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Florida Crystals Corp. plans luxury apartments in Channel District

It's a sweet deal in the Channel District.

Sugar company, Florida Crystals Corp., is buying a prime spot in this upscale booming neighborhood to build a 7-story, 270-unit luxury apartment building and six-and-a-half story parking garage. The company, which last year launched a real estate division, paid about $3.8 million for three parcels at 222 N. 12th St., 215 and 217 N. 11th St., next to The Slade.

The property, at close to two acres, includes two vacant warehouse structures which will be torn down. It is the former site of the Amazon Hose and Rubber Company.

This is one more project added to recent and planned residential towers including the SkyHouse Channelside which is under construction and The Martin at Meridian, which is on the drawing board. And, there is anticipation over Tampa Lightning owner Jeff Vinik's plans to revive the distressed Channelside Plaza as well as develop other parcels he has bought in the area.

"The transformation that has happened since 2000 has been pretty amazing," says Sean Lance, managing director of NAI Tampa Bay, a commercial real estate company. The firm represents the seller, Finergy Group of Sarasota.

Lance anticipates apartment rents will be about $1.80 to $2 a square foot, based on unit sizes of between 900 to 1,000 square feet.

Florida Crystals, which is based in West Palm Beach, is a family-owned business that traces back to Cuba in the 1850s. It sells sugar products under several brands including Domino and Florida Crystals.

This is the company's first Tampa project but Juan Porro, VP of real estate and acquisitions, is the former president of Cobalt Development Group which developed The Slade, one of the Channel District's earliest residential projects.

Tampa City Council will weigh in on the project at a rezoning hearing scheduled for Nov. 13. Finergy Channelside Holdings LLC is seeking a unified commercial zoning for the trio of parcels.

The recession temporarily stalled residential and commercial development in Channel District . But with the recovery under way, there is a pent up demand especially among millennials and boomers who want a walkable urban lifestyle, Lance says.

Residential towers, high-rise and mid-rise, are filling up and sites for additional projects growing scarcer. "It's pretty picked through now," Lance says. "You could get creative and pick another site or two."

Prospects for additional retail, maybe a rumored Publix grocery store or CVS Pharmacy, also are brightening.  "As you get the body count, you'll see more retailers," he says.

Tampa reveals vision for re-designed Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park

The 25-acre grasslands of Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park are dotted with berms that recall ancient Indian mounds, a concrete "Greek-style" amphitheater, basketball and tennis courts and a Boys & Girls Club. But for most people who visit the park one spectacular view is missing -- the Hillsborough River.
 
It is blocked from view except to those who almost by accident wander over to its shores.
 
Susan Lane, daughter of former Mayor Julian B. Lane, is among those who had no idea what an unfulfilled treasure the park is. "I guess they thought this was a good design," she says after taking her first walk down to the park's shoreline.
 
She likes the city's plan to re-design the more than 40-year-old public park by tossing out much of what in the 1970s was considered contemporary and cutting-edge.
 
At a press conference, Mayor Bob Buckhorn unveiled a multi-year, conceptual plan to transform the park. It is a blueprint crafted from ideas and opinions gathered at a series of public meetings attended by about 350 residents. The next step is for consultants with Colorado-based Civitas to take the plan from concept to detailed drawings. About $8 million is set aside by the city to seed the project. Final costs are unknown but could be $20 million or more.
 
"This is an opportunity that is too great to pass up," Buckhorn says. "We have a moral obligation to do it and do it big and do it right."
 
The park, at 1001 North Blvd., is a jewel in the city's 25-year InVision Tampa master plan to re-invent downtown as an urban village with connectivity to surrounding neighborhoods on both sides of the river. On the west bank more than 150 acres, including Riverfront Park, are targeted for redevelopment. The nearby North Boulevard Homes are slated to be torn down by the Tampa Housing Authority and replaced with a mixed-income, mixed-use complex similar to the Encore project under construction just north of downtown.
 
Dozens of ideas bubbled up during public discussions of desired park amenities including a ferris wheel, a beach area, picnic facilities, boating docks and a history walk. Not all are on the final list. But if the final proposal doesn't please everyone, city officials believe it does meet with approval from most residents.
 
"What we have is the future of the city of Tampa right here," says Rev. James Favorite, pastor at Beulah Baptist Institutional Church, located on Cypress Street, a short walk from the park. "My church members have used this park on many occasions. With all the improvements to be made, I like the concept. I like the vision. I like the inclusion of so many people. We feel we are a part of this. We feel ownership."
 
The new park will include a great lawn for special events and festivals; a play area with a splash pad; a history walk to honor Phillips Field, Roberts City and surrounding neighborhoods; a community center and public boathouse; a garden; an oak-lined promenade; a half-mile trail with exercise stations; an extension of the city's Riverwalk; a fishing area; and a paddle learning area created by a floating boat dock.
 
Additional parking also will be carved out by re-aligning and shifting Laurel Street. A multi-use field will be enlarged to regulation size and seating installed. New basketball courts will be built. Tennis courts will be renovated and sand volleyball courts added.
 
The berms and amphitheater will be razed. 
 
Making the park all about families and recognizing the area's history are the driving motivators that emerged from the public meetings, says Civitas' President Mark Johnson.
 
And picnic areas are the most desired feature. "That's not the most common thing I hear around the country," Johnson says.
 
Lane remembers her father's stories about being captain of the Hillsborough High School football team which played annual Thanksgiving Day games at Phillips Field. He served as mayor from 1959 to 1963 and worked with a Bi-Racial Committee to peacefully integrate Tampa's businesses following the lunch counter sit-ins at F.W. Woolworth's. The park was dedicated to him in 1977.

The city's proposed makeover, she says, "is a great, great idea. He (former Mayor Lane) would have been real pleased."

Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik wins initial approval for 400-room luxury hotel

Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik's planned 400-room hotel/residence complex is a potential game-changer in the city's vision to create a seamless flow from urban neighborhoods, such as the Channel District, to a revitalized downtown and then across the river to the emerging neighborhoods of North Hyde Park and West Tampa.

It is one more large puzzle piece in an urban commercial and residential landscape coming into focus, year by year. The hotel will fill a sandy vacant lot at Florida Avenue and Old Water Street, surrounded by the TECO Line Streetcar at Dick Greco Plaza, the Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina, the Embassy Suites and the Tampa Convention Center.

Also nearby are the Cotanchobee Fort Brooke Park, Tampa Bay History Center, Florida Aquarium, Amalie Arena (formerly the Tampa Bay Times Forum) and the Channelside Bay Plaza which Vinik recently acquired.

"We have a grand vision for this site as a high end development to both serve as a true centerpiece for the (Channel) district and to raise the bar for the district as well as complement and benefit all of the adjacent uses," says Bob Abberger, senior managing director of Trammell Crow's Tampa office. He represents Florida Old Water Limited in the rezoning process, one of several entities controlled by Vinik.

A final vote by council on Oct. 2 will set the stage for Vinik to move ahead with signing up a hotel operator and moving toward a construction start. Some preliminary architectural designs have been completed.

The approximately 25-story luxury hotel will have about 45,000 square feet of retail space and about 170,000 square feet of meeting rooms. The hotel's top floors will have about 50 residences. More than 270 parking spaces will be provided on-site and also through agreement with the adjacent South Regional Garage.

Abberger says the plan is to excavate the site to create underground parking. There also will be what Abberger describes as a "grand retail main street connecting the forum with the convention center."

Connectivity in purpose and vision is a major feature for the development including the potential for a covered walkway and overpass for visitor flow from one venue to another and ease of access from the convention center to the hotel's meeting space.

"This is the break out space that you don't currently have (at the convention center)," says Abberger.  "You've got great exhibit space. This is going to allow a lot more nights for not only bookings for the convention center but a higher quality for the convention center."

While the Downtown Tampa Partnership doesn't take positions on specific projects, the partnership's President Christine Burdick says the development will "add to the vital vibrancy and value of downtown."

Architect Mickey Jacob of BDG Architects lives and works in the district. He sees job creation in a project that also addresses the challenges of developing an urban infill property.

 "Our city stands on the verge of some exciting times," he says. "And our urban redevelopment and new density that we have the opportunity to create will do nothing but make us a world class city where people want to live, work and play."

Osborne Pond, Community Trail To Be Named For Civil Rights' Leader Clarence Fort

On Feb. 29, 1960, Clarence Fort was just shy of his 21st birthday, fresh out of barber's school and president of the NAACP Youth Council. That day he, and Rev. A. Leon Lowry, led a group of students from Blake and Middleton High Schools to F. W. Woolworth's in downtown Tampa.

They did what no blacks then were allowed to do. They sat down at the lunch counter and waited to be served. Fort's inspiration was the lunch counter sit-ins by students in Greensboro, N.C. that same year.

While blacks could enter Woolworth and buy its products, eating at the lunch counter was against the law.

"You could spend $500,000 in the store but you couldn't sit down and have a Coke," says Fort, now age 76. "It just was an unfair system."

At 2:30 p.m. on Sept. 18, the city of Tampa will name the Osborne Pond and Community Trail in honor of Fort and his long history of fighting injustice.  The park will be officially named the Clarence Fort Freedom Trail.

"I was just elated," says Fort when he learned of the city's plan.

The honor comes on the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“It’s important that we as a community know and understand our history, particularly during the 50-year anniversary of the Civil Rights Act being signed into law. I am honored to be able to dedicate this park in name after my friend Clarence Fort but also to the ideas that he fought for,” says Mayor Bob Buckhorn in his announcement for the dedication. “The park area itself is truly something special, and I think the residents will be proud of what it has become.”

The half-mile long trail circles Osborne Pond, at 3803 Osborne Ave., with eight fitness stations for adults and seniors spaced along the route at four locations. The park also features three boardwalk segments that give visitors a chance to walk to the water's edge for a bird's eye view of the egrets, ducks and moor hens that wade through the pond's waters.

More than 110 trees, including palms and cypress trees, offer shade and beauty. The trail connects with adjacent sidewalks on Osborne, North 29th Street, North 30th Street and East Cayuga Street.

About $500,000 in Community Investment Tax dollars paid for construction which began in December 2013. 

This is the third city retention pond in East Tampa to be re-designed. 

Years ago residents complained that the city's retention ponds, often locked behind chain link fences, were eyesores that contributed to neighborhood blight. Today residents stroll along walkways at the Herbert D. Carrington Community Lake on 34th Street, adjacent to Fair Oaks Park, or the Robert L. Cole Sr. Community Lake at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, across from Young Middle Magnet School.

Funds to re-do the retention ponds as "lakes" came from a portion of property taxes collected within the city's East Tampa Community Redevelopment Area bordered by Hillsborough Avenue, Interstates 275 and 4, and the city limits.

At the "lake" on Martin Luther King, segments of the walkway commemorate historical figures such as civil rights activists Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; the first black congresswoman, Shirley Chisholm; Jackie Robinson, who broke Major League Baseball's color barrier; and President Barack Obama.

The city will place a plaque at Osborne pond that will recount the role Fort played in breaking down barriers in Tampa. Following the successful Woolworth demonstrations. Fort pushed the city's bus service to hire black bus drivers, and he became the first black hired by Trailways Bus Co. as a long-distance bus driver in Florida.

Fort worked 20 years as a deputy for the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Department and for 17 of those years organized the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Parade. He also founded the Progress Village Foundation.

He isn't slowing down in retirement and works tirelessly with Saving Our Children, a youth program started nearly 26 years ago at New Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church. "I'm devoting all my time with this group," Fort says.

A rendering of the park can be viewed on the City of Tampa's website.

Writer: Kathy Steele
Sources: Clarence Fort, Saving Our Children; Bob Buckhorn, City of Tampa
 

Urban Charrette, CNU Tampa Bay Host Urbanism On Tap 4.1

Tampa's Urban Charrette and the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) Tampa Bay will host Urbanism on Tap at PJ Dolan's Irish Pub & Grille, North of USF on September 9, 2014 starting at 5:45 p.m. 

Starting this fall, Urbanism on Tap organizers have moved north of Downtown Tampa to host a new Urbanism on Tap Series highlighting “The Role of Universities in Urban Design and Innovation’’ and engage the University of South Florida (USF) community in the conversation.  

Led by Urban Charrette and CNU Tampa Bay, Urbanism on Tap is a recurring open mic event, focused on generating constructive conversations within the community about current ideas and trends that are shaping our city.

Every event is open to the public, and moderators and attendees are invited to share their views and stories related to the topic of the day. The intention of the event is to generate a lively exchange of ideas, which will enhance our ability to make Tampa a more livable city.

The upcoming event, entitled “The USF Factor,” is the first discussion of a new three-part series focused on the relationship between University of South Florida and Tampa’s urban landscape. 

Typically, universities across the country are drivers of jobs, education, innovation and urban development as well as redevelopment. Attendees of the upcoming event will look at how this trend plays out in Tampa. 

The event will focus on how the university is important for Tampa’s local economy and politics and how it can play a critical role in creating vibrant urban environments that inspire innovation. The event will explore related issues, opportunities and challenges for a range of stakeholders, including the residents, the city and the university. 

The event organizers encourage people to share their opinions on this topic by visiting Urbanism on Tap’s online Facebook page. People can also use the Facebook page and website, to continue the conversation online, following the event. 

Venue: PJ Dolan's Irish Pub & Grille, North of USF (2836 E Bearss Ave Tampa, FL 33613); 
Date and Time: September 9, 2014 from 5:45 p.m – 7:15 p.m

Writer: Vinod Kadu
Sources: Erin Chantry, CNU Tampa Bay; Ashly Anderson, Urban Charrette

Hillsborough Leaders Engage Public On Transportation

When local residents dream of transportation Utopia in Hillsborough County, what exactly do they see?

Do they see roads repaved and potholes filled? Widened interstates with commuter lanes? Bridges repaired? More connections between neighborhoods and cities? Expansion of rapid transit bus service? Automated "people movers"?

Is light rail on anyone's mind, for or against? And where do they dream the money will be found? 

Hillsborough County elected officials, community leaders and a soon-to-be-hired transportation consultant will begin a listening campaign with a series of public meetings soon after Labor Day.

A report on the findings will be brought in October to Hillsborough County's Transportation Policy Leadership Group, a committee of the seven county commissioners, mayors of Plant City, Tampa and Temple Terrace, and the chairman of HART (Hillsborough Area Regional Transit). 

"We're not selling anything, but we want to be able to bring back something that will be useful to you," says Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill. He spoke to the group on August 12 before a packed county commission chamber.

Documents and a video show the magnitude of transportation problems facing the county. 

Estimates for roads, bridges, trails and sidewalks in all parts of the county is pegged at $4.3 billion. The cost of repaving roadways alone is estimated at $745 million. Projects for walk/bike trails and sidewalks is about $680 million.

Depending on chosen options, mass-transit could be another $6 billion. 

Funding could come through a one cent sales tax that county commissioners appear ready to put to a referendum in 2016. If approved, estimates are for more than $6 billion to be collected over 30 years.

Ideas include widening five miles of Cypress Avenue; bus rapid transit and a rail option between the University of South Florida and downtown Tampa; bus rapid transit on U.S. 60 to and from Brandon; and, a water ferry from Gibsonton to MacDill with later expansion to downtown Tampa and St. Petersburg.

Policy planners clearly have in mind the political thumping that voters gave to a light rail referendum nearly four years ago. Voters then complained about the lack of specifics.

"That was very muddy. That's what happened to it," says County Commissioner Les Miller."We want to make sure it's crystal clear."

County Commissioner Victor Crist is concerned about time constraints in reaching out to the public by October. "I'm not sure we have enough time to sell this," he says.

But Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn is ready to forge ahead. "We've got to have a game," says Buckhorn. "I don't know any other way to play than full throttle. ...I can tell you sooner is better than later."

Writer: Kathy Steele
Sources: Mike Merrill, Les Miller, Victor Crist, Hillsborough County; Bob Buckhorn, City of Tampa

Roux Brings Creole-Style Dining To South Tampa

Two restaurants aren't enough to keep Suzanne and Roger Perry busy. And then there is the couple's love of New Orleans.

So before Labor Day, the owners of Datz and Dough plan to open Roux, their homage to New Orleans cuisine and the French quarter. Roux is at 4201 S. MacDill Ave., at the St. Croix Plaza, within a mile of Datz and Dough, also on MacDill.

A trio of chefs are collaborating on a menu described as Creole-nouvelle.

Suzanne Perry says collaboration defines New Orleans cooking with its centuries of Cajun and French influences. And most recently a flavorful dash of Asian has been added in deference to a city that now has one of the largest Vietnamese populations in America.

"We just love it," says Perry. "It's the most foodie city in the United States. We want to bring a little bit of that here."

A newer, fresher spin will be put on old New Orleans favorites from gumbo to etouffee to alligator. Po boy bread with a delicate crust and soft inside will be authentic New Orleans.

Richard Potts, formerly executive chef at Rococo Steak in St. Petersburg, is working on the menu with Toni Hayes, who specializes in Cajun cuisine, and Laura Schmalhorst, who is consulting on French dishes.

Designer David Jackson is creating a New Orleans' feel to Roux with mirrors, marble-topped tables, wrought iron and brick accents, gas lanterns and chandeliers. "It's ornate," Perry says. "It's visually the French quarter."

To begin, Roux will pour beer and wine. And, within a few weeks of opening, Perry says a New Orleans craft cocktail bar also will be open for requests.

Roux seats more than 100 guests. Initially lunch and dinner will be served with a brunch to be added later.

Roux and more has been on the Perrys' minds for awhile.

"We've been interested in having a collection of concepts up and down the MacDill corridor," she says. "A space became available that we liked. So, we took it."

MacDill Avenue is home to Datz and Dough as well as new boutiques, a yoga studio and art galleries that are laying a foundation for revitalizing one of the city's main commercial roadways. 

"All it takes is a couple people to come in and invest," Perry says. "We're invested because we live here. This is our neighborhood. A little bit of investment brings other people."

Writer: Kathy Steele
Source: Suzanne Perry, Roux, Datz and Dough

Soup's On! Dine At Ulele Restaurant Starting Aug. 26

The word is out and the reservations line is busy. Ulele Restaurant will turn up the cooking heat for the public's dining pleasure at 5 p.m. on Aug. 26.

The opening date has been one of the most anticipated culinary happenings in Tampa for months. The restaurant and adjacent Water Works Park are part of a larger vision for re-inventing and re-developing Tampa's downtown core and its connection with surrounding neighborhoods.

They anchor the northern end of the nearly completed 1.8 mile Riverwalk, which will link Tampa Heights to Channelside. Ulele is the name of a legendary daughter of a Native American chief who saved the life of a young Spanish explorer in the 1500s.

"This has been a labor of love,'' says Richard Gonzmart of the Columbia Restaurant Group and developer of Ulele. "I can’t wait to open our doors and show what we've been working on. This project has been in my mind for the last 10 years. I really hope this will be my legacy, and that my children and my grandchildren will remember and thank me for the vision.''

Nearly two years ago the city chose Columbia Restaurant Group and Metro Bay Real Estate to partner in the restoration of the historical Water Works Building which pumped much of the city's drinking water from Ulele Spring until the 1930s. The Beck Group did the architectural design and construction.

Ulele is located at 1810 N. Highland Ave. on a large swath of riverfront between the park and the historical Armature Works Building. Ulele will open a couple weeks after the city's celebration of a completed $7.4 million project to redesign Water Works Park.

Initially the restaurant will be open only for dinner from 5 to 10 p.m. on Sunday-Thursday, and from 5 to 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Lunch and brunch hours will be added by Fall.

Executive Chef Eric Lackey will feature dishes inspired by Native American and multicultural influences including from European explorers. The on-site Ulele Spring Brewery will create craft beers exclusively for the restaurant.

Guests will enjoy a dining room, German-style beer garden, rooftop bar and outdoor patio, all within view of the Hillsborough River and the restored Ulele Spring.

Complimentary valet parking will be available.

"The phone lines have been ringing quite a bit. It's been tremendously gratifying," says Michael Kilgore, Chief Marketing Officer for the Columbia Restaurant Group. "Reservations are encouraged but not required."

Writer: Kathy Steele
Sources: Richard Gonzmart and Michael Kilgore, Ulele Restaurant

Water Works Park Opens With Fanfare, Fireworks

The re-invention of Tampa's urban core is mere child's play at Water Works Park.

For many years the riverfront park land sat unused behind a chain link fence, but on Aug. 12 a ribbon-cutting ceremony will officially open the re-designed park. The following Saturday will continue the celebrations with a festival and fireworks show.

For Tampa Heights' residents, the $7.4 million investment in Water Works is especially significant. The park, at 1720 Highland Ave., and the adjacent soon-to-open Ulele Restaurant are the most visible signs the neighborhood's master plan for redevelopment is taking root. More transformation is promised in future with redevelopment of the nearby historical Armature Works building and about 37 riverfront acres owned by SoHo Capital which plans a mixed use project known as The Heights.

"It's a big deal," says Brian Seel, president of the Tampa Heights Civic Association. "Everyone has been waiting for (the park) patiently."

The Aug. 16 festival will have food trucks, children’s activities and entertainment. Friends of Tampa Recreation Inc. will sell alcohol, with proceeds going towards programming in Tampa's parks.  The fireworks display will begin at approximately 9 p.m.

Work crews with Biltmore Construction are finishing up the park and laying in landscaping in time for the August opening. Dozens of volunteers spent a recent weekend cleaning algae from Ulele Spring, nestled between the park and the restaurant. Manatees, ducks and egrets are among the wildlife already spotted along the spring's banks.

The play area resembles a ship. There also is a splash pad, a performance pavilion and open lawns for special park events. A kayak launch, eight boat slips and a water taxi will be installed once permits are approved.

Water Works and Ulele will be the northern anchors of the city's 1.8 mile-long Riverwalk, which when completed later this year will link Tampa Heights with Channelside.

“This park is transformative for historic Tampa Heights and our urban core but also for our entire city. It’s another point of connection with the Hillsborough River, and will be a space for entertainment and activity,” said Mayor Bob Buckhorn. 

The civic association is thinking ahead.  "We'll probably host small events and get-togethers for the neighborhood," Seel says.

The civic association already is planning a music festival at the park for Nov. 22. Tampa Electric Company and Ulele's owner, Richard Gonzmart, will sponsor what could become an annual event. A portion of the festival's proceeds would aid the restoration of the former Faith Temple Baptist Church at Palm Avenue and Lamar Street.

Every weekend for nearly four years volunteers for the Tampa Heights Junior Civic Association have pitched in to rehabilitate the historical church which will be re-opened as a youth and community center.
  
A walking trail that slips past the Tampa Heights Community Garden on Frances Avenue and the future community center stops now at Seventh Avenue. But eventually the trail is planned as a link to the Riverwalk with possible offshoots to Perry Harvey Sr. Park and the Encore project, a mixed use, mixed-income residential and commercial development north of downtown.

"We're connecting with everything," says Lena Young-Green, president of the junior civic association. "We see it all circulating then expanding all through the neighborhoods."

Writer: Kathy Steele
Source: Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn; Brian Seel, Tampa Heights Civic Association; Lena Young-Green, Tampa Heights Junior Civic Association

New Owners: Park East Apartments In North Tampa To Get Touch-Up

Sarasota-based Insula Companies is making another move into the Florida apartment arena with its $12 million purchase of the Park East Apartments on Bearss Avenue in North Tampa. This is the third apartment complex bought in Florida in 2014 and the 13th in the last five years.

"We really like the area, that particular street -- Bearss -- has got a lot of exposure, a lot of drive-by traffic," says Jeff Talbot, Insula's director of acquisitions. "We love the growth going on in there. It's one of the areas you want to be in Tampa."

Insula specializes in acquiring apartment complexes and revitalizing them for investors. Other properties are in Orlando, Jacksonville and Atlanta.

Park East, at 2020 Bearss, is an attractive investment due to its location within an established neighborhood that is experiencing new growth as a result of its proximity to university and medical campuses of University of South Florida and Florida Hospital Tampa.

The complex of 192 one- and two-bedroom apartments will have a typical mix of tenants, Talbot says, including young professionals just out of college, young families, empty-nesters and possibly a few students.

Insula plans to spend between $300,000 to $500,000 on modest renovations.

Plans are to test market amenities, such as vinyl wood floors, upgraded counter tops and cabinets, in about 10 to 20 apartments, Talbot says. A new metal roof will be installed on the clubhouse and fitness center as well.

Current residents will be asked for feedback on the renovations and more apartments could be upgraded in future. Park East is about 95 percent occupied. With its acquisition, Insula has more than 3,300 apartments and $150 million in assets in Florida-based complexes. 

The Park East property went through tough financial times in recent years and landed in foreclosure in 2010. A California company bought it along with similar properties around the country. After spending money to upgrade the complex, the apartments went on the market.

To qualify for purchase by Insula, apartments must be 15 to 40 years old with a minimum of 150 units that need cosmetic or substantial rehabilitation work. Park East was built in 1986.

Writer: Kathy Steele
Source: Jeff Talbot, Insula Companies

Tampa Bay Lightning Owner Wins Ownership Of Channelside Bay Plaza

Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik's vision for redeveloping the beleaguered Channelside Bay Plaza shopping center is the winner in a legal battle over the plaza's future ownership.

A settlement agreement between Vinik's CBP Development and Liberty Channelside (a partnership of Convergent Capital and the Liberty Group) was approved by a Delaware bankruptcy judge on Monday. Port Tampa Bay and the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation also signed on to the agreement.

"We are happy with this agreement as it now creates a path for the turnaround of a very important community asset," says CBP executive Jim Shimberg in a joint statement released Monday. "We appreciate the efforts of Liberty Channelside, Port Tampa Bay and IBRC in helping resolve this matter."

According to court documents, CBP will pay $7.1 million for the lease and the port will pay $1.9 million to the bank for the mortgage. A settlement also is in place between Vinik's company and Liberty regarding certain lease assets, prior development plans put forth by Liberty and an end to pending litigation.

In the near future, the public will have a chance to view Vinik's proposed plan in more detail, says Lightning spokesman Trevor van Knotsenburg.

The plaza went into foreclosure in 2010 and has been mired in legal entanglements since. The Irish bank, which itself is in bankruptcy, owns the plaza; the Port owns the land beneath it.

At a July auction, Vinik's development group put in the highest bid for the lease at $7.1 million and later signed a $10 million letter of credit to cover maintenance costs. The port's board pre-approved the bid following a presentation of the company's proposed plan for 'Channelside Live', a mixed use venue with entertainment, shopping, restaurants and a hotel.

Convergent Capital and the Liberty Group did not make a presentation to the port's board but later offered $10 million for the lease and challenged the fairness of the auction. The bankruptcy judge expressed concerns about the process and had postponed a decision on ownership until Monday.

And then the agreement was reached.

"We are pleased this issue is resolved and are confident in Mr. Vinik's plans to redevelop the Channelside retail center," says Santosh Govindaraju, an owner of Liberty Channelside.

Writer: Kathy Steele 
Sources: Jim Shimberg, CBP Development; Trevor van Knotsenburg, Tampa Bay Lightning; Santosh Gavindaraju, Liberty Group

Amelia's Abubut Opens in South Tampa

As a teenager in Manila, Amelia Pestrak learned the skills of a tailor from her aunt. Sewing and tailoring are an artisan trade of long-standing for many of her relatives in the Phillippines.

Now for the first Pestrak is putting her skills to use in her own clothing shop -- Amelia's Abubut. She opened in April in a small strip center at 3644B Henderson Boulevard.

The name "abubut" refers to a keepsake closet of trinkets and things that hold special meaning for their owner.

Pestrak's shop is filled with casual apparel for women and children, most of which Pestrak designs and sews herself. Clothing racks offer a variety of choices in colorful prints from sun dresses for young girls to adult women's blouses and skirts.

Amelia's Abubut also has purses and accessories including jewelry and scarves. There are even a few pot holders, aprons and cups around. Pestrak hopes people who stop by will find "your special thing."

The shop was in a mess when Pestrak moved in after a 4-month search for a South Tampa location. She and her husband, University of South Florida architect Walter Pestrak, cleaned up the space. 

They painted the walls in bright yellow, added a fitting closet and display cases. Furniture and curtains add splashes of color. Walter Pestrak describes the shop as "bright and colorful" like his wife Amelia.

She grew up on a farm in rural Phillippines. But as a 16-year-old she moved to the urban province of Manila where she began learning how to sew and tailor clothes.

Some might find it boring but Amelia Pestrak says, "I love to do it."

And she gets satisfaction when people, including family, wear her clothes. "She's wearing what I did a long time ago," says Pestrak of her 92-year-old mother.

Pestrak has worked a long time as a tailor but a quiet retirement didn't suit her. "I don't want to just stay home," she says.

For now Pestrak's sewing equipment is at her home. But she plans to move it to the shop and stay busy turning out her hand-made keepsakes and watching her business grow.

Writer: Kathy Steele
Source: Amelia Pestrak, Amelia's Abubut

The Trio At ENCORE! Tampa Welcomes First Residents

Even as construction continues on The Reed and The Tempo waits in the wings for its start date, the ENCORE! Tampa community is celebrating its first multifamily apartment complex -- The Trio.

The Tampa Housing Authority will hold a grand opening today (July 15) at 2:30 p.m. at 1101 Ray Charles Blvd., with live jazz and tours of The Trio.

The 141-unit apartment building joins The Ella, 161 senior apartments that opened in 2012 and are fully occupied. 

The musically themed ENCORE! is a $425 million, master-planned community that is replacing the former public housing complex of Central Park Village, which was torn down in 2007. The goal is to create a mixed-use, mixed income neighborhood within street grids dotted with apartments, shops, restaurants, a grocery store, hotel and a black history museum.

It is being developed jointly by THA and the Banc of America Community Development Corporation. The next multi-family complex, 203-unit The Tempo, should have a construction start shortly, with leasing set to begin by summer 2015.

Since April, nearly 40 families have moved into The Trio. However, about 70 percent of the  apartments are leased. Those additional residents are expected to arrive within the next one to two months.

"That's a little bit better pace for us than expected by this time," says LeRoy Moore, THA's COO. "Obviously the biggest news out of this is affordable housing for families. It's good to be welcoming our first families to the site."

At the grand opening, guests can get up-close looks at the public art commissioned for The Trio, including three ceramic tile murals depicting the rich history of the once-thriving black business and entertainment district in and around Central Avenue. 

The murals, located along a perimeter wall that faces Perry Harvey Sr. Park, are by Vermont-based artist Natalie Blake.

Funds for the murals -- titled The Gift of Gathered Remembrances -- are from the city of Tampa and the Friends of Tampa Public Art Foundations, which received its share of the money through THA.

In addition, The Trio's contractor, Sarasota-based CORE Construction Services of Florida, commissioned Taryn Sabia, co-founder of the Urban Charrette, for three jazz-themed paintings installed on the Trio's exterior walls.

The Trio is a collection of three buildings designed by Baker Barrios Architects. One building is six stories; the others are four stories. There are 1-,2-,3- and 4-bedroom floor plans. Amenities include a swimming pool, movie theater, fitness center, library, game rooms and Internet cafe.

Writer: Kathy Steele
Source: LeRoy Moore, Tampa Housing Authority

Tampa YMCA To Open New Gymnastics Center

Young gymnasts will be tumbling soon in a new gymnastics center at the Bob Sierra YMCA Youth & Family Center in the Carrollwood neighborhood of Tampa.

The $1.7 million, 11,500-square-foot facility is expected to open by fall and will double the number of children who can sign up for the YMCA's programs and services.

The existing gymnastics program is housed in the Bob Sierra Y building at 4029 Northdale Blvd. The new center will be a free standing building on nearby Ragg Road.

The construction project was proposed nearly three years ago to ease overcrowding. A fund-raising campaign was launched.

"Kids have to wait for their teams to practice," says Lalita Llerena, the Tampa Metropolitan Area YMCA's communications director.

A variety of gymnastics opportunities are offered at Bob Sierra Y including pre-team classes, teams and private lessons for toddlers to age 18.

“We serve nearly 3,000 kids in our current gymnastics area," says Dena Shimberg, chairwoman of the Y's capital campaign. "With the new gymnastics center, we will be able to serve over 5,000 kids, as well as a more diverse program menu to help serve children and families in our community.”
 
In the future, the Northdale building will undergo a makeover in a multiphase project to upgrade one of the YMCA's oldest facilities. Llerena says an announcement on that could come at the ribbon-cutting for the gymnastics center.

Coming up next is the 2014 YMCA National Gymnastics Championships hosted July 1-5 by the Tampa Metropolitan Area YMCA at the Tampa Convention Center. The event will draw more than 5,800 athletes, spectators and visitors and pump about $4.5 million into Tampa Bay's economy.

Writer: Kathy Steele
Source: Dena Shimberg and Lalita Llerena, YMCA

Toojays Gourmet Deli Opens In Downtown Tampa

Tampa's downtown is getting that New York-style, full-on deli fix. Get ready for stacks of hot pastrami and corned beef piled high between freshly baked slices of rye, challah and bagels. Or dive into latkes, blintzes, chopped chicken liver and matzo ball soup.

Toojays Gourmet Deli is opening on June 23 on the ground floor of the downtown SunTrust Financial Centre at 401 Jackson St. This is a new Tampa location and a branding shift for a  national delicatessen chain, which remains a popular mainstay on restaurant row on Baystreet at International Plaza.

This also is a bit of a departure for SunTrust's management company, JLL, which previously rented to two locally operated eateries. The last restaurant closed in May.

At International Plaza Toojays' customers stop by for breakfast, lunch and dinner. At SunTrust, Toojays will serve breakfast and lunch from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday-Friday. And the chain is experimenting with a new contemporary look designed by Andy Share & Associates in Boca Raton, FL.  

"We really wanted to take it to the next level," says Sharon Bragg, JLL's VP in charge of leases for the SunTrust building. "They (Toojays) basically have been doing this for 30 years. They know what they are doing. People do know them. We're excited."

Orlando-based Industrial Commercial Structures is the contractor.

Toojays was founded in 1981 by Jay Brown and Mark Jay Katzenberg, the two Jays in the brand name.

At about 4,500 square feet, the deli's size at Sun Trust  will shrink a bit from the standard. There will be seating for 128 including an outdoor patio with more than 50 seats. Busy office workers on the run can take advantage of a "grab and go" section. 

About 40 people will be employed at the deli. Catering will be available for office meeting, parties, seminars and other events. 

Toojay representatives say this concept could be a test run for future restaurants and makeovers at existing ones.

Usually Toojays tends to seek out communities with a mix of residential and office. Downtown sites that primarily serve a business-only crowd for breakfast and lunch aren't typically on the list. 

But Tampa is in the midst of an expansion of high-rise towers filling up with residents looking for the complete urban experience of entertainment, restaurants, shops, arts and culture.

"Operating on the first floor of the SunTrust Financial Centre affords us the opportunity to explore a new growth vehicle for our brand," says Neal Chianese, TooJays executive VP of operations. "We are confident that success of this location will lay the groundwork for potential future expansion into similar downtown settings."

Writer: Kathy Steele
Sources: Neal Chianese, TooJays; Sharon Bragg, JLL
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