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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

2 Boutique Hotels, Aloft And Le Meridien, Ready For Guests

Two upscale boutique hotels -- each with its own style created inside renovated properties -- will debut in downtown Tampa in coming weeks.

Aloft Tampa Downtown is targeting the next generation of business travelers hip to a sleek, modern look, tech-savvy gadgets, trending music and a social atmosphere.

Le Meridien Tampa is a contemporary version of a grand hotel experience in the renovated and restored Classic Federal Courthouse with a sweeping staircase, soaring ceilings, marble and terrazzo features, state-of-the-art technology and French-style dining at Bizou Brasserie under the direction of a Parisian chef.

Both are under the umbrella of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide.

Former and current  judges get a walk-through of Le Meridien on June 11, trailed by media. Doors open to the public June 16. A grand opening for the hotel, located at 601 N. Florida Ave., is slated for June 26.

Two blocks over at Kennedy Boulevard and Ashley Drive, Aloft is poised to open on the Tampa Riverwalk, the city's vision of a grand promenade along the Hillsborough River. By design, the hotel's ground floor, with Aloft's signature w xyz bar, is an open portal onto Riverwalk, breaking down barriers between inside and outside, and creating a new public space.

"It feels open to anyone to eat, drink and relax," says developer Punit Shah, CEO of Liberty Group. "There are no walls, no delineation of space."

An invitation-only opening is scheduled July 10 though the hotel's 130 loft-style rooms likely will be ready for occupancy sooner. And a grand opening for the public will be held at a later date. "It will be Tampa's hippest and coolest hotel," says Shah. "It's unprecedented."

Aloft Tampa is the fifth Aloft hotel in Florida. It was developed by Liberty Group in partnership with Convergent Capital.Parners. Starwood plans its sixth Aloft for New Orleans in 2015. 

Aloft will feature live music events, video and audio streaming capabilities, large HDTVs, the re:mix lounge, a waterfront pool, a 24-hour fitness center and a rooftop terrace with spectacular views of the river and minarets at University of Tampa.

Room check-in will be available with an app and a smartphone finger tap. Via text message, Shah says, "(The hotel door) will pop right open. Everything in the hotel is designed to be state-of-the-art, the highest and best available."

The addition of Aloft and Le Meridien to downtown's hotel landscape is good news for Visit Tampa Bay, which keeps a watchful eye on Hillsborough County's hotel bed tax revenues. This year already is on a pace to surpass more than $21.8 million collected in 2007, the best revenue year before the recession crushed the economy.

Last year's revenues came within nearly $650,000 of matching the 2007 record. Already the revenues through May of this year are $1.6 million higher than revenues collected through May 2013.

"We are thrilled with these two properties," says Santiago Corrada, Visit Tampa Bay's CEO. "The industry is doing well. We're back to pre-recession numbers."

But Corrada is hoping for additional hotels downtown to accommodate more conventions, larger conventions and multiple conventions at the same time at the Tampa Convention Center.  "We need more hotel capacity downtown because we have a convention center that needs to be running at capacity," he says. 

Writer: Kathy Steele
Sources: Punit Shah, Aloft Tampa; Santiago Carrado, Visit Tampa Bay

Aquatica On Bayshore To Rise In South Tampa

Pre-construction sales for Aquatica on Bayshore are attracting young executives and empty nesters who want a prime spot at the most desirable location in town -- Bayshore Boulevard.

The sleek, all-glass facade of the 15-story residential tower at 3001 Bayshore Boulevard will have spectacular water views from the double terraces off each condominium. Square footage of units range from about 2,300 to more than 4,700. Sales prices are from $838,000 to about $2.1 million.

"Daily, people are signing contracts," says real estate agent Toni Everett of The Toni Everett Company.

New York-based architect Joseph Galea, and his company MLG Architects, designed the building, which is very contemporary. Its glass front is inspired by "capturing 3 perfect waves frozen in time," according to the website.

Amenities include a swimming pool and heated whirlpool on the fourth floor deck, two gated entrances, a fitness center, conference and media rooms, and a party and catering kitchen.

The goal is to sell at least 50 percent of Aquatica prior to a construction start. Everett estimates the half way point has been reached, with a probable construction start next year. 

Construction preparation is under way and the vacant spit of land at Bayshore and Bay-to-Bay boulevards is now fenced off. The city of Tampa leased the lot for more than 15 years. It was a popular parking spot for people headed for a jog or walk on Bayshore's waterfront sidewalk. Also, the Bayshore Patriots met weekly to cheer on MacDill military personnel driving by on Bayshore. 

Bayshore visitors will have to find other parking spots but the Bayshore Patriots sign and flag remain.

It has been  nearly a decade since the project first was proposed by Citivest Construction Corporation which waited through Tampa City Council scrutiny, legal challenges and a failed economy to reach this point.

"There has been a revival generally of the market," says Citivest President Bill Robinson. "It's not great but it's on the mend. Employment figures are better. It's a favorable financial market for mortgages."

Writer: Kathy Steele
Sources: Toni Everett, The Toni Everett Company; Bill Robinson, Citivest

Lennar Homes Builds Homes in North Hyde Park And Ruskin

Home building is coming back into fashion as the economy shows signs of improving and people are again thinking about the long-range value of owning a home.

Lennar Homes recently broke ground on 39 for-sale town homes in North Hyde Park in Tampa and held an open house for Cypress Creek, a subdivision of single-family homes in Ruskin off U.S. Hwy. 19 in the South Shore area.

Homes at Cypress Creek will start in the mid-$100,00 and will feature energy efficient appliances, low maintenance flooring and maple wood cabinets. 

Nearby a new hospital is under construction. And, a planned Amazon distribution center is expected to bring about 1,000 jobs to the area, making Ruskin one of the fastest growing communities in Hillsborough County. According to a recent Gallup poll, many residents want to leave the state where they live but in Florida far fewer say they look for greener pastures elsewhere.

"We know that people love Tampa Bay like we do, and we're committed to making this the ideal place to call home," says Francine Miller, Lennar's director of sales operations.

In North Hyde Park, Lennar's town home development, in partnership with SoHo Capital, is the first large project in the neighborhood in recent years to specifically target home buyers. 

Ranging from about 2,000 to 2,400 square feet, the town homes are expected to be particularly attractive to young professionals, starter families and people looking to down-size from surrounding neighborhoods such as Hyde Park.

Starting prices are anticipated to be about $200,000 to $250,000. Construction is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

"We're hoping this will spur even more development in West Tampa and beyond," says Mark Metheny, division president of Lennar Homes.

The town homes are located at West Lemon Street and North Oregon Avenue, next to apartment complexes, NoHo Flats and Vintage Lofts.

The North Hyde Park neighborhood is a critical piece of Mayor Bob Buckhorn's vision for re-inventing Tampa's urban core.

"You're going to see a transformative movement in this city but it starts with projects like this," says Buckhorn. 'We're not going to miss this window. This is going to be a great city."

The mayor envisions a "work, live and play environment" that includes Kennedy Boulevard anchored by the University of Tampa and Tampa General Hospital. Both are engaged in major expansion projects including TGH's proposal to build a rehabilitation hospital on the long-vacant Ferman autodealership property fronting Kennedy.

But the city's boundaries also will sweep in the proposed Jewish Community Center that will open in a remodeled Fort Homer Hesterly Armory on Howard Avenue, and nearly 150 acres in West Tampa bordering the Hillsborough River.

The redevelopment of Water Works Park and the opening of the Ulele Restaurant in Tampa Heights also are part of the city's transformative master plan. In the same area SoHo Capital owns about 37 acres that is slated for residential and commercial development.

"All of it will complement each other," says Buckhorn. "This (town homes) is part of the mosaic."

Adam Harden, one of the principals in SoHo Capital, agrees.

"I think it's a harbinger that the sale's component's time has really come," he says.

Projects such as the town homes and the developments in Tampa Heights will bring jobs and services to the area. "It also brings the density needed to cascade into surrounding neighborhoods, re-creating a sense of place," Harden says.

Writer: Kathy Steele
Sources: Francine Miller and Mark Metheny, Lennar Homes; Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn; Adam Harden, SoHo Capital

CDC Of Tampa Wins Housing Award From Wells Fargo

Wells Fargo awarded nearly $240,000 to the nonprofit Corporation to Develop Communities of Tampa for the purchase and rehabilitation of homes in East Tampa.

The grant is part of $11.4 million awarded by the bank to 59 nonprofits in 25 communities nationwide for UrbanLIFT, a housing program to stabilize low-income neighborhoods impacted by the housing crisis. NeighborWorks America administers the program.

The CDC is one of only three agencies in Florida to receive the grants. The others are Habitat for Humanity of Broward, Inc., and Housing Enterprise of Fort Lauderdale.

"UrbanLIFT funds provided by Wells Fargo will afford CDC of Tampa the opportunity to extend our hand to the community," says Ernest Coney Jr., the CDC's CEO.

The funds are a "hand-up'' for families that might not otherwise have the opportunity for homeownership," Coney says.

CDC officials will identify three residences within low-income areas of East Tampa, all clustered within a one-mile radius. Needed repairs will be done and then the homes will be offered for sale. These efforts are part of the agency's on-going Nehemiah Legacy Phase II Community Stabilization program.

 The CDC's program targets first-time home buyers and offers down payment assistance to qualified applicants. Though it is not required for UrbanLIFT, the CDC offers financial counseling for home owners to prepare them for the responsibilities that come with mortgages, home insurance and maintenance issues.

"When you look at economic and community development, one of our main pillars is homeownership where there is buy-in of the neighborhood," says Julie Rocco, the CDC's special projects manager. "There is a feeling that this is my neighborhood, I want to clean it up and make it safer."

For more than 25 years the CDC of Tampa has served the East Tampa community through career counseling, business planning, homeownership workshops, job training, job placement and youth programs. The agency, which is located at 1907 E. Hillsborough Ave., also partners with area contractors to build affordable housing, and commercial projects.

In agreement with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Wells Fargo provides funds for community housing programs including NeighborhoodLIFT and CityLIFT.  Along with UrbanLIFT, grants of more than $180 million have been awarded since 2012. More than 5,000 homeowners have received down payment assistance and homebuyer education. 

Writer: Kathy Steele
Source: Ernest Coney, Julie Rocco, CDC of Tampa

AMC West Shore To Sell Beer, Wine, Liquor

Adult ticket buyers at AMC West Shore will soon be able to settle into a darkened theater fortified with more than popcorn, candy,  nachos or pizza. If they choose, their favorite alcoholic beverage can slip into the cup holder beside them instead of a soda.

Tampa City Council gave its approval for AMC theater exhibitors to add a MacGuffin -- a bar that sells beer, wine and liquor. MacGuffin is a term coined by director Alfred Hitchcock in 1939 to describe any plot device or gimmick that moves the story along.

Selling alcohol gives movie exhibitors, such as AMC, a competitive edge in marketing to an adult audience. And in the Westshore Business District, new apartments, shops and restaurants are creating marketing opportunities for WestShore Plaza and its tenants, including AMC West Shore.

"One of the most exciting things taking place right now in the Westshore district is seeing the component of residential finally being developed," says Jay Botsch, WestShore Plaza's general manager. "The economy has not been friendly to offices, hotels and residential but it is really taking off."

People are looking for restaurants, shopping and a theater that are right at their front door step, Botsch says. "The millennial generation is who is shopping and going to the AMC theater and it is a very important component as we evolve the shopping center."

AMC West Shore, with 20 screens, is the only second floor tenant at WestShore Plaza. The wet zone will cover the theater's approximately 77,000 square feet of interior space.

In a savvy technology driven society, AMC and other exhibitors are changing to keep up with an expanding entertainment menu that includes BlueRay, tablets, laptops, smartphones, HDTV and home projection systems large enough to mimic the real theater deal. 

Most recently, AMC spent about $85,000 for digital 3D capabilities at AMC West Shore.

"The industry has continued to change and evolve over the last 20 years. For us to remain relevant we have to continue to re-invest in our business," says George Patterson, AMC's senior VP for its food and beverage division.

AMC is the second largest movie exhibitor in the country with about 345 theaters and nearly 5,000 screens.

Research shows that a high percentage of ticket buyers, age 21 and over, want the option of buying alcohol. "It's not a huge part of our business," says Patterson. "But it is an important part of the re-birth of our business."

The MacGuffins are staffed only by bartenders age 21 and older and everyone regardless of age is carded. AMC officials say the bars are attractive additions not simply for the movie crowd but also for opera showings, corporate meetings and other events.

Locally AMC theaters that already serve alcohol include Veterans 24 in Town 'N Country, Woodlands Square in Oldsmar, and The Regency 20 in Brandon. Other competitors that sell alcohol include Tampa Theatre, CineBistros and the IMAX at MOSI (Museum of Science and Industry).

More amenities are on the way as AMC retro-fits its theaters nationwide with self-serve Coca-Cola vending machines and offers reserved seating. Some AMC theaters offer dine-in service, similar to the concept at Cine Bistro in Hyde Park. In 2014 the theater chain expects to spend more than $200 million on upgrades.

Writer: Kathy Steele
Source: Jay Botsch, WestShore Plaza; George Patterson, AMC

Construction Progresses On Pinellas Side Of Courtney Campbell Trail

The Courtney Campbell Causeway is known more for the vehicular traffic that zooms overland between Tampa and Clearwater's beaches. But pedestrians and bicylists can expect in the near future to make that entire trek on a parallel Courtney Campbell Trail, and along the way enjoy breathtaking views of Old Tampa Bay.

The trail on the Hillsborough County side of the bay is complete along with Tampa's new Cypress Point Park playground and a 45-foot high bridge at the county line between Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. The next phase involves the trail's tie-in to Pinellas and Clearwater.

Completion of the project by Pepper Contracting is more than a year away, according to Florida Department of Transportation officials. Trail and road widening are under way. In addition the causeway will be repaved and a small pedestrian bridge built. Test piles for the bridge are installed.

When finished, the trail will allow pedestrian and bicycle access from Veteran's Expressway in Tampa to Bayshore Boulevard on the eastern edge of Clearwater. Bayshore leads to Safety Harbor and more trails. It also will connect with additional recreational trails on both sides of the Bay. 

The approximately 9.5 mile causeway trail is a project championed by the Westshore Alliance, which last year unveiled a Public Realm Master Plan to make the Westshore neighborhoods of Tampa more pedestrian and bicycle friendly. Trails, wider sidewalks and narrower traffic lanes are among the recommendations.

"We're excited about the trail. It will be one of the premier trails in the entire United States," says Ron Rotella, executive director of the Westshore Alliance, which represents the interests of the Westshore Business District.

The district is Florida's largest office community with more than 4,000 businesses and 93,000 employees.

The Westshore area is booming with new shops, restaurants and offices. But residents of established neighborhoods, such as Carver City and Lincoln Gardens, soon will have new neighbors moving into more than 1,700 apartments either under construction or ready for leasing. "We're turning into a neighborhood as well," Rotella says.

Many of the new apartments front Boy Scout Boulevard which is slated for resurfacing later this year. Plans also are to widen sidewalks and enhance existing cross walks.

The alliance is contributing about $113,000 to help with pedestrian improvements and make it easier to walk to International Plaza as well as shops and restaurants on Westshore Boulevard. In the 2014-2015 Hillsborough County budget, Rotella anticipates about $1.3 million for a Westshore Boulevard redesign.

And he also is looking ahead to another trail segment from Dale Mabry Highway at Interstate 275 to Hesperides Street with a tie-in to Cypress Point Park and then onto Clearwater via the Courtney Campbell Trail.

 "Being able to access a beautiful waterway, that is a great advantage for the business district," Rotella says.

Writer: Kathy Steele
Source: Ron Rotella, Westshore Alliance

New Contemporary Art Studio Moves Into South Tampa

The boutiques, art galleries and restaurants along MacDill Avenue, just north of Bay to Bay Boulevard, are bringing a new vibe to to one of South Tampa's main thoroughfares.

On May 31 a new contemporary art gallery -- CASS (Contemporary Art Space and Studio) -- will be the latest arrival on the neighborhood scene, starting off with exhibits by Los Angeles artist Michael Turchin and Tampa artist Chris Valle.

Husband and wife duo, Cassie and Jake Greatens, believe Tampa is on the verge of a "big city" re-invention of itself. And South MacDill is part of that transformation. It's why they chose this location, at 2722 S. MacDill, to open their first art gallery.

They see the potential for MacDill to become to South Tampa what Central Avenue is to downtown St. Petersburg, a place where the funky and creative get together in a walkable community with art crawls and food tours. 

"We're headed in the right direction," says Cassie Greatens. "There is a population here that wants that. When you have that kind of energy, anything can happen."

Long-time MacDill anchors are Beef O' Brady's and the Salvation Army discount store. But upscale interior designers, a yoga studio, restaurants and boutiques are changing the landscape.

Their front door opens into a spacious, all white gallery with a smaller, intimate space in the rear of the building. It was formerly work space for Michael Murphy Gallery, located across the avenue.

"We want to be able to feature installation art. Keep it clean and keep it simple," says owner Jake Greatens.

Turchin and Valle's works will be on display from May 31 through July 3. Turchin is known for eye-popping color and patterns in his graffiti inspired art. His art has been commissioned by celebrities such as Barbra Streisand, Lance Bass and Lisa Vanderpump.

Valle is a painting instructor at University of Tampa who has exhibited nationally and internationally in museums and galleries. His art explores the influences of entertainment on sexual roles, norms and stereotypes.

Exhibits will change every two to three months. The Greatens are looking for artists for the next exhibit.

The art at CASS is about what it means to an individual not whether it matches the home decor. 

"It's what's amazing and speaks to you," says Cassie Greatens. "We want the gallery to have movement, not just sit here and have art on the wall."

The couple are from Lakeland, Fl., and graduated from the University of Tampa. Jake Greatens creates mixed, media paintings and anticipates an exhibit of his work in about eight months.

In the future, the couple hope to offer an internship. They plan to invite emerging and established artists to offer workshops and lectures.

"We're trying to be more interactive," says Jake Greatens.

Writer: Kathy Steele
Source: Jake Greatens, CASS

HCC's SouthShore Campus Adds Science And Technology Building

Enrollment at Hillsborough Community College SouthShore Campus has far exceeded expectations since opening day in 2008 in Ruskin.

More than 6,500 students attend classes on a campus built on a 100-year-old tomato field donated by the Dickman family. That is a 7 percent increase over the previous year.

More than a year and a half ago, 15 portable classrooms were set up to handle the overflow. That is about to change. School officials are breaking ground at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday on a two-story, 36,424-square-foot Science and Technology Building at 551 24th St. in Ruskin.

"It has been truly amazing," says HCC SouthShore's President Allen Witt. “The new building will allow for the space to move out of portables and continue growth.”

The college is looking to hire for part-time and advisory positions. Interviews are planned to hire four faculty members. "We're in a hiring mode,'' Witt says.

Construction is scheduled for completion in May 2015. The new science and technology center will have nine laboratories, five prep labs, two computer classrooms, six traditional classrooms, four offices and a dean's suite.

Student enrollment, at least for now, is not expected to slow. Currently, SouthShore's enrollment is about 10 percent of approximately 46,000 students who attend HCC's five campuses and three centers throughout the county.

Witt can look out of his office window to understand the reason.

"I can see the top of Amazon.com's (building) just above the trees," he says. Also nearby new houses are under construction.

Amazon is expected to hire about 1,000 people in the next few months. The rising rooftops also will bring more families to the southeastern end of the county. "Things are happening here so very fast," Witt says. "We're all going to be catching up with infrastructure related to the new needs."

SouthShore plans to hold onto to all but about one-third of its portables as back-up plan if they are still needed in future years.

But the opening of the science and technology building means SouthShore is taking the next step in its academic growth plan.

“We pride ourselves as a STEM campus serving our local community with outstanding educational resources," Witt says. "This new science building will help us serve our students well into the future with the best technology and classroom space.”

Existing buildings at SouthShore are LEED-certified as eco-friendly and green. This new building also will meet the national certification standards established by the U.S. Green Building Council. 

Construction on the approximately $9.8 million project includes architects Reynolds Smith and Hills, civil engineer Stantec,  consultants with Volt Air and construction manager Cutler Associates.

Writer: Kathy Steele
Source: Allen Witt, HCC Southshore
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