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Vinik hires top urban planners to design waterfront properties in downtown Tampa

Jeff Vinik’s Strategic Property Partners LCC has appointed world-renowned urban planners Jeff Speck and David Dixon to lead the design of downtown Tampa’s southern waterfront into a mixed-use, walkable metropolitan neighborhood.

The property abuts the Tampa Riverwalk, a miles-long stretch of pathways that snake through downtown Tampa’s Channel District and along the Hillsborough River north to Water Works Park in the Tampa Heights neighborhood. A new over-water Kennedy Boulevard segment is set to open in late March 2015. Eventually, 2.2 miles of uninterrupted sidewalk will follow the river through the city.

Vinik's SPP master planning development team is behind a billion dollar plan to transform the area’s landscape over the next five years, with new downtown facilities for the University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine and USF Heart Institute proposed, along with hotel, retail and mixed-use residential space. The TECO Line Streetcar would also be expanded.

Over the next four months, Speck and Dixon will work with retail planners, transportation and traffic design engineers, brand architecture designers and New Urbanism residential planners to create a practical plan for the 40 acres SPP owns along downtown Tampa’s southern waterfront.

Tampa Bay Lightning owner and SPP principal Vinik says, "At the onset, Urban Design Associates initiated a wonderful vision for what the area can become -- America’s next great urban waterfront -- and now we are confident that Jeff and David will guide us in turning that vision into a practical, yet dynamic Master Plan."

SPP, which Vinik founded in 2014, controls Amelie Arena, Channelside Bay Plaza and the Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina. Cascade Investment, based in Seattle and founded by billionaire Bill Gates, is the primary funding partner for the project.

Speck, who wrote a book in 2013 titled Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time, leads a design practice (Speck & Associates, LLC) based in Washington D.C. He is the former director of design at the National Endowment for the Arts, where he oversaw the Mayors’ Institute on City Design and worked with dozens of American mayors to solve city planning challenges.

Dixon, a Senior Principal and Urban Design Group Leader for Stantec, has won numerous urban planning awards, lead the redevelopment of post-Katrina New Orleans, and helped Washington D.C. maximize the social and economic benefits of a new streetcar system.

Speck will serve as SPP’s overall consulting Design Leader, while Dixon will lead the SPP Master Plan team.
 
"We are asking Jeff and David to help us advance a great live, work, play and stay district,'' Vinik says. "One that is welcoming, pedestrian-friendly, progressive, and also healthy, as we aspire to create a true 'wellness' district for our residents, employers, students and visitors.''  

Urban Charrette, CNU Tampa Bay host open mic on urbanism and the arts

Tampa's Urban Charrette and the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) Tampa Bay will host Urbanism on Tap at the Independent Bar and Café in Seminole Heights on Tuesday, March 24, starting at 5:30pm.  
 
Urbanism on Tap consists of recurring open mic discussions, thematically organized in groups of three. Each event generates constructive conversations within the community about current ideas and trends that are shaping our city. Events are open to the public, and moderators and attendees are invited to share their views and stories related to the topic of the day. 

The resulting lively exchange of ideas is designed to enhance attendees’ ability to make Tampa a more livable city, says Organizer Ashly Anderson. 
 
Starting this spring, Urbanism on Tap organizers have moved to Seminole Heights, a neighborhood north of Downtown Tampa, to host a new Urbanism on Tap Series on Arts and Urbanism. The series will explore the link between the arts and the development of neighborhoods.
 
Tuesday’s discussion, “The Visual Identity of Tampa,” is the first in the Arts and Urbanism series. Organizers will focus on how the arts have shaped the visual identity of Tampa. Participants will talk about how Tampa's image is defined by its iconic structures, landmarks and historic places, resulting in a unique urban form. 

Questions to be addressed: What makes a visitor remember Tampa? How should the visual identity of Tampa be kept intact as development continues within the area? Participants will have the opportunity to answer these questions and many more, trying to decide what matters most.  
 
Residents, students, art enthusiasts and neighborhood groups are encouraged to attend. 
 
The event organizers encourage people to share their opinions on this topic by visiting Urbanism on Tap’s online Facebook page and website before and after the event.  
 
Venue: Independent Bar and Cafe, Seminole Heights, 5016 N. Florida Ave. Tampa, FL-33603  
Date and time: Tuesday, March 24, 2015, 5:30pm–7pm 
Questions: email the Urban Charrette

Haven opens in Sidebern's former SoHo space

A new upscale dining destination and sister to world famous Bern’s Steak House opened in Tampa’s popular SoHo neighborhood in early March 2015.

Haven, housed in the the former Sidebern’s and Bern’s Fine Wine and Spirits space at 2208 West Morrison, delivers a modern sensibility to the SoHo dining experience with rich wood, strategic lighting and upscale décor. The redeveloped bar, lounge and restaurant is a refuge for lovers of charcuterie, cheese and cellars full of fine wine on a street that mixes casual dining with upscale experiences.

Haven’s menu will be under the direction of Executive Chef Chad Johnson (two-time James Beard Award Best Chef: South Semi-finalist), along with Chef de Cuisine Courtney Orwig and General Manager Kira Jefferson. 

Menu offerings focus on beverage selections as much as food: craft beer, 300 Bourbons and over 40 wines by the glass mingle with featured wines from a 2,500 bottle wine collection that includes 550 regional and global vintages. At the 25-seat bar, handmade signature cocktails are muddled using fresh ingredients. 

Attention to detail can be found in everything from a “cheese cave” with over 100 cheeses to homemade sodas on tap. 

Along with interior renovations at Haven, additional dining space and an exterior patio area facing Howard Avenue have been added to the restaurant.

“Our bar and charcuterie areas are sure to be a popular gathering place for guests, in addition to our newly added patio space,” Owner David Laxer says in a news release.

Laxer calls Haven "a new beginning for SideBern’s, and a tip of the hat to the history of Bern’s. It’s a natural progression of our brand and growth of our restaurants.”

Laxer’s parents, Bern and Gert, bought the Beer Haven bar in 1956 and moved it to 1208 S Howard Ave., renaming it Bern’s in the process. Over time, the restaurant and bar grew to include eight dining rooms and the renowned Harry Waugh Dessert Room, which was built in 1985 from redwood wine casks. 

Bern’s Steak House is a mainstay on a street that is a growing foodie destination for both fine and casual dining. In 2014 alone, the long-anticipated Epicurean Hotel opened at 1207 S. Howard Ave., home to Bern’s sister restaurants Élevage on the ground floor and the EDGE Social Drinkery rooftop bar. Former Tampa Bay Rays owner Joe Maddon and 717 South owner Michael Stewart opened the upscale, Italian-inspired Ava at 718 S. Howard Ave. in Nov 2014. 

Well-known Tampa restauranteurs Ciccio & Tony’s latest venture, Fresh Kitchen, opened at 1350 S. Howard with a healthy fast food concept in October last year. And in early 2015, the popular Tampa food truck Wicked ‘Wiches opened a casual dining spot, Wicked ‘Wiches and Brew, on the end of South Howard closest to bars and clubs that are frequented by many young professionals and college students.

Now, Haven will join the mix.

Haven will serve dinner from 5:30-10pm Mon-Weds and 5:30-11pm Thurs-Sat. The bar at Haven will be open from 5-10pm Mon-Weds and from 5-11pm Thurs-Sat. 

For more information, visit the restaurant’s website. 

Community kitchen brings new hope to Tampa's University area

Combating adult obesity begins with small steps, like the community garden that the University Area Community Development Corporation (UACDC) first opened in Tampa in November 2013 to provide residents with access to healthy food. Now, the group has opened the Harvest Hope Center Kitchen to further help residents of Tampa’s university area learn about healthy eating and sustainability. 

UACDC first began making moves toward a healthier Tampa by teaching University of South Florida area residents how to maintain beds of leafy greens and cultivate an array of hearty vegetables in the community garden on North 20th Street.

In March 2015, the program’s efforts expanded with the opening of the Harvest Hope Center Kitchen, directly adjacent to the community garden, with the aim of teaching more members of the university area community about healthy habits and nutritious eating. 

The Harvest Hope Center Kitchen, located at 13704 N. 20th St., is designed to serve residents of the University area, a community that has been the focus of economic revitalization efforts in recent months.

“We believe that educating residents about good nutrition can make a positive, long-term impact on those in our neighborhood,” says UACDC’s Executive Director and CEO Sarah Combs in a news release.

The Harvest Hope Center Kitchen is a fully functional kitchen that provides a classroom-like setting for lessons in nutrition and opportunities for cooking demonstrations, using fruits and vegetables from the community garden. Lessons will focus on teaching residents about the nutritious benefits of the items, along with their seasonal attributes.

“The opening of the Harvest Hope Center Kitchen is a key component in building and keeping a strong, healthy community,” Combs said.

The Harvest Hope Center Kitchen is made possible by community partners and sponsors, including: the Florida Medical Clinic Foundation of Caring, Whitwam Organics, the Westchase Rotary Club, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office and Hillsborough County Code Enforcement.

Community partners and sponsors provide the renovations, equipment, education and support for the Harvest Hope Center Kitchen.

Combs, along with UACDC’s board Chairman Gene Marshall, board Secretary T.J. Couch, Jr., and board members Jo Easton and Darlene Stanko, led the Harvest Hope Center Kitchen ribbon cutting in late February 2015.

UACDC is a 501c3 public/private partnership based in Tampa’s University Area Community Center Complex at 14013 N. 22nd St. The UACDC is focused on helping to redevelop and sustain the areas around the University of South Florida through children and family development, crime prevention and commerce growth.

To learn more about upcoming classes and events at the Harvest Hope Center, or for details on services and programs available through the University Area Community Development Corporation, contact the UACDC by visiting the organization’s website or calling 813-558-5212. 

Adventure Island opens new water slide in Tampa

The newest attraction at the Adventure Island water park near Busch Gardens, Colossal Curl, sends riders along a slide standing nearly 70 feet high and measuring 560 feet in length. The ride features corkscrews, high speeds and waterfalls, an experience unlike anything else in the Tampa Bay area. 

While the water slide is notable as the first new attraction at Adventure Island since 2006, Colossal Curl is significant for another reason – it represents yet another sustainable project for parent company SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, which operates Adventure Island and neighboring theme park Busch Gardens. 

Colossal Curl stands on the site of Gulf Scream, a water slide that was built in 1982 and removed a few months ago to make way for the new family thrill slide. 

“The wood, metal, and concrete from the previous slide was recycled at various facilities throughout Florida,” says park spokesman Travis Claytor. “Plus, we just refurbished the Adventure Island parking lot by using the existing asphalt, having it finely ground then mixed to create a base for new parking lot.” 

Across McKinley Drive at sister park Busch Gardens, recent construction projects have been completed with a similar efforts toward environmental sustainability.
 
Last year, when Busch Gardens opened the newly reimagined section of Pantopia in an area of the park once known as Timbuktu, one of the most popular attractions became a unique gift shop called Painted Camel Bazaar. Standing in the shadow of the new 335-foot-tall Falcon’s Fury drop tower thrill ride, Painted Camel Bazaar was built in a renovated structure that previously served as the West African Trading Company.
 
“In this shop, we used lumber from the old gift shop to make the new fixtures and used the wood spools that the Falcon’s Fury cables were shipped on to make display counters,” Claytor says. Merchandise ranges from apparel to housewares that have been made from recycled and repurposed materials. 

In 2011, when the triple-launch Cheetah Hunt roller coaster was being built, the park saved two large structures and repurposed them for the new attraction – a move that potentially spared tons of old concrete and metal from going to landfills. Also, the old Clydesdale barn was converted into the new cheetah housing area. 

“These (sustainability) efforts also extend to the animal habitats at Busch Gardens,” Claytor says. “For instance, we take groundwater that flows into the trenches on Cheetah Hunt, filter the water and use it to put water back into the hippo habitat.” 

Originally opened in 1959 as an Anheuser-Busch brewery hospitality center, Busch Gardens is acclaimed in the zoological community for building naturalistic habitats that serve as sanctuaries for some of the world’s most endangered animal species. The park also participates in the SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund, a 501 (c)(3) program that distributes 100 percent of its proceeds to animal rescue and rehabilitation, conservation education, habitat protection and species research around the world.

'Building a Healthier Sulphur Springs' project aims to create safe, energy-efficient Tampa homes

Slowly but surely, efforts to transform a long-neglected neighborhood north of downtown Tampa are taking shape.

“Building a Healthier Sulphur Springs” is a new collaborative community program that will address the shortage of safe, suitable housing in the neighborhood, a factor that Rebuilding Together Tampa Bay says increases housing instability and transiency in the area.

Sulphur Springs is a blighted section of Tampa known for high crime rates and low income but the neighborhood was, decades ago, a destination that attracted tourists with its sulphur waters, spring-fed swimming pool and lively storefronts.

“Through our neighborhood revitalization initiative known as ‘Building a Healthier Sulphur Springs,’ Rebuilding Together Tampa Bay intends to improve the living conditions of this community for its present and future residents,” says RTTB Executive Director Jose Garcia.

Creating stable opportunities for children, improving general wellbeing and developing more positive neighborhood settings are part of the “Building a Healthier Sulphur Springs” program goals.

The program is “uniquely positioned for success because of the collaborations formed with numerous nonprofit organizations that are part of the Sulphur Springs Neighborhood of Promise and the support of the City of Tampa,” Garcia says.

“Building a Healthier Sulphur Springs” services aim to make homes in the Sulphur Springs neighborhood safer, healthier and more energy efficient. This will include implementing the “Healthy Home Kit” in many homes: a combination of learning workshops for residents and on-going community support in the form of home repairs and services.

Efforts to revitalize the low-income community in Sulphur Springs have been underway for several years, with the opening of Springhill Community Center and Layla's House, which offers parenting programs and resources for children to neighborhood families. The Sulphur Springs Neighborhood of Promise, which was founded in the mid-2000’s by the Tampa Metropolitan Area YMCA in partnership with local organizations like United Way Suncoast and the Children's Board of Hillsborough County, led the efforts to open Layla’s House.

Backed by federal funding, the City of Tampa also initiated the Nehemiah Project, an effort to tear down dozens of dilapidated abandoned Sulphur Springs houses, in 2014.

“We have strong support from various corporations and foundations that want to see the neighborhood stabilize and thrive in their new environment,” says Garcia. “We look forward to sharing the outcomes with everyone in the Tampa Bay area.”

The “Building a Healthier Sulphur Springs” project launches at 10:30am on Thursday, March 19, at the Abundant Life Worship Center, 8117 N. 13th St. “Healthy Home Kits” will be installed in the homes of several Sulphur Springs residents following the program kickoff.

RTTB, a nonprofit organization dedicated to rehabilitating neighborhood homes and providing home repair services to low-income families as well as elderly residents, wounded veterans or those with disabilities, has already renovated or repaired more than 350 neighborhood homes through sponsorship support, labor and hundreds of volunteers. Services include anything from emergency repairs to weatherproofing or improvements to make homes more energy efficient.

More information is available at the Rebuilding Together Tampa Bay website.

Luxury cigar retailer to open flagship Tampa store

Tampa, aka 'Cigar City,' will gain a new luxury cigar retailer in late 2015.

Davidoff of Geneva - since 1911, a more than 100-year-old luxury retailer of cigars and cigar accessories, plans to open a 5,000-square-foot flagship store in Tampa's Westshore Business District by late 2015.

Richard Krutick, Davidoff of Geneva USA’s director of marketing, estimates that the flagship store will hire around 30 new employees before opening in late 2015.

“Tampa is historically a great cigar city and we want to further establish Tampa as our home market,” Krutick says. “We are very excited about the new store. We’re hoping it becomes a fixture in the Tampa Bay community.”

The Pinellas Park-based company has a worldwide reach; in fact, the only other licensed Davidoff of Geneva boutique in the United States is located in Las Vegas.

The company's future Tampa location is across from Tampa International Airport and International Plaza and Bay Street in the MetWest International Retail Village, an award-winning, mixed-use center currently under development by MetLife.

Office buildings and upscale restaurants like Cooper’s Hawk Winery and RestaurantKona GrillTexas de Brazil and Del Frisco’s Grille are already located in the space, which when completed will include almost 1 million-square-feet of office space, 254 residential units, a 260-room full-service upscale hotel, and a 74,200-square-foot retail village.

Tampa's Davidoff of Geneva flagship store will be the largest in the world. Retail space will co-mingle with indoor and outdoor lounges, complete with a full service bar, a first for the company. Other luxuries will include a completely humidified store and private lockers.

“We are delighted to open a new ‘Davidoff of Geneva - since 1911’ store in our home market,” Jim Young, President of Davidoff of Geneva North America, says in a news release.

The new location will be opened in partnership with Jeff and Tanya Borysiewicz, owners of the popular Orlando-based Corona Cigar Company

The partnership is a particularly exciting aspect of the new store for Young. The Borysiewicz’ “know how to provide consumers with a premium retail experience, they know our entire product portfolio, and they know our company,” Young said.

The move is met with enthusiasm on both sides, with Jeff Borysiewicz also noting in a news release, “it's an honor to be partnering with Davidoff of Geneva. It's exciting to be building upon the legacy that Zino Davidoff started over 100 years ago.”

“We're thrilled to expand our retail operations and to serve cigar enthusiasts in the Cigar City of Tampa,” Borysiewicz said. “We look forward to creating the ‘Ultimate Cigar Experience’ in a community with such a long history of cigar manufacturing and rich cigar culture.”

Tampa Pizza Company opens downtown, Westchase locations

Downtown Tampa residents and visitors may already be familiar with the locally driven, all-natural restaurant that shares a corner of the ground floor in Skypoint Condos with Kurdi's Mediterranian GrillAnise Global Gastropub and Taps Tavern.

The pizza restaurant’s name and menu, however, is new.

Local restaurateurs Dave Burton and Ralph Santell, who previously ran the downtown and Westshore locations of the Deerfield Beach-based Pizza Fusion franchise, have reopened the establishments under the new name Tampa Pizza Company.

Though the decision to leave Pizza Fusion before contracts expired led to a lawsuit, which was settled in Feb 2015, the restaurateurs remained focused on the vision of Tampa Pizza Company.

“We believe in Tampa and all the great things going on in our community,” says Santell. “We strive to be a point of pride for all of our customers and local residents through our restaurants and out in our neighborhoods.”

Indeed, the creation of the Tampa Pizza Company brings together many local elements, from mural art to menu ingredients.

The Tampa Pizza Company’s downtown location is home to new murals of local Tampa scenes painted by artists Robert Horning and Bianca Burrows.

New furniture for the location was purchased at local independent furniture stores such as Rare Hues and The Missing Piece, while Florida Seating in Pinellas County serviced reupholstered banquettes and Tanner Paints of Tampa developed a new interior paint palette.

Upgrades to the Tampa Pizza Company’s Westchase location include new paint and décor, along with a server system with mobile tablet ordering capabilities.

“It was important to us to turn to our local vendors here in the Tampa Bay area to make improvements to the dining experience that we offer our guests,” adds Burton, who hopes to see changes to the space make it feel “more eclectic, independent and local.”

Changes at both locations include upgraded bars and an expanded beverage program, along with plans to expand the restaurant craft beer selections in coming months.

One unique implement? A wine tap system.

Some aspects of the new brand won’t feel like a big change for customers – the lean, healthy influence of a menu laden with all-natural, vegetarian and special dietary needs-friendly options is still there.

Traditional pizza is also available, along with chicken wings, seasonal appetizers, custom sandwiches and wraps, and desserts including bakery items and gelato.

“Ralph and I have built a loyal following over the years, and it is very important to us that we maintain the quality service and incredible food that our guests expect,” says Burton. “Our mission is fairly simple -- create fresh, delicious meals that are appealing to even the health conscience customers who crave great tasting food.”

The first two Tampa Pizza Company restaurants are located in downtown Tampa, in the ground floor of the Skypoint Condos at 777 N. Ashley Dr., and in Westchase, at Westchase Town Center, 9556 W Linebaugh Ave.

Downtown Tampa quiet zone silences train horns with FDOT grant funds

Downtown Tampa and Channelside residents will rest a little easier in coming months, thanks to a $1.35 million grant from the Florida Department of Transportation.

Trains travel through Tampa on a daily basis, and their horns “are a nuisance,” says Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

Train horns are sounded in compliance with federal rules and regulations, which require a train to blast its horn for 15 to 20 seconds at any public crossing. As a result, the loud but legally mandatory horns are “bouncing off the buildings throughout downtown, bothering residents and impacting our economic opportunity as our urban core continues to densify," Buckhorn says.

In fact, the sound of train horns in downtown Tampa has been such a sore subject among residents that some have turned to a Facebook page, called “Help Tampa Sleep,'' to address the topic in a public forum.

Back in August 2014, the city contracted King Engineering Associates to study the development of a “quiet zone” in downtown Tampa.

Buckhorn’s staff reached out to the FDOT to seek information about quiet zones after learning that Florida Gov. Rick Scott was to include quiet zone funding in the state budget. The funds, awarded to the City of Tampa through FDOT’s Quiet Zone Grant program, will be used to create the “quiet zone” along CSX railroad tracks throughout downtown Tampa -- meaning trains will no longer blare their horns in the middle of the night as they pass through town.   

State funding will not cover the entire cost of creating a “quiet zone” in the middle of downtown Tampa -- the anticipated cost for the projects is $2.7 million. FDOT grants will provide up to half the cost of creating quiet zones. The projected improvements are expected to begin in summer 2015.

To silence train horns in downtown Tampa, the City of Tampa must meet “quiet zone” safety requirements established by the Federal Railroad Administration. The project will include the upgrade of nine public highway-rail crossings through downtown Tampa -- from North Jefferson Street to Doyle Carlton Drive -- with additional gating, street medians and signage. 

“Downtown residents and businesses can coexist with the trains, and a quiet zone allows us to strike that balance,” Buckhorn says.

Some citizens are concerned with the solution, however. Gasparilla Interactive Festival Executive Director Vinny Tafuro, a downtown resident, says that he is "hopeful that the project successfully quiets the horns," but is also "concerned with the aesthetics of how the crossings will look, and the reality of the CSX engineers actually following the guidelines and not blowing the horns."

"As a fan of innovative technology, I would prefer a long-term solution that improved on a loud horn as a warning," Tafuro says. "Seems archaic."

In fact, the Train Quiet Zone rules do stipulate that a train horn may be blown in a "quiet zone" during emergency situations.

To view the grant application and award, please visit the City of Tampa’s website or click here. To learn more about the Train Horn Rule as well as Train Quiet Zones, visit the Federal Railroad Administration's website.

Architectural photography contest open in Tampa

Calling all architectural photography artists!

The American Institute of Architects Tampa Bay along with the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts present the annual 2015 Architectural Photography Contest.

Top Tampa Bay entries will be exhibited at FMoPA during the museum’s National Architecture Week and beyond, from April 12th-May 3rd, 2015.

All Florida residents are invited to enter the 2015 Architectural Photography Contest. Photo subject matter must have an architectural theme or must contain some element of the built environment.

The competition, which is eligible to amateur photographers and the general public to compete for cash prizes, includes two juried categories: Amateurs and Professionals. 

 Amateur category cash awards are:
  • First Place - $300
  • Second Place - $200
  • Third Place - $100
Entry fees: $40 for AIA members and FMoPA members; $50 for non-members, and $25 for students.

Professional photographers, meanwhile, are not eligible for prize money. However, professional photographers are welcome to participate for the chance to have their work displayed at FMoPA, a popular downtown Tampa destination for the arts.

Contest entrants may submit up to five photos per entry fee, via Dropbox upload. Entrants are also required to submit one image for the Architectural Photography Show. See contest rules for details.

Entries must have been taken and owned by the entrant. Registration must be completed by 5 pm on March 27th.

Digital file upload and printed image drop-off must be completed by 5 pm on April 1st at the AIA Tampa Bay Chapter Office, located at 200 North Tampa Street in Tampa, Florida.

For additional information visit AIA’s website or call 813.229.3411. 

Luxury condo, The Salvador, headed for ground-breaking

Tampa-based developers, with DDA Development, are one step closer to a construction start on the 13-story luxury condominium, The Salvador, after closing on a 1-acre property in downtown St. Petersburg.

Three existing buildings on the property, at the intersection of Second Street and Fifth Avenue South, will be torn down in February in preparation for an anticipated March construction start. Buyers likely can move into their new condominiums by summer or fall of 2016.

Sales prices for one- and two-bedroom condos range from a low of about $350,000 to about $800,000 at the top tier. Two spacious three-bedroom penthouses are expected to sell for about $1.2 million to $1.4 million.

The condo project is bucking a trend toward more downtown apartment construction. But the market is there and so far about 30 percent of 74 luxury units have pre-sold, says David Moyer, director of sales in the development services department of Smith & Associates Real Estate.

"Everything is going really well," Moyer says. "It's an exciting start for this market place. We're pretty much on track with what we anticipated."

Among buyers are young professionals but also older couples who are empty-nesters looking to downsize, and anyone who wants to enjoy an urban lifestyle. 

Mesh Architecture is creating an "art-influenced" design. Balfour Beatty Construction is the contractor for a building that will be green-certified with the latest in energy-efficient technology.

The luxury condos will have private balconies, stainless steel appliances, wine coolers, gas cook tops and European-style cabinets. An 11,000 square foot amenity deck on the third floor will house a spa, heated saltwater pool and fire pit and a fitness and yoga room. A full-time concierge will be on duty in the 2-story lobby with large gathering areas.

The Salvador also is in a prime spot near the campus of the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, the Mahaffey Theater and The Dali Museum. Within walking distance there is a Publix grocery store and many of downtown's popular restaurants including Z-Grille and Red Mesa Cantina.

McAlister's Deli will add Tampa/Hillsborough County restaurants

McAlister's Deli plans to open as many as 30 new restaurants around the country in the next four years. About 10 to 12 of those restaurants will open in Tampa and Hillsborough County in Florida.

The chain restaurant specializes in sandwiches, spuds, soups, salads and desserts and features its McAlister Sweet Tea. In Tampa current locations for McAlister's franchises include 11402 N. 30 St., near the University of South Florida, and 4410 Boy Scout Road in the Westshore Business District. The Westshore site opened in 2013 as part of the retail portion of the Modera Westshore apartment complex.

The Westshore area is expanding rapidly with new apartments, retail and restaurants. It also is home to the Westshore Business District which includes about 4,000 businesses and about 95,000 employees.

McAlister's looks for "rooftop" communities as well as office districts that can do a big lunch business, says Jeff Sturgis, the company's chief development officer.

Tampa and Hillsborough County are seen as areas with "robust growth" that are rebounding from the economic downturn, he says. "There is a demand for new (dining) concepts where old concepts aren't doing as well anymore."

Additional restaurants could open in Carrollwood, Brandon, Westchase, Citrus Park and New Tampa.

"We're actively looking for sites," says Sturgis.

McAlister's added 19 new restaurants in 2014 including a location in The Villages, FL. In 2015 expansion plans will focus on states such as New York, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Georgia and Florida. 

McAlister's offers dine-in and take-out options as well as catering. Menu items include Cajun Shrimp Po Boy, Four Cheese Chili, Horseradish Roast Beef and Cheddar sandwich, McAlister's Club and a variety of meat, cheese and vegetable toppings for its spuds.

Founded in 1989, the brand has more than 335 restaurants in 24 states.

Franchise Business Review named McAlister’s one of its “Top Franchises” in the Food and Beverage category in 2015 and 2014 based on franchisee satisfaction. In 2014, Nation’s Restaurant News named McAlister’s the top limited-service sandwich chain in its Consumer Picks Survey.

Hablo Taco opens in downtown Tampa's Channel District

Holy guacamole. A new tequila bar and taco lounge opens its doors in Channelside Bay Plaza in downtown Tampa on Wednesday (Feb. 4). 

Hablo Taco is the first business to open in the plaza since Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik announced a plan to invest a staggering $1 billion in Tampa’s downtown Channel District over the next five to seven years.

The Hablo Taco food menu is a mix of bar food, like burgers, and Mexican-inspired staples, such as nachos, tacos and Mexican street corn, along with four variations on guacamole. The restaurant’s bar menu focuses on margaritas and frozen cocktails along with a variety of tequilas.
 
“We like the menu options and we believe the management is developing a fun, welcoming environment that will offer something for everyone,” says Bill Wickett, EVP of Marketing and Communications for Tampa Bay Lightning.
 
The 6,000-square-foot restaurant sits across from Hooters and will boast a 50-ft outdoor bar. Hablo Taco will be run by Guy Revelle, the operator of the plaza’s Splitsville Lanes bowling alley, as well as previous plaza tenants Stumps Supper Club, Howl at the Moon and Tinatapas.
 
“Once Hablo Taco opens, we will focus on driving exciting events (like the upcoming Gasparilla Film Festival) into Channelside,” Wickett says, “which we believe will appeal to residents in the Channelside and downtown neighborhoods, thereby bringing more traffic to the existing businesses in the mall.” 

Vinik, along with Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, welcomed Hablo Taco, 615 Channelside Drive, with a ribbon cutting in late January.

“We are excited to open Hablo Taco and we believe it will become a destination, not only for Lightning fans and Amalie Arena guests, but for Channelside residents and employees of our downtown businesses,” Wickett says.

Franklin Street, a family of full-service real estate companies, manages Channelside Bay Plaza. For more information on Hablo Taco, or to explore job opportunities, visit the restaurant’s website.

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.
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