfast-and-lunch restaurant called Rachel’s Country Kitchen, will be the site of ELI’s Wimauma Opportunity Center, a place where the community can meet and train for new jobs or entrepreneurial endeavors.

The purchase was made possible by a $250,000 grant from Alleghany Franciscan Ministries, which is investing in the community through its Common Good Initiative. Alleghany is providing another $250,000 to help create an economic development infrastructure, advance economic development and provide training.

ELI also secured a $520,000 loan from the nonprofit Raza Development Fund, the largest Latino Community Development Financial Institution, Gutierrez says.

The project will involve renovating the building’s interior for community learning and shared office use, and adding outdoor signage and lighting. Later on, a complete redesign of the front is anticipated.

“It’s really going to be a hub for all things related to community economic opportunity," explains Gutierrez. “We’re very excited to have a physical place where we can bring people together to expand the work that we already started.”

ELI, which has been leasing at Beth-El Farmworker Ministry on U.S. 301, will also be housed at the facility. It began moving in last week after the Jan. 8 sale.

“All of the customers are coming in looking for Rachel,” Gutierrez says. “They lost their little place. Hopefully we will convert it into a new place they can come back to.”

Located at 5128 State Road 674, the Wimauma Opportunity Center is expected to draw students to the commercial kitchen for culinary training -- including food service management -- starting in February.

“That’s an industry that’s booming all around us,” Gutierrez explains. “When it’s not being used for training, other people can use it be able to get licensed to sell tacos or sandwiches though food trucks. ... Hopefully, it will also be a catalyst of the food micro entrepreneurs that are here in Wimauma and also the surrounding area.”

As development in Hillsborough pushes south, the community with an average income of less than $26,000 a year between 2011-15 is transitioning from farmlands into new subdivisions that look much like homes in neighboring Sun City Center. With help from the Alleghany Franciscan Ministries’ Common Good Initiative, the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay and other concerned citizens, Wimauma residents have been working to direct their own path.

The decision to purchase a facility was made because ELI couldn’t find available rental space, Gutierrez says.

ELI, which has been training childcare workers, expects to again offer that training in February. It is in the process of developing an area transportation system in cooperation with the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority.

“We’re having conversations with a number of different funders that have expressed general commitment to provide startup capital,” she says.

ELI has hired Chamain Moss-Torres, Ph.D., formerly program director at the Children’s Home Network, as its director of economic opportunity initiatives. It also is leasing space to the Wimauma CDC, which is interviewing for an executive director to further the CDC’s mission and manage its staff and programs. The executive director also will serve as its primary fundraiser and spokesperson. Applicants for the position, expected to pay between $75,000-$90,000 annually with benefits, should submit cover letters and resumes to Connectivity Community Consulting at info@connectformore.com.

Adds Gutierrez: “We’re going to be very busy. Our goal over the next year is to touch 100 women and their families,” she says.

Learn more about how the Wimauma community is transitioning for growth though Alleghany Franciscan Ministries-funded On the Ground coverage in 83 Degrees.

Luxury high-rise under construction in downtown St. Pete

Construction has begun on the $80 million Icon Central mixed-used development in downtown St. Petersburg, which will include an upscale 368-unit high-rise apartment complex and upgrade of the 1926 Union Trust Bank building.

Its 15-story luxury apartment complex at 801 Central Ave. will literally stand out amid the area’s existing mid-rises – inside and outside. It will feature amenities such as an outdoor movie lawn, a club lounge with game simulator room, and indoor Zen garden.

“We studied the market and we’ve included these top tier amenities that will appeal to both the baby boomers and the millennials," says Jessica Suarez, VP of development for the Miami-based Related Group, the project developer.

It will incorporate the arts through rotating art exhibits, local artist displays, an art and wine tasting room, plus art in the courtyard surrounding the pool, she adds.

“We’ve taken it to another level,” Suarez says. “The art element in St. Pete is significant.”

A ceremonial groundbreaking ceremony, scheduled at 2 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 10, is expected to draw local officials and team members. 

Work began in December. “We’ve cleared the site and we’re doing foundations,” she says.

The project is the latest in The Related Group’s Icon brand, known for luxury highrise rentals. It includes Icon Harbor Island apartments in Tampa, plus Icon projects in Fort Lauderdale and Atlanta.

Icon Central will include studio, one-, two- and three-bedroom units with monthly rents expected to range from $1600 to $4000; some on the top floors will have water views. Leasing is anticipated in mid-2019.

The high-rise, being built in a contemporary federal architecture style, also will include a spa with steam and sauna, a pool courtyard with a European-style heated pool, and a summer grilling kitchen.

The intimate, outdoor movie lawn will have a large screen on the side of the building, which can be used for movies or projections during outdoor classes.

Related seeks to create a community around activities for its residents. “That [Icon Central] is a community for us. We’re constantly involving them,” she says. “It’s different. You don’t see anything like that in St. Pete.”

The residential complex will be connected to the bank building with a multi-use building with retail, residential and parking space. The first two levels will be primarily cast stone, with tan stucco above. The bank is being renovated with stonework, cornices and other features reflecting the historical era.

What we envision there is more of a high-end -- boutique stores with lounge and meeting space, or a food hall,” she says.

The interior of the bank, as well as an 1980s addition, have been demolished. “As construction progresses, we will start marketing the retail,” she explains.

The retail space is expected to be completed around mid-2019.

What attracted the developer to St. Petersburg was the continued growth and development, similar to more successful areas in the Miami area that have been revitalized, she says.

Icon Central has been in the works for three years.

The Related Group is active in the Tampa market, where move-ins have begun at Icon Harbor Island, a 340-unit luxury development. Construction is continuing at River Manorwalk, an eight story, 400-unit complex being built on the site of the former Tampa Tribune downtown, with leasing and move-ins planned in mid-2019.

Related also is developing the 396-unit Town Westshore rental community and partnering with Tampa Housing Authority in its West River redevelopment involving 150 acres on the west bank of the Hillsborough River on the edges of downtown.

Market to anchor Downtown Clearwater Gateway revitalization

As plans to revitalize Clearwater’s waterfront and downtown move forward, focus has also turned toward the city’s Downtown Gateway.

In September, the Clearwater City Council approved conceptual plans for Mercado, a public market that will be developed on a triangular swath of land where Cleveland Street meets Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard. The plaza will include space where small businesses and other vendors can take root and an open area for community events, says Chuck Lane, Assistant Director, Economic Development & Housing.

“It’s going to be a space where people can interact with each other,” he says. This ranges from serving as a venue for farmer’s markets, art fairs and other public events to a space where individuals “can just sit down and read a newspaper.”

Mercado will also cater to the largely Hispanic population of the neighborhood, Lane adds. Around one-third of those living in the area are foreign born, “largely Hispanic,” he says. “Mercado is intended to embrace these individuals and be a space where people can feel comfortable in that environment.”

Gabe Parra, community redevelopment manager, says the conversation surrounding this project and property is seven-years in the making.

“We want to create a gathering space where the neighborhood can convene and feel like they belong,” he says.

The project will also build off a streetscape project designed to enhance Cleveland Street between Missouri Avenue and Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard. These improvements will transform Cleveland Street into a more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly thoroughfare as development and interest in downtown Clearwater grows.

Over the past year, the city has worked with the Project for Public Spaces to determine the best look for Mercado, Lane says. The company, which led a feasibility study on the project, created a conceptual rendering of what the plaza might look like.

In “a good faith” move, AIT Consulting, the company behind the streetscape project, took these designs a step further, he adds. The company saw the need for improvements in the Downtown Gateway and added elements to the PPS design, including structures built utilizing storage containers. AIT has not been hired by the city for the project, Lane says.

Lane is working with “key players” in the area, including a number of local businesses, to create the final design for Mercado. He expects these conversations will match much of what was said in the initial public hearings.

The streetscape project will begin by March, he says. After that, construction can move forward on Mercado and he anticipates that this time next year, the community can expect to see the first events organized in the area.

11 people, projects in Downtown Tampa recognized for urban excellence

What is the value of a new dog park to the surrounding neighborhood? 

For residents on the northern half of the Channel District in downtown Tampa, it’s immense, if only measured based on dogs-per-acre.

The Deputy Kotfila Memorial Dog Park is built underneath the Selmon Expressway, directly across from Bell Channelside and within walking distance of Grand Central and Ventana. It’s excellent thanks to a thoughtful design and dual use of space (dogs below, cars above), and the acknowledgement of a public hero: 

Hillsborough County Deputy John Robert Kotfila, Jr. lost his life to a wrong-way driver on the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway in March of last year. The Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority wanted to do something to honor his legacy. After learning about the strong bond between Kotfila and his German Shepard, Dexter, it was decided to  dedicate the Selmon Greenway dog park in his honor.

“The neighborhood loves it and is grateful to have a shaded space to use year-round, as well as separate space for small dogs,'' says Sarah McKinley, a downtown resident and worker. "They [the dogs] all seem very pleased.”

And as any dog owner knows, dog parks have a way of becoming the main gathering spot for the neighborhood. If anything will force you away from solitary Netflix binging, it’s to take Rufus for a walk.

The Downtown Partnership also recognized other projects for improving the quality of life in Tampa. Winners include The Downtowner free shuttle service (transportation), The Art of the Brick (private sector project), Second Screen Cult Cinema (arts and culture), and the I AM PRICELESS mural (social impact).

The full list of winners is available on the Tampa Downtown Partnership's website. Look for winners in categories like historic preservation, experience, collaboration, and people’s choice.

Taken in aggregate, these actors and their impacts build upon the momentum that continues to push Tampa’s urban center in more dynamic directions each year.

A special acknowledgement was also made to Christine Burdick, Tampa Downtown Partnership’s CEO for the past 15 years. She led the Partnership through what many consider Downtown Tampa’s most transformative change in modern times, but will soon retire from her work with the organization.

Burdick is credited as the driver of many successful initiatives, such as programming activities in Curtis Hixon Park, completion and management of The Tampa Riverwalk, relocation of the Tampa Museum of Art, and initiating the Coast Bike Share program.

U.S. 301 widening project begins; FDOT holds open house

Work has begun on a $49 million project to widen a 3.8-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 301 between State Road 674 and Balm Road in Hillsborough County’s South Shore.

The road will be widened to six lanes, with a raised median and paved shoulders, and a new bridge built over Big Bullfrog Creek. A sidewalk will be added on the west side and a multi-use path will be added on the east.

“The really great news for this project is road closures are not anticipated during construction – we will be working east of the existing road, building the new northbound roadway (Phase 1), then shifting traffic to it and building the southbound roadway (Phase 2),” says David Botello, Public Information Officer for the Florida Department of Transportation’s District 7. “Traffic disruptions (if any) will be minimal and at night.”

Phase 3 will involve applying the last layer of asphalt and thermoplastic striping. The project includes a new drainage system that relies upon ponds.

This widening project in south Hillsborough County will help ease congestion and accommodate the growth along the U.S. 301 corridor, as well as enhance bicycle and pedestrian safety,” Botello says.

Lower land costs have made southern Hillsborough more attractive to developers. Plans for housing developments in the U.S. 301 corridor date back to at least the 1970s and 1980s, when landowners agreed to pay for roadway improvements.

The Davie-based contractor, Astaldi Construction Corp., is expected to complete the job in late 2020.

An Open House is scheduled Tuesday, Nov. 14, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the SouthShore Regional Library, 15816 Beth Shields Way, Ruskin.

“FDOT staff will be on hand to answer any project-related questions, and project design display boards and construction plans will also be available for viewing,”
Botello adds. “We anticipate the residents of the nearby communities as well as commuters who utilize the U.S 301 corridor to be most interested in this project.”

Special accommodations are available through the Americans with Disabilities Act. Those who require assistance, or who need free translation services, should email Maricelle Venegas, Community Outreach Specialist, or call (813) 975-6204, before the event.

Information also is available from FDOT online.

A new facelift for historic Downtown Tampa landmark

Downtown Tampa’s only “elaborate movie palace” is undergoing a much-anticipated upgrade: wider, cushier seats and a more modern concessions stand for attendees to enjoy, as well as significant infrastructural improvements to protect the 1926 building from extreme weather.

The $6 million Phase 1 scope of work at Tampa Theatre addresses both the integrity of the building and the superior audience experience; seating has long been a gripe of even the venue’s biggest fans. The 1970s-era lobby concession counter is inefficient for rapid service and out of step with the original Mediterranean design. Both will be addressed with work starting today.

Authenticity is key in this process, and so even the new paint will be forensically matched to what was used 91 years ago.

While the mainstream model for cinema is changing thanks to streaming services and dinner-bar-theater hybrids, the Tampa Theatre’s charm is its ambiance and urban setting, surrounded by bars, restaurants and modern residential highrises.

Attendees enjoy a regular lineup of unique independent films and documentaries, seasonal classics (horror around Halloween, holiday from now until the new year -- to be shown outside during Winter Village at Curtis Hixon Park, and participation in film festivals like TIGLFF and GIFF.

Tampa City Council member Guido Maniscalco recalled a friend telling him, ahead of this morning’s media briefing: “I proposed to my wife there!”

When you attend a movie screening at The Tampa Theatre, you get one of the rare glimpses into prewar life in Tampa -- a distant past of gilded opulence. A time when streetcars ran up and down Franklin Street and ushers showed dressed-up moviegoers to their assigned seats before a film.

In 1976, the Tampa Theatre was saved from demolition through a coalition of impassioned community and civic leaders, including former Tampa Mayor Bill Poe, Sr. In 1978, it was selected to be part of the National Register of Historic Places, making it eligible for federal preservation tax credits and incentives.

Today, individual donations, sponsorships and partnerships, and philanthropic businesses support its continued operation and improvement. This morning, realty brokerage Smith & Associates’ CEO Bob Glaser presented Tampa Theatre CEO John Bell with a check for $250,000, generosity that will help speed the restoration work.

So where are all those old seats going? Head to Schiller’s Architectural and Design Salvage in North Hyde Park to purchase a piece of the theatre’s history.

Renovation work will wrap up by the end of December in time for a film screening on the 22nd and New Years Eve party to ring in 2018! Exact date of completion is T-B-A.

From blank to swank: Gin Joint opens in Downtown Tampa

Perhaps the most exciting changes to our urban fabric come in the form of newly-established uses in brand new spaces, a.k.a. placemaking. Rather than swapping one bar for another in a given strip, it’s actual growth in our range of options -- for eating, drinking and entertaining each other. 

In Tampa, good examples of placemaking include Ulele, Fresh Kitchen and Le Meridien Hotel, among many others. All are now counted as focal points for our daily lives, in spots where there was minimal activity before.

CW’s Gin Joint joins that exclusive list by opening in the ground floor of The Franklin Exchange Building (633 North Franklin Street) in Downtown Tampa. Already it’s hopping, thanks to a retro/chic interior overhaul, significant list of craft cocktails, and impressive French-inspired menu, including an early favorite: portobello mushroom fries. 

Live piano performances 

“CW” is Carolyn Wilson, owner of The Wilson Company, a property management and development firm with 30 years of history in the region, including headline projects like The New York Yankees’ Legends Field.

And while contracts like managing the USF CAMLS building keep the business running, Wilson has bigger ideas for how to improve the urban landscape of Tampa, like turning The Vault into more than just a historic bank building.

As owner of most of the 600 block of Franklin Street, including The Vault, she is in the rare position to make decisions like curating events that attract activity, even if they’re not wildly profitable.

Every month, Second Screen Cult Cinema hosts its pop-up film series in The Vault, thanks in part to a sponsorship by The Wilson Company. For example, it was standing room only for a recent showing of Wes Anderson’s Rushmore (1998).

Every Halloween season, The Vault of Souls opens to guests with the promise of “an elegant evening of fear,” though all bookings are finished for 2017.

CW’s Gin Joint is just the latest effort to enhance a sense of place (activity, life, engagement) where five or 10 years ago, little went on past 5 o’clock in downtown.

The quality and attention to detail inside is striking, and the drinks are delicious. After a movie at The Tampa Theatre or concert in Curtis Hixon Park, stop by for a classy cocktail and tip your hat to CW and her team for bringing something so charming and authentic to Downtown Tampa.
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