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The Salvador is newest condo project for Downtown St. Petersburg

Residential development in downtown St. Petersburg marches on with the latest announcement of a 13-story, 74-unit condominium within a block of the The Dali museum.

Smith & Associates Real Estate will begin brokering pre-construction sales for The Salvador on Oct. 17. The public is invited to visit Smith & Associates office, at 330 Beach Drive NE, from 4 to 7 p.m. on Oct. 16 to learn more details about the project.

The upscale condos from DDA Development will feature tall windows and glass doors opening to private balconies, stainless steel appliances, European style cabinets, quartz countertops, gas cooktops and wide plank porcelain tiles for the latest in luxury flooring.

Home owners can choose among one-and-two-bedroom residences from 964 to 1,810 square feet. Spacious three-bedroom penthouses with more than 2,500 square feet will be available on the top floor.

Currently price ranges for one bedrooms along Beach Drive are about $315,000 to $450,000. Two bedrooms are about $440,000 to $750,000. And penthouses will go for about $1.2 million to $1.4 million.

The ranges may be tweaked, says David Moyer, director of developer services sales for Smith & Associates Real Estate. "We're getting a little bit of feedback," Moyer says. "We'll finalize this before we start sales."

The intent is to provide an upscale residential experience at an attractive price, less costly than other real estate along ritzy Beach Drive. "There is a lack of inventory for sale for a new product such as The Salvador," Moyer says.

The Salvador will have an "art-influenced" design by Mesh Architecture, the same firm that is working on Bliss, a 30-unit condominium on Fourth Avenue, off Beach Drive. Balfour Beatty Construction is the contractor and the building will be green-certified with the latest in energy-efficient technology.

The Salvador is the latest in a steady stream of apartment and condo projects ready for occupancy, under construction or on the drawing board. Downtown St. Petersburg continues to attract young urban professionals and others seeking the vibrant energy of an urban life style with everything within walking distance for living, working and playing.

In July Coral Gables-based Allen Morris Company announced plans for The Hermitage, an eight-story apartment building and hotel complex covering a city block at 700 1st Ave. S. Two condominiums, Rowland Place and Bliss, are planned off Beach Drive. And American Land Ventures plans a 15-story apartment tower on Third Street South. Beacon 430, Urban Edge and Modera Prime 235 also are adding to the increasing count of apartments and condos. Read Boom! Downtown St. Petersburg Awash in new apartments.

21-story apartment building to rise on Harbour Island in downtown Tampa

By the end of October construction on a 21-story upscale residential tower on Harbour Island will begin on a prime parcel of land at Knights Run Avenue and South Beneficial Drive.

Completion is anticipated by early 2016 on 235 luxury studios, 1-and 2-bedroom apartments and 2-story townhomes. The building will have a seven-story parking garage with more than 400 parking spaces.

The tower is a partnership between Forge Capital Partners and Intown/Framework Group. 

Greg Minder of Framework Group and Phillip A. Smith of Intown Group are developers of Element and Skypoint in downtown, and Meridian Lofts in the Channel District. And construction is under way on 4310 Spruce and Varela, both in the Westshore Business District.

Minder and Smith also are partners in The Residences at Riverwalk, a proposed 36-story, 380-unit apartment building next to the Straz Center for the Performing Arts. A parking garage and about 10,000 square feet of first-floor shops and restaurants also are planned.

Developers have yet to choose a name for the latest Harbour Island tower. County records show Harbour Island Residential LLC purchased the vacant parcel in December for about $2.9 million.

"Harbour Island epitomizes a high-end, master-planned community," says Minder in a prepared statement. "The addition of this modern apartment building brings new excitement and renewed interest to this thriving community."

Most apartments will enjoy scenic vistas of the waterfront and downtown. An infinity-edge pool, state-of-the-art technology and upscale amenities comparable to those provided at luxury hotels will be included in the building's design.

Other partners in the project are BBVA Compass, a bank holding company; Reese Vanderbilt & Associates, architects; Kimley-Horn and Associates, civil and landscaping engineers; and Multi-Family Construction, general contractor and an affiliate of Batson-Cook Residential.

myMatrixx relocates corporate offices in Tampa, adds 200 jobs

 With plans to double its workforce in the next three to five years, myMatrixx will nearly triple the size of its corporate headquarters by relocating to Tampa Bay Park's office complex within the orbit of the Westshore Business District.

The Tampa-based  pharmacy and ancillary benefits management company specializes in workmen's compensation claims. Its employees currently work in about 18,000 square feet of office space at a business complex at Benjamin Center Drive in Town N' Country.

In the first quarter of 2015, myMatrixx will relocate to about 48,000 square feet on the top two floors of  the remodeled LakePointe Two building at Tampa Bay Park which is managed by North Carolina-based Highwoods Properties. The new space will include open work stations, collaboration areas, an on-site fitness center, cafe and waterfront deck.

With nearly 200 employees currently, company officials anticipate doubling that number to about 400 employees within three to five years. 

Revenues for the company have increased about 25 percent in recent years, and that rate could accelerate, company officials say.

"A Class A facility is a must to help us keep our exceptional employee base and to fill current job openings," says myMatrixx President Artemis Emslie.

Available jobs include positions in customer services, marketing, health care and senior vice president.  Business Insurance Magazine has ranked myMatrixx as one of its "Best Places to Work" for the last three years.

LakePointe Two is an eight-story building with about 223,000 square feet of office space. It is one of seven buildings at Tampa Bay Park, located at the intersection of Himes Avenue and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

The site puts myMatrixx in proximity not only to Westshore's business district but also to Tampa International Airport and downtown. The new headquarters also are located outside a hurricane or flood evacuation zone.

"We're about to get all our employees centrally located," says Chris Callison, the company's corporate content manager. "We want our clients to be able to fly into the airport and easily access our site."

Lake Mirror Park in Lakeland ranks among nation's top 10 public spaces

In the 1920s Lake Mirror Park was little more than its description -- a lake with a promenade.

But what New York landscape architect Charles Wellford Leavitt designed in Lakeland nearly 100 years ago is today one of the country's "10 Great Public Spaces" for 2014.

The American Planning Association recently announced its annual top 10 list of great public spaces. It is a designation Lakeland's planning department has been pursuing for at least two years, says Kevin Cook, the city's director of communications.

"It's a big honor," Cook says. "We pride ourselves on quality public spaces."

The park's ornate promenade was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. A master plan to restore the park and some of its original elements was completed nearly four years ago.

The park and lake are at the center of Lakeland's historic downtown. Among its landmarks are the Barnett Family Park, the Peggy Brown Center, Magnolia Building and the Hollis Gardens.

About 900 events are held at Lake Mirror Park annually including the Christmas parade and the Red, White and Kaboom celebration of Independence Day. Cook estimates as many as 20,000 to 30,000 people fill the park for some events.

Lake Mirror Park competed against more than 100 sites reviewed by an APA panel, says Jason Jordan, the APA's director of policy. 

"It is one of the best examples in the entire state, really nationally, of the 'city beautification' movement of the 1920s," Jordan says. "This is a prime example of a place that is physically beautiful but also has social and cultural elements as well."

In whittling down the list of great public spaces, Jordan says the planning agency's panel considers aesthetics, social, culture and economic factors.

"By highlighting some places that are successful it can be a spur to other communities," Jordan says.

Studio Movie Grill lights up screens at University Mall

Studio Movie Grill is bringing "dinner and a movie" to University Mall with its brand of in-theater dining coupled with first-run and alternative movies.

The 14-screen movie house will open Oct. 22 in the renovated theater space vacated last year by Frank Theatres. Previously Regal 16 operated at the venue. University Mall is the 18th location nationwide for the Dallas-based chain and its first in Florida.

The University area, in close proximity to the University of South Florida, offers an opportunity for a ready audience of students who can hop on the Bull Runner shuttle for a free ride to the mall. But Studio Movie Grill also sees opportunities to play a role in increasing the mall's overall customer base and the future growth of the University area. 

"We really do look to bring economic development and impact to an area," says Lynne McQuaker, director of alternative programming, public relations and outreach for SMG. "This was an area that met that because the impact will be extra foot traffic."

The concept of restaurant-style dining at a movie theater isn't new.

There is Cine Bistro at Hyde Park Village and Grove 16 in Wesley Chapel and Villagio Cinemas at Carrollwood.

But Studio Movie Grill has its own style.

There is 100 percent reserved seating with comfy armchairs and individual dining tables. McQuaker says that eliminates waiting in line even for such anticipated blockbusters as the next installment of "Hunger Games."

Ticket holders are asked to arrive 20 minutes early to place food orders. But service doesn't end when the movie starts. A red call-button at each seat puts a server a tap away from new orders.

Studio Movie Grill will feature a contemporary look and a full-bar and lounge with daily specials, signature cocktails and micro-brews. Its menu features appetizers, such as edamame, and entrees, such as gourmet pizzas, ceviche lettuce wraps, salads, turkey burgers and chicken nachos.

The 14 screens will show first-run movies. But there also will be alternative programming, often at discounted prices, including a summer children's series, girls' and guys' nights out, independent films, special film series, documentaries and concerts. And a Family Rewind will bring back movies from the past. 

Studio Movie Grill also plans sensory-friendly screenings for special needs children including children diagnosed with autism. Theater lights will stay on, sound will be lowered and children will be free to move around the auditorium. 

Vegan dining will be "Delicious Surprise" in Seminole Heights

Michelle Ehrlich has a "Delicious Surprise" in store for Seminole Heights.

By mid-November she plans to open "Delicious (food for thought) Surprise," her plant-based, vegan restaurant at 5921 N. Nebraska Ave. She and husband Howard are sprucing up a building adjacent to the Publix grocery store. The vacant building has been home over the years to an appliance store, a sandwich shop and most recently a pizzeria. 

When it comes to the menu, Ehrlich doesn't want anyone to think of digging into a plate of lettuce and sprouts. She's out to break down misconceptions about vegan dining. 

Look for pizzas, burgers and anything else on a typical restaurant menu. But there also will be a few unexpected choices, such as tropical quinoa salad, drunk chai French toast and black-eyed pea sausage with kale and white bean gravy. The made-from-scratch menu items will feature local, organic food and produce.

"We'll be making healthy plant-based versions of these," says Ehrlich who lives in Seminole Heights and has watched the neighborhood become a destination for restaurants and bars such as Ella's Americana Folk Art Cafe, The Refinery, The Mermaid Tavern and Independent. "We want to offer delicious food for our community. We hope to be the ones to break the barriers (on vegan). There is a demand for this."

Ehrlich got a hint of that demand at a plant-based Bites in the Heights "pop-up" brunch in August when about 50 people showed up at a local business co-op to sample her dishes. She had planned two more "pop-up" events to test-market her restaurant concept but the pizzeria shop suddenly came on the market.

It was a chance too good to pass up so now her energies are in opening "Delicious Surprise." Ehrlich will be a vendor at the Nov. 2 "Taste of the Heights", serving up food samples within a couple weeks of the restaurant's opening.

Ehrlich and her husband eased into the vegan life-style about three years ago simply by trying to eat healthy and over time eliminating less healthy options. And then a co-worker at her husband's office asked if Michelle would cook lunches for her like those she made for her husband.

Within six weeks, she had a waiting list of clients, all from word of mouth and no marketing. "I think I've found my niche," Ehrlich says.

Word of mouth via social media is spreading the news about "Delicious Surprise." There is a Facebook page. And she is raising part of her capital through crowd-sourcing on gofundme. 

While the majority of donors appear to be local residents, Ehrlich says people from Orlando and Bradenton also have responded. "I feel like they have ownership now," she says. "The loyalty of folk, that's what I'm more emotional about. It's been wonderful."

Bourgeois Pig opens soon in Seminole Heights

Seminole Heights is adding yet another restaurant to its cornucopia of dining choices. But The Bourgeois Pig will be a stand-out on North Nebraska Avenue.

Owners Lysa and Mike Bozel are settling into a converted bungalow well north of Hillsborough Avenue on a stretch of Nebraska dotted with motels, tire shops and pawn shops. Though Seminole Heights has been transformed in recent years into a destination place, new shops and especially its restaurants largely have populated Nebraska and Florida Avenue, south of Hillsborough.

Think Ella's Americana Folk Art Cafe, Reservations Gourmet to Go, The Refinery, Cappy's Pizza and Independent. The Rooster and the Till is a rarity with a north of Hillsborough spot on Florida along with long-time restaurants, Front Porch Grille. and Rincon Catracho. The Mermaid Tavern is just south of Sligh Avenue. And the Refinery's owners, Michelle and Greg Baker, are building a new, north-of-Hillsborough restaurant -- Fodder & Shine -- on Florida.

But the Bozels will be at the farthest outpost of the neighborhood, just shy of the boundary with the Hillsborough River and Sulphur Springs. They are pushing beyond Sligh following the loss by fire last year of Domani Bistro Lounge.

"We believe in this community," says Lysa Bozel. "We purchased this building to make it a landmark in the area. We were really pioneers of this part of the neighborhood."

Many long-time residents believe the Bozels' restaurant is the spark that could bring more retail and restaurants to this end of Nebraska.

"It can be the genesis for a complete redevelopment," says resident Randy Baron, who spoke in support of the Bozels's request for sales of beer, wine and liquor. "It is being done by local owners who have put a lot of resources into this. It is a beautiful building."

The Bozels are converting a bungalow, at 7701 N. Nebraska, into a "Bohemian chic" style restaurant open seven days a week with closing times of midnight on Sunday through Wednesday and 1 a.m. Thursday through Saturday. The couple, who live within walking distance of their restaurant, opted against a 3 a.m. closing though that would be allowed under city code.

"We do not want this to turn into South Howard," says Baron referencing the on-going conflicts in South Tampa between bar owners and nearby residents.

A search is under way for a head chef and kitchen staff but Lysa Bozel says an opening is planned for late October or early November. Tampa City Council is expected to approve beer, wine and liquor sales on Oct. 2.

The menu will be eclectic with items such as fish tacos, steak, wraps, salads and sandwiches. Diners will have indoor and outdoor options for seating in the main dining room, wrap-around porch and patio. Some on-site parking will be available but valet services also will be provided.

And The Bourgeois Pig will be dog-friendly with little couches and food bowls.

"We really feel it's going to be amazing," says Lysa Bozel. "We've had enormous support from the entire neighborhood."

Atlanta developer to build apartments on North Franklin Street

North Franklin Street just found a new resident -- Atlanta-based Carter & Associates.

The development company plans to build a 23-story apartment building and garage on two parcels at 911 and 915 N. Franklin St. A rezoning application is under review by the city's planning department.

If approved, construction could begin in the first half of 2015.

"We've been eyeing the Tampa market for awhile," says Conor McNally, chief development officer for Carter & Associates. McNally formerly worked for the Novare Group, another Atlanta firm that developed the SkyPoint condominium building on Ashley Drive.

"It's looking good from a jobs perspective...Downtown is getting some good momentum back," McNally says. "We like being within walking distance to the river and arts and downtown offices."

While too early to discuss monthly apartment rates, McNally says the luxury apartments will be on par with others in the area including the nearby Element.

This latest project follows a list of announcements in the past year for new apartments and retail in downtown and the Channel District. And, the recent openings of Le Meridian and Aloft hotels are adding to downtown's allure.

The project from Carter & Associates could be the stage-setter for more to come. The firm is under contract to buy the property from Kress Square IV LLC, which is owned by father and daughter, Doran Jason and Jeannette Jason. They also own the iconic S.H. Kress building at 811 N. Franklin St., which is still awaiting a development deal.

"I think this is sending a signal that the North Franklin area is primed for what I think will be an explosion of projects," says Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn. "The time is right. I'm ecstatic."

McNally sees a strong market for apartments over condominiums generally but especially in Tampa, which is among the fastest growing cities in Florida.

"People want to be in urban areas," he says but they also want mobility. And many still have fresh memories of the market downturn in 2008 which has made it more difficult to get financing for condos, he adds.

"People were left high and dry," McNally says. "The 25-,27-,29-year olds, they can't tell you where they are going to be in five or 10 years down the road."

Walmart in East Tampa to create 300 jobs

A Walmart Supercenter will generate about 300 permanent jobs and a new revenue stream for the city's East Tampa redevelopment efforts.

The supercenter is under construction at 1720 E. Hillsborough Ave. on the approximately 12-acre site of the former Abraham Chevrolet dealership. It has been a neighborhood blight for nearly a decade. County records show Walmart paid about $4.9 million for the property.

A grand opening for the national discount chain is expected in spring 2015.

"This is such a win-win for East Tampa," says Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who attended a groundbreaking with Walmart officials and Tampa City Councilman Frank Reddick. "This has been a food desert for a long time. Folks in East Tampa have had to rely on convenience stores and getting charged exorbitant prices for food that's not necessarily healthy."

Now the mayor says there will be an alternative that residents can reach by walking or taking public transportation. And the jobs will "give economic security to people who need it," the mayor says.

 Already Walmart officials say about 150 local, temporary jobs are expected during construction. These will be from local sub-contractors and some additional labor needed as the work proceeds.

The approximately 120,000-square-foot store is somewhat smaller than most supercenters but it will offer groceries, including fresh produce, meats, deli items and bakery goods, plus merchandise typically sold at the discount chain store. There also will be a discount pharmacy with a drive-up window.

Eco-friendly building practices will be followed by the project's contractor, Satterfield & Pontikes Construction. "The buildings that have been torn down will be (reused) to lay the foundation for the parking lot," says Glen Wilkins, Walmart's senior manager for public affairs and government relations.

Water recycling and mulching of removed trees also will be done.

While Walmart sometimes draws spirited criticism from people who say it hurts small businesses, many in East Tampa hope this project, and its tax revenues, spurs more development.

"We've been asking for this for many, many years," Reddick says. "It's not every day we get a major business to come into this community. Now that we have it we're going to have to support it. We're going to have to tell our friends and neighbors that this is a valuable product for our community."

A portion of property tax revenues collected within East Tampa must be re-invested in infrastructure projects that will encourage new investments. The district is bordered by Hillsborough Avenue, Interstates 275 and 4, and the city limit. In its best year, the district had about $6 million to spend.

After the real estate crash and plummeting property values, the coffers are now drained. The new supercenter will open the spigot again. A Walmart store on Gandy Boulevard offers a comparison for potential East Tampa property tax revenues

County property appraisal records show the Gandy site is valued at about $8.6 million and generated about $183,000 in property taxes for 2013.  The Hillsborough site is valued at about $1.7 million and its previous owner paid about $40,000 in property taxes for 2013.

"This will be an amazing transformation of what had been an eyesore," says Buckhorn. "Let's get this on the tax rolls. Let's go dig some dirt."

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."

Moccasin Lake Nature Park Gets Renovations, Extends Hours

Moccasin Lake Nature Park is an unexpected oasis in the midst of Clearwater's densely packed urban landscape.

But, since its opening in 1982, the 51-acre park has been an often overlooked "hidden gem" in need of funds and a little polishing. It is located at 2750 Park Trail Lane, just east U.S. 19 and north of Drew Street. 

The park is currently in the midst of a $700,000 renovation, which is part of a 10-year master plan. And for the first time in many years the park now has extended Sunday hours from noon to 4 p.m. through December. Regular hours for the nature preserve are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Admission is free.

"It has not had any improvements since its inception," says Anna Gurney, spokeswoman for Clearwater's Neighborhood Liaison office.

To date about $100,000 has been spent on a new pier as well as improvements to nature trails, a meadow and boardwalks. In 2015 the remaining $600,000 will pay for an updated interpretive center, new restrooms, renovated picnic facilities, and parking and landscaping improvements.

"The park is a work-in-progress," Gurney says. "We're going to see a lot of changes there. Next year will be a big year for us."

The nature trails, boardwalks and camps are nestled among six eco-systems inhabited by Mother Nature's flora and fauna. Its most recent tenants are Wish and Penelope, two injured bald eagles whose care is supervised by state and local wildlife organizations including the Clearwater Audubon Society.

Moccasin Lake Nature Park also is home to reptiles, insects, amphibians, and Elvis, the oldest living vulture on exhibit. Visitors can rent meeting and classroom space, stop by an interpretive center or sit in on educational programs.

Moccasin Lake previously was managed by the City of Clearwater's recreation department but Gurney says a parks' manager is now in charge. Two city employees work on-site during operating hours.  "Right now we are actively trying to get more volunteers so that the park can be open more often," she says.

To volunteer at the park, contact Krystie Epperson at (727) 793-2976.

Writer: Kathy Steele
Source: Anna Gurney, City of Clearwater

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
 

16 Design Teams Offer Visions For St. Petersburg Pier

Design teams tasked with re-imagining the St. Petersburg Pier are split on whether to replace or renovate the pier and its iconic inverted, five-story pyramid built in the 1970s.

Of 16 teams submitting proposals by the city's Sept. 5 deadline, eight favor renovation, seven fall into the replacement column and one from New York-based W Architecture and Landscape Architecture is "undetermined." 

While many local talents are represented, the chance at a high profile project also caught the attention of architects and designers in New York, Orlando, Chicago, Atlanta and London. Some teams are partnerships pulled together specifically to compete for this project.

This is the second round of requested proposals following the rejection last year of the futuristic design by Michael Maltzan Architecture dubbed "The Lens." Maltzan's plan won in competition against an initial list of 23 design teams nearly two years ago but met with disapproval from many residents.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our community," says Architect Yann Weymouth, design director of the newly created St. Pete Design Group. "Our generation will not get another shot at this."

The competition also includes Tampa Bay-based teams of Alfonso Architects, ahha! Design Group and Cooper Johnson Smith Architects & Town Planners, all with replacement proposals.  Fisher and Associates in Clearwater; Perkins+Will in Atlanta; and Ross Barney Architects in Chicago are among those proposing renovations.
 
The team at St. Pete Design Group, which announced their partnership two days before the proposal deadline, is pursuing a renovation of the pier. At this point the vision is ideas and sketches, says Weymouth.

High profile projects, and even pyramids, are nothing new for Weymouth. His talents are visible in the designs of the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg and the East Wing of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

The glass Grand Pyramid of the Louvre Museum in Paris is another iconic design he worked on with famed architect and mentor, I.M. Pei. 

After more than a dozen years affiliated with HOK, Weymouth is stepping into a new role as design director of the St. Pete Design Group. HOK was one of the semi-finalists in the first call for pier re-designs.

This time, Weymouth is partnered with Wannemacher Jensen Architects, which will work on the uplands and the approach to the pier. Harvard Jolly Architecture, which designed the inverted pyramid in the 1970s, will design the centerpiece.

"We're cognizant of what went before but the controversy has had a good effect," says Weymouth. "The community knows better what it wants and what it doesn't want. Seeing it renovated and unique and special and a St. Petersburg landmark -- a beacon -- that would be very good for the city."

Details on the 16 proposals will be forthcoming in the next months.

A selection committee appointed by Mayor Rick Kriseman will choose up to eight design teams by Oct. 3. Those teams then will have about 10 weeks to add specifics to their visions and submit a budget in mid-December. Each team will receive a stipend of $30,000.

Projects must not cost more than $46 million, including $33 million for construction. City officials will eliminate designs that don't meet specified qualifications.

The public will get to weigh in with their opinions, probably in January. City officials are considering options, such as an online survey or opinion poll, to gather comments.

Afterward, the selection committee will rank the plans and submit a list in February to city council. Once a team is approved, design work could begin by mid-2015 with construction in 2016 and completion by late 2017. 

Writer: Kathy Steele
Source: Yann Weymouth, St. Pete Design Group
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