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New Pasco community opens first model homes

Starkey Ranch, situated on more than 2,400 acres along State Road 54 and close to conservation and wildlife preserves in Pasco County, is now open for potential homebuyers to take a look at model homes.

The planned community spans just east of Gunn Highway to Starkey Boulevard. With plans to become a full community, complete with a grocery store, retail and restaurants, Starkey Ranch recently opened its first four model homes for future residents to tour.
According to Matt Call, Project Director at Starkey Ranch, the model homes vary in sizes from three bedrooms to five bedrooms, with some homes overlooking the water or conservation areas, and others close to a new community park.
“Starkey Ranch provides residents with a unique opportunity to live close to nature and walk or hike, there are so many outdoor options being next to the preserve,” he says.
In addition to the natural elements the community offers, Call says the neighborhood will also have a lifestyle manager who will help residents get to know their neighbors, as well as plan events for the community. 
“We will be having monthly events moving forward, but for the month of October, we are having weekly events each Saturday during what we’re calling Fun for Fall,” he says. “Anyone is welcome to come to these events to see the community, and get a feel for what we’re all about.”
Homes in the first neighborhood, Whitfield Park, start in the mid $200,000s and go up to $1 million. Whitfield Park features a community lawn, dog parks, a playground, picnic pavilions and a neighborhood pool opening next spring.
All of the homes throughout Starkey Ranch will be designed to meet or exceed national green building standards with energy efficient appliances and natural gas service.  
“Green is more than a just a philosophy for us,” Call says. “It’s very important to us to be good stewards of the environment, especially given the surroundings where the community is located.”
Model homes and the Starkey Ranch Welcome Center are open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 6 p.m. For more information on monthly events, or to view home plans visit the Starkey Ranch website.

SkyHouse Channelside adds to hip, urban scene in downtown Tampa

Breathtaking views of downtown Tampa on one side, a view overlooking Ybor City and Port Tampa Bay on the other. An infinity edge saltwater pool, lounge and clubroom complete with billiards, a catering kitchen, flat screen TVs and a terrace with fireplaces, grills and outdoor seating.

Sound pretty good? Well, that is just the rooftop of the new SkyHouse Channelside, a luxury apartment tower along the eastern waterfront in downtown Tampa.

SkyHouse Channelside, on 12th Street between East Whiting Street and East Washington Street, is the latest tower to open in an ongoing development trend happening downtown.

Earlier this month, New York investor Larry Feldman filed plans with the City of Tampa to build a 52-story mixed-use project on the infamous Trump Tower site at the intersection of Ashley Drive and East Brorein Street, which could feature somewhere between 200 and 300 residential units.

Other properties in the works are The Arts and Entertainment Residences (AER), a 350-unit apartment complex that is planned next to the Straz Center, and The Martin at Meridian in the Channel District, a 24-story tower offering 316 units.

SkyHouse Channelside, which is already at a 40-percent occupancy rate, offers studios up to 3-bedroom units. Its builder says it is that assortment, plus the amenities that will draw people to the tower.

“People are looking for the new feel, and the amenity level of the rooftop terrace. With the rooftop saltwater pool, along with the variety of units really make this a great fit for millennials or those looking to downsize,” says Tom Underwood, project executive with Baston-Cook, which built SkyHouse Channelside.  “The units range anywhere from 900-square-feet to over 1,500.”

Other amenities throughout the luxury tower include 24-hour concierge, controlled access parking garage, and wi-fi accessibility throughout common areas.

In addition to the luxurious amenities, SkyHouse Channelside and other planned downtown Tampa residential towers and complexes offer residents an opportunity to live without a car or at least use their car less often -- another example of the city's growing urban scene.

Monthly rent at SkyHouse Channelside ranges between $1,000 to over $3,000 a month. For more information on the tower, visit the SkyHouse Channelside website.

Unique theater prepares to open in West Tampa

West Tampa is experiencing a great amount of change as development plans by the city are underway, and in response to all the change, a new theater company is moving into the neighborhood to offer a place of peace, thoughtfulness and innovation.

The Space at 2106 Main, an old restaurant, is being revitalized into a theater that will house performances from band and vocal representations to one-person shows to full-blown Broadway acts. The theater company’s goal is to bring a variety of art to the area.

Before becoming executive artistic director for The Space at 2106 Main, Jared O’Roark, was working with youth for over a decade at Ruth Eckerd Hall. He even gained national attention for his work in the documentary Project: Shattered Silence, which won several awards and even a Emmy nomination.

“After working at Ruth Eckerd Hall for 14 years, the owner of The Space at 2106 Main, Robert Morris, came to me and told me about this building, and when we went inside, he asked me if I saw potential for a theater, and I said, 'yes'.”

O’Roark goes on to say that the theater will be immersive, meaning actors and acts will be moving around the whole theater, even in the audience, unlike traditional theater that all takes place on a stage.

“Everything in the room can move, so every time you walk in the room it should look different,” he says. “The chairs can move, tables can move, the booths can move, so immersive also means whatever the director has in mind, he can do without being tied down.”

O’Roark says this project is also important to him due to the fact that he is able to work with a diverse group of people in a diverse community.

“We are really pushing diversity, and we are not just saying it, the three of us at the top are all minorities. Robert, the owner is Lebanese, I myself am gay, and Erica Sutherlan, the managing artistic director is African-American. We want to not only present art for people outside the community, but we want to do stuff that involves the community. We want people in the community to know that we are not keeping them at arm’s length. This is their place too. This is a diverse community, and we welcome that diversity.”

The Space at 2016 Main will open its doors in September, for a list of upcoming shows check out their Facebook page for updates.

Development of Westshore area continues as latest luxury apartment complex rises in Tampa

The Westshore area of Tampa continues its development boom as another luxury apartment complex rises from the ground. Grady Square, a $56-million luxury apartment community, is being built at the site once occupied by the former Without Walls International Church.

The new project joins The Crescent, the new Hampton Inn & Suites at Avion Park, the World of Beer and Laser Spine Institute on the list of latest developments under construction in the Westshore area closest to Tampa International Airport and International Plaza.

The 300-unit community, situated along North Grady Avenue near West Columbus Avenue, will offer studios, one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments ranging from 574- to over 1,600-square-feet. It will be comprised of four stories surrounding three tropical courtyards, as well as a parking garage and elevator. Innovative amenities include a yoga/spin studio, meditation lounge and tech center. Other offerings include a hotel-inspired two-story clubhouse and fitness center.

The Richman Group of Florida is doing the construction on Grady Square.

“Our site is in the heart of the Westshore business district, which is not only the largest employment center in Tampa Bay, but it is the State of Florida's largest office market,” says Todd Fabbri, Executive VP for the Richman Group of Florida, Inc. “We believe Westshore will continue to see healthy employment growth over the next several years. In addition to employment, our site enjoys close proximity to the best shopping options in the region, [including] International Plaza, just one mile west of the property.”

As construction continues on the project, Fabbri says there will be more job creation in the district.

“We estimate about 316 construction jobs will be created in the construction phase,” he says. “This does not account for any indirect jobs that would be created as well.”

Once the complex opens in summer 2016, Fabbri anticipates approximately seven to eight full-time positions will be created at the complex.

Construction begins on redesign of historic downtown Tampa park

Historical culture meets the future at the new Perry Harvey Park being constructed near ENCORE! Tampa just north of downtown at the intersection of Harrison Street and Central Avenue.

The $6.95 million project is being funded through a federal Choice Neighborhood Grant obtained by the Tampa Housing Authority for redeveloping the neighborhood.

“The $30 million dollar choice neighborhood implementation grant included a $2 million allocation for the renovation of Perry Harvey Park because the neighborhood lacked adequate recreational amenities to support the planned ENCORE! and surrounding community,” says LeRoy Moore, COO for the Tampa Housing Authority. “Parks and recreational amenities are essential to good community planning and promote wellness, cultural awareness and community building.”
The park's design celebrates the history of Central Avenue and its culture. The area was settled after the Civil War, when freed slaves were relocated to an area northeast of downtown Tampa. As time went on, the area became a successful African- American residential and business community. Many legendary artists, including Ray Charles, Cab Calloway, Ella Fitzgerald and James Brown, were drawn there to perform to growing audiences.

“After the public participation process of three public meetings, an advisory committee of community leaders was appointed to develop the program for park elements to ensure the park reflected the historical culture,” says Brad Suder, Superintendent in the city of Tampa’s planning design natural resources division. “This included granddaughters of Perry Harvey, Sr. and descendants of business leaders who grew up in the community. The idea was to capture important milestones, events and facts. The city selected four different artists to showcase the cultural history in different parts of the park, including a southern gateway into the park, a leaders row, a history walk and a statue of Perry Harvey, Sr.”

In addition to the artwork, the park will feature an interactive fountain, concert/festival space, improvements to the basketball courts, picnic shelters and a skate park.

Construction on the park is expected to be completed in winter 2016.

Pinellas County plans to replace aging bridges

Many of us drive across the local bridges on a daily basis, whether going to work, school or leisure, without a second thought to when they were built or what condition they might be in today. Pinellas County government, however, is taking into consideration the aging infrastructure of local bridges and working toward a solution for improvement.

“We have a systematic rating for bridges in Pinellas County, which we monitor pretty closely,” says Mary Burrell, Public Information Manager for Pinellas County.

Burrell says two bridges in particular are on the county’s radar: San Martin Boulevard Bridge in St. Petersburg, and the Dunedin Causeway. Both bridges were built in the early 1960s, with  life expectancy of about 50 years. Now that time is running out, it is time to address the aging spans.

“The San Martin bridge has some structural rating deficiencies that warrant it being evaluated for future considerations, she says. “It has been rehabilitated over the years and now it is time to decide whether rehab or replacement is warranted.”

Burrell goes on to say that while there are rating deficiencies, construction on the bridge would be no sooner than 2018 due to a lack of funding.

“We are in the study phase, it’s an 18-month study, and the purpose of that is to seek funding from the highway administration. We currently have what could be considered matching funds from ‘Penny from Pinellas’ county funding for fiscal year 2018 and 2019, which is very much predicated on our ability to obtain matching funds from federal highway administrations.”

As for the Dunedin Causeway, it is going through the same process, although Burrell says it is moving approximately six months ahead.

“With the new technology available today, we are shooting for a life expectancy of about 75 years, compared to 50 as when these bridges were built,” she says. “The bridges are safe, there are just some ratings that warrant it to be in our radar, and make sure we have funding in place when timing is appropriate.”

NorthStar Bank opens new branches in South Tampa, downtown St. Pete

Technology has changed so much of what we do, and how we do it, including banking. For those, who desire or need to have the face-to-face exchanges with another human being, NorthStar Bank is opening up two additional branches.

The bank has had a presence in Tampa since it opened its main office in the Sykes building in downtown Tampa back in 2007. Today, NorthStar employs approximately 40 people with another office in Belleair Bluffs, and two new spaces: a branch on MacDill Avenue in Tampa and a loan production office in downtown St. Petersburg.

“The south Tampa branch is set to open in August,” says David Stone, President and CEO of NorthStar Bank. “We just opened the St. Petersburg office earlier this month.”

Stone says the St. Petersburg office will be strictly a loan production office, meaning no deposits can be taken; only business involving loan activity will occur. The loans will mostly be commercial loans for business owners, although home and auto loans will be offered.

“We have been debating whether to have a presence in the St. Pete market, and we decided it would make sense to have a loan production office because it’s a smaller investment to begin with,” Stone says. “A full service branch, you are looking at 2- to 3-million dollars.”

While the bank does offer online banking, Stone says it is important that customers get human contact.

“I’m sure you have read a lot of about branches closing with the bigger banks. That doesn’t mean there is not a need for a brick-and-mortar presence. The type of customers that we target want to talk with somebody,'' Stone continues. "We target professionals, doctors, lawyers, accountants, CPAs, those who have established small businesses, so when they have a banking need, it’s a little bit more complex than something you can do over a machine. That is why a face-to-face relationship is so important.”

Website ranks Tampa Bay area near top on 5 lists

Local residents have something to cheer about as the recently released 2015 Best Places to Live rankings by Niche places the Tampa Bay area on five of the website’s top lists.

Niche, which uses data from the U.S. Census Bureau as well as data taken from residents, measures factors such as livability, local schools, safety, jobs and housing in cities across the country.

“We collect our data from the U.S. Census and National Center for Education Statistics, which helps us define and classify cities and towns", says Alex Caffee, business and marketing analyst. “We also get survey data from our users who log onto our site and give feedback on their community, which also makes up part of our data set.”

So how did the Tampa Bay area measure up?
  • Oldsmar came in #11 on the list’s ‘best suburb to buy a house in Florida’
  • South Highpoint (#1) and Bradenton Beach (#3) for ‘suburbs with the easiest commute in Florida’
  • South Highpoint came in at #51 on the national list of ‘easiest commutes in America’
  • Oldsmar wins again with its #14 ranking for ‘best suburb to raise a family in Florida’
  • Hillsborough County takes the honor for its #10 ranking for ‘best counties to raise a family in Florida’
The site asks members to assess their communities by answering questions on topics ranging from crime rates and school ratings to grocery stores and libraries.

“Niche.com helps people decide where they are going to go next in life,” Caffee says. “We want to help individuals and families decide where they want to live, and assist them with that decision by giving them the data.”

Newest plan to give Historic Belleview Biltmore Hotel new life

After years of sitting vacant and falling into disrepair, the historic Belleview Biltmore Hotel and surrounding properties are set for new development. JMC Communities has taken the reins on the project, which will be known as the Belleview Inn & Place.
“We will save and renovate the original 1897 hotel lobby, and surrounding rooms of the Belleview Biltmore Hotel, which will be re-opened as the Belleview Inn,” says Mike Cheezem, developer and CEO for JMC Communities. “The 35,000-square-foot Inn will host 33 well-appointed guest rooms and recreate social venues such as Maisie’s Ice Cream Parlor, St. Andrew’s Pub and an event lawn for neighborhood gatherings, weddings and other occasions.”
Cheezem goes on to say that the development plans for Belleview Place include 104 luxury condominium residences in four mid-rise buildings, and 28 carriage homes, which range from 1,900 square-feet to 3,200 square-feet.
The $125 million dollar project is projected to take three years, with construction slated to begin early 2016 on the new inn. Work on the condos and homes will follow.
While the original Belleview Biltmore Hotel will be missed, Cheezem says he is doing what he can to restore the buildings history. Many celebrities and dignitaries were guests at the historic hotel from President Gerald Ford to President Barack Obama, Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, baseball greats Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio and entertainers Tony Bennett and Bob Dylan.  
“The historic hotel has been an integral part of the Belleair community and Florida since 1897, when Henry Plant first opened it to entertain his friends wishing to spend the winter season in Florida,” Cheezem says.  “Generations have enjoyed time spent there ever since, and will continue to create new memories in the spirit of its rich past.”
JMC plans to salvage materials from the carefully deconstructed hotel building, including heart pine, stained glass and other fixtures. Schiller’s Salvage in Tampa is offering salvaged items to the public. Cheezem says items saved will be incorporated into the design and decor of the restored Belleview Inn, so that its history will live on.

Stantec receives award for Amazon center in Ruskin

Stanec, a Tampa-based architectural and engineering firm, was recently recognized for its work on the Amazon fulfillment center in Ruskin. The firm received the 2015 planning award from the Florida Planning and Zoning Association (FPZA) for “Outstanding Development,” based on the project’s innovativeness and implementation.
“The FPZA Award recognized the project for its overall success as a large scale and complex project, successfully delivered into a master planned park on a fast track basis,” says David Kemper Sr. principal with Stantec.
The 1.1 million-square-foot facility, which is located on an 80-acre parcel off I-75 in southeast Hillsborough County, was a $200 million investment for Amazon. The building is used to pack, ship and store goods for Amazon, and has also brought 2,500 jobs to the community.
According to Kemper, it was that economic impact that contributed to Stantec receiving the award,
"The Amazon project was an extremely important and impactful project from an economic development perspective," he says. "The extent of new job creation and related economic impact was and is substantial.” 
Kemper goes on to say that it was a team effort between his company, Ryan Companies, which was the business park developer on the project, and USAA real estate company, which bought the property under the direction of Seefried Industrial Properties. He also credits the Hillsborough County government and the Tampa-Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation for adhering to an aggressive schedule for permitting.
“We received approval for permitting within three and a half months,” he says. “The Amazon project was completed in approximately 15 months; from commencement of design to completion of construction.”
The Amazon fulfillment center is at 355 NE 30th St. in Ruskin.

Urbanism on Tap open mic event: Let's talk about role of arts in Tampa's urban scene

Tampa's Urban Charrette and the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) Tampa Bay will host Urbanism on Tap at the Independent Bar and Cafe, 5016 N Florida Ave., in Tampa on July 14 starting at 5:30 p.m. 

Urbanism on Tap is a recurring open mic event focused on generating constructive conversations within the community about current ideas and trends that are shaping our city.

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

The July event is Urbanism on Tap's final discussion in the Arts and Urbanism series, which explores the various connections between the urban environment of Tampa and urban design, artists and art organizations.  

“Community through Art, Art through Community” will focus on how art can be used to strengthen communities and how communities can in turn support artists and their work. To engage with these topics, participants will look at case studies from around the nation to discuss how other communities are handling these issues. 

Additionally, local artists and arts organization representatives will be invited to the event to share insights on how these issues are playing out in the Tampa area. 

In what ways does an urban arts scene create vibrancy in a place and how can it actively engage with the general public? Should governments and citizens ensure a place in the community for artists and arts organizations, and what are the best methods used to retain artists? What support do artists need to thrive? The audience and invitees will have the opportunity to talk about these questions and more.
The event organizers -- the Urban Charrette and CNU Tampa Bay -- encourage people to share their opinions on this topic by visiting Urbanism on Tap’s online Facebook page before and after the event. 

Venue: Independent Bar and Café, 5016 N Florida Ave, Tampa, 33603
Date and Time: July 14, 2015, from 5:30 to – 7 p.m.

New hotel, World of Beer coming to Westshore in Tampa

The Westshore area of Tampa is getting a new hotel near Tampa International Airport to house visitors and tourists, says the McKibbon Hotel Group. Completion of the new Hampton Inn & Suites on Avion Park Drive is planned for late summer 2016.

The group, which manages several hotels in the Tampa Bay region, including the Hilton Garden Inn (Westshore), Homewood Suites by Hilton (Westshore) and TownePlace Suites by Marriott (Westshore), is especially pleased with the location.
“Avion Park, which is named after our Owner John McKibbon's father’s first motor lodge in Georgia, is situated in an ideal location for guests who are traveling for both business and leisure,” says Erik Rowen, McKibbon Hotel Group's VP of Development. “Between the easily accessible beaches and downtown entertainment, fine dining and two shopping malls, there is endless opportunity for all guests at any time of the year.”

Another factor in building the new hotel is its proximity to the Laser Spine Institute coming to Avion Park, which Rowen says will give patients and their families a place to stay as they receive services from the medical facility. Also, it will provide the institute a place to house meetings and conferences.  

The new Hampton Inn & Suites Westshore will be 110,250-square-feet with 177 guest rooms. It will also be within walking distance to the new World of Beer, which is also set to open next year.

The development means new job offerings when the Hampton Inn & Suites Westshore opens in late summer 2016.

“We expect approximately 50 jobs will be created as a result of the hotel opening,” Rowen says.
Hampton Inn & Suites Westshore will be situated at 5315 Avion Park Drive. Groundbreaking takes place June 29th. 

Heritage Village in Pinellas upgrades its paths with innovative, sustainable pavement

The pathway through yesteryear that winds in and around Heritage Village is now environmentally friendly, thanks to a company based out of Pinellas and its trademarked product.
KB Industries (KBI), recently installed its signature product known as Flexi®-Pave, a porous pavement made of recycled tires that allow for water to flow through the material. This process eliminates standing water, which reduces pollution from storm water run-off while also controlling erosion.
KBI Founder and CEO Kevin Bagnall explains just how well the product can process water.
“We allow water to go through our materials at a rate of 3,000-gallons-per-square-foot-per-hour, and we make sure the water does not come back up or crack, it is very stable,” he says.
Bagnall, who moved to this country from England in 1992, has been in the industry for nearly 30 years. His company, which is headquartered in Pinellas Park, employs 15 full-time employees at the corporate office, and over 150 employees worldwide, with more growth to come.
“This year we expect to add six more employees at our corporate headquarters, as well as contracting positions around the country to install our products,” Bagnall says. “We plan to add a chief mechanical officer, national sales director, an internal sales position and some technical sales positions as well.”
He goes on to say that the need to create more jobs is related to more projects including plans to do work at Yellowstone National Park, and other projects out West. There are also plans to open an office on the west coast.
As for Heritage Village, the park that attracts tourists, students and families, the sustainable pavement provides a solution for their need to meet ADA requirements, while blending in with the historic landscape.
“The Pinellas County chief engineer contacted me because the pavement they had before was cracking and did not meet the ADA requirements,” Bagnall says. “With our product not cracking, and also being sustainable and flexible for use around trees, we fit the bill.”
To see Flexi®-Pave at Heritage Village, you can visit the park at 11909 125th Street North in Largo. For park hours, visit their website.

For Good: Home ownership program helps low-income families

The American dream of home ownership is becoming a reality for low-income families because a local nonprofit helps people help themselves become homeowners.
Florida Home Partnership, a program that has served Hillsborough and Pasco counties for the past 21 years, has assisted over 700 families, veterans and seniors in achieving their goal to become homeowners.
“There are a lot of people that are shut out of the chance at home ownership,” says Earl Pfeiffer, Executive Director for Florida Home Partnership. “Our program is not a handout, it is a hand up.”
Pfeiffer explains that the program, which has built communities in rural areas throughout Hillsborough and Pasco counties, helps those who otherwise would not have the chance to own a home.
“The first criteria an individual or family must meet, is that they be under 80-percent of the area median income,” he says. “In Hillsborough and Pasco counties, for a single person that income cannot exceed $33,050, and for a family of four it cannot exceed $47,200.
In addition to the income level, individuals and families must have good or repairable credit, a reliable source of income and be willing to work on their own home.
“This is a self-help program,” Pfeiffer says. “Families in the community work on the homes they will be living in, and are required to work a minimum of 600 hours on skilled tasks.”
The innovative program is funded by a variety of sources. Program funding comes from the Department of Agriculture, as well as both Hillsborough and Pasco counties. Funding for the homes, comes from Congress in the form of the Section 502 loan, as well as down payment assistance from the State of Florida.
“As a real estate agent myself, I see how the rates are going up, it can be very difficult to buy a house,” Pfeiffer says. “We all want to be a part of the American dream, and this program helps people achieve that dream.”

Bliss: Unique condo sets itself apart from others in St. Pete

Soon to be overlooking Beach Drive in St. Pete, a unique 18-story condo building is under construction, and will join a growing list of apartments and condominiums popping up in the city.

Bliss joins other developments including ONE St. Petersburg, The Salvador, Rowland Place, Beacon 430 and The Hermitage.

Unlike its counterparts, which are comprised of up to 250 residences, Bliss will have just 29 units. According to Dave Traynor, VP at Smith and Associates Real Estate, there is a great benefit to having a small number of residents.

“There will only be two condos per floor,” he says. “At any neighboring wall you actually have about 30-feet of separation in between the condos, which is the stairwell and the elevator, which is very unique in the design. You have the benefits of a single-family home, while also having the benefits of a condo.”

Traynor says the building contains 28 units of 2,140-square-feet each with 3-bedrooms, and one two-story penthouse that is approximately 3,700-square-feet.

In addition to the unique layout of the building, there is another feature of Bliss that sets it apart from other condos.

“Bliss is the first condominium in the Tampa Bay area to have a vehicular elevator, where an elevator will take your car to your parking space in the parking garage,” Traynor says.

The building also features a sky lounge with a viewing terrace, as well as a fitness center and pool on the ground level.

The average price of a condo unit in Bliss is just over $1 million, and currently there are still three residencies available. Construction is underway, and is expected to be completed by end of 2016.

Bliss' home address will be 330 Beach Drive in St. Petersburg.
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