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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.

Trail along Courtney Campbell Causeway opens for bicycling, walking, running

Driving along the Courtney Campbell Causeway taking in the waterfront views of Tampa Bay is one of the perks to living in the region. Now bicyclists, walkers and runners can enjoy that same breathtaking view while commuting or visiting on a new separate trail that runs parallel to the Causeway.

The $23 million project connects Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. The trail is designed for non-motorized vehicles and transports, with the exception of motorized equipment for people with disabilities.

“The trail is approximately 12 miles,” says David Botello with the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT). “It starts in the vicinity of Rocky Point in Tampa and ends at Bayshore Boulevard in Clearwater.”

The trail was funded by a combination of state and federal funds, and was a priority project for both the city of Clearwater and the city of Tampa.

“The Courtney Campbell Causeway project was identified in the city of Tampa's greenways and trails master plan that was adopted in 2001, as a potential off-road trail connection providing a regional link in a larger trail system,” says Karla Price, Landscape Architect with the city of Tampa.

Parking is available on the Tampa side of the trail at Ben T. Davis Beach. On the Pinellas side, parking can be found at the Courtney Campbell Causeway beach, located on the south side of the causeway near Damascus Road in Clearwater.

According to Botello, the city of Clearwater will host a grand opening of the Pinellas side of the trail, on Monday, June 22nd. For more information on the event, visit the city of Clearwater's Facebook page.

Madison Street Park coming to Channel District

Channel District residents will soon have a new park in their downtown Tampa neighborhood, thanks to plans by the City of Tampa to develop new recreation spaces.

Madison Street Park, which is expected to undergo construction in 2016, will feature a dog park, event space, water features, a putting green and recreation courts for volleyball and pickleball. There will also be plenty of space to relax and enjoy the outdoors.

“Madison Street Park is a neighborhood park,” says Laurie Potier-Brown, of the city's parks and recreation department. “As a neighborhood park, its purpose is to provide recreational opportunities for the neighbors that are within a walkable distance.”

The park will be located next to the proposed Martin at Meridian site, between Grand Central at Kennedy and Bell Channelside. The developer of Martin at Meridian, Ken Stoltenberg of Mercury Advisors, donated a portion of the land he purchased for the property to the park.

“The Park provides the respite of a natural green space in an urban area,” Potier-Brown says. “The benefits of Madison Street Park will be improved health and well-being for the neighborhood.”

The city recently held three meetings to get community feedback on park designs, and specifics of what they want in their neighborhood park.

“We always prefer to begin design of a park with a blank slate, however, we want to gather the residents from the surrounding neighborhoods to listen to their ideas and desires,” she says. “After all, we want the park to meet the needs of the community.''

New luxury apartments coming to Westshore in Tampa

The growing Westshore area of Tampa will soon see a new 374-unit apartment complex near International Plaza.
 
Crescent Westshore will be at the corner of West Boy Scout Boulevard and Lois Avenue. The developer of the project, Crescent Communities, says the proximity to retail and business makes the development attractive.
 
“Westshore is Florida’s largest office community, but it’s also home to some of Tampa’s best restaurants, shopping destinations, hotels and residential neighborhoods,” says Jay Curran, Senior VP of Crescent’s multifamily group.  “The location of Crescent Westshore at a major intersection will help enhance the walkability of a growing area and provide community residents easy access to all the area has to offer.”
 
Crescent Westshore, which is expected to be a $45-million project, will span over 300,000-square-feet total, with each apartment unit averaging a little over 800-square-feet. Curran says the apartments will include studios, as well as one-, two- and three-bedroom units.
 
“Residents will enjoy features such as quartz countertops, stainless steel appliances, up-market lighting and premium cabinets,” he says. “Other amenities will include two resort-style, saltwater pools along with a state-of-the-art athletic center and contemporary two-story lounge with an outdoor patio overlooking the main pool deck.”
 
Rent is expected to range from $1,100 to $2,000 a month.
 
Curran says, in addition to the walkability of the area, the location is also convenient for other modes of transportation.
 
“Because the I-275 exit to Lois Avenue is located just one mile north, residents will also be able to quickly reach destinations such as downtown Tampa and Clearwater Beach,” he says.  “Also, quick access to Tampa International Airport provides residents convenience should their travel needs demand it.”

Crescent Communities is also the builder of Crescent Bayshore, luxury apartments near Tampa General Hospital and downtown.

BLUE Ocean Film Festival opens new headquarters in St. Pete

As waves lap the Gulf of Mexico shoreline less than two miles away, the BLUE Ocean Film Festival and Conservation Summit opens its new global headquarters in the heart of St. Pete. The main office at 646 2nd Ave. S. is already abuzz with activities surrounding preparations for the city to host the 2016 BLUE Ocean Film Festival.

The annual festival sheds light on problems plaguing the world's oceans and solutions for conservation by showcasing the best in ocean filmmaking and scientific research. The seven-day event moved to St. Petersburg in 2014 from Monterey CA, will be hosted by the government of Prince Albert II in Monaco in November 2015 and then will return to St. Pete in November 2016.

The nonprofit works year-round to educate people on the importance of ocean life and conservation. From summits and conferences to workshops and educational outreach programs, the organization tries to teach as many populations as possible.

“It’s always been a part of our long-term strategy to use film as a tool to raise awareness,” says Debbie Kinder, CEO and co-Founder of BLUE Ocean. “We have always wanted to have workshops, activities and mentoring to show that conservation work is a great career option.”

The organization’s “Blue on Tour” program travels the world showcasing its films and engaging conversations on the global value of the oceans.

“We need one strong home base and St. Pete is it,” Kinder says. “We would love for BLUE to be associated with St. Pete the way that Sundance is associated with Park City.”

The 6,000-square-foot headquarters that Kinder refers to as ''home base'' is being leased, though the nonprofit is getting a temporary break on rent.

“There is a long-term lease, however, early on there are no rent payments due,” says Robert Glaser, President and CEO of Smith and Associates. Glaser did minor renovations on the property, although he says the building was in excellent shape and did not need much done. Long-term, when the festival is more financially sound, he anticipates collecting rent for use of the building.

The Heights undergoes major redevelopment, Armature Works gets 1st tenant

The Tampa Heights neighborhood is beginning to experience a rebirth as redevelopment takes place along the Hillsborough River, up North Franklin Street and across Palm Avenue.

At center stage is The Heights, 40-plus acres bordering the northern edge of downtown Tampa, including the Armature Works Building and its first new tenant.
 
SofworX, an “idea lab” led by U.S. Special Operation Forces from MacDill Air Force Base, moved in May into a 3,000-square-foot space inside the historic 68,000-square-feet Armature Works building. Plans call for the renovated structure to become home to local start-up companies, schools and inventors.
 
“SofWorX fits within our vision for the community as a beginning to develop more creative space,” says Chas Bruck, Principal of Tampa-based SoHo Capital LLC, which is leading the redevelopment project.
 
The entire Armature Works building will go through a restoration process, Bruck says, with the first phase being completed by January 2016, and the second phase a few months after. The project is a massive undertaking that will cost a minimum of $10 million in investments.
 
“The city’s Architectural Review Commission approval was key for us to begin work restoring the structure and bringing our vision to life,” he says.
 
In addition to the Armature Works building, Bruck has big plans for the rest of the neighborhood, including 317 new apartments, 23,000-square-feet of retail along Palm Avenue, 340,000-square-feet of office space and 240 hotel rooms, as well as making the area more pedestrian friendly.
 
“We have plans for master infrastructure improvements for the entire community, including the extension of the Riverwalk to Boulevard Bridge,” he says.
 
With The Heights project in its infancy stage right now, Bruck has plans to see his vision through, taking the dormant area into a thriving new hot spot with historic-themed independent restaurants, shops, offices and residential areas.

Old Seminole Heights attracts innovative restaurants, shops

More new creative shops and restaurants are moving into the Old Seminole Heights neighborhood of Tampa.

“I can tell you a lot of young people are moving to this neighborhood,” says Debi Johnson, President of the Old Seminole Heights Neighborhood Association. “The younger population wants the breweries and restaurants to come in, and the establishments do because they know it is good for business.”

Some of the newer establishments to open in Old Seminole Heights over the last year or so include a pizza and burger joint called Hampton Station, an upscale twist on comfort food restaurant known as Fodder & Shine, The Bourgeois Pig and Red Star Rock Bar.

One of the most talked about lately restaurants coming to the neighborhood is Ichicoro, a Japanese noodle soup restaurant, otherwise known as Ramen Ya.

“We are Tampa Bay’s first Ramen Ya restaurant,” says Noel Cruz, owner of Ichicoro, which will be situated at 5229 North Florida Avenue.

While restaurants like Ichicoro are widely popular in other cities, including New York, where Cruz owns another Ramen Ya restaurant, Old Seminole Heights gets to boast that their neighborhood was chosen for the restaurant’s location, which opens in June.

Another innovative concept coming to the neighborhood is the Jug & Bottle Dept. located at 6201 N. Florida Ave. It's a specialty store that will feature coffees, teas, gourmet food items, fresh flowers and cigars, among other specialty items. What will set this store apart from the rest is its world class beer and wine, says co-Owner Veronica Danko, who owns The Independent Bar and Café.

“Over the years, my staff, friends and customers have all discussed the fact that the neighborhood needs a specialty retail store,” Danko says. “The Independent does not have a package license, so a couple of us decided to open the store ourselves, and use our knowledge and passion for beer and wine to make it work.  We are very excited about the project and cannot wait to get it open next month (June).”
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