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Urbanite Theatre prepares to launch first season in new black-box theatre in Sarasota

The buzz around the Urbanite Theatre is unmistakable in downtown Sarasota — the drone of carpentry tools placing finishing construction touches competes daily with the energetic hum of creative anticipation as the new black-box theatre space prepares for its opening night in April.

Urbanite co-Founders and Artistic Directors Brendan Ragan and Summer Wallace met while pursuing Masters’ degrees at Sarasota’s FSU/Asolo Conservatory. Urbanite Theatre emerged from their shared vision to bring provocative contemporary productions to Sarasota in an intimate black-box setting. 

“This is such an arts community. Sarasota is very strong in its visual and performing arts scene, already. But what’s not here, yet, is a small box theater that’s staging edgy, contemporary work,” says Ragan.

Having both lived the nomadic lifestyle of career actors, working in larger cities like New York City with robust contemporary theatre scenes, Ragan and Wallace see great potential in Sarasota.

The Urbanite Theatre was announced late last spring and quickly received 501c3 nonprofit status. A developer who wishes to remain anonymous is responsible for the funding and construction of the new theater, an addition to an office complex on 2nd Street, located between Fruitville Road and the Whole Foods Market. The space, formerly a parking lot, was purchased for $600,000.

“We’ve been generously given the shell of the space to utilize, but we’re responsible for filling it in and making a theater of it,” Wallace says.

Filling in the shell of a theater means providing the lighting, seating, sound equipment and other operational components. Wallace says estimated start-up costs for the theater are approximately $30,000, and that each production will cost between $25,000-$30,000. Active fundraising campaigns have raised more than $50,000 to date, and the theater hopes to raise an additional $100,000 to keep ticket prices at $20 or less and offer student discounts.

The Urbanite Theatre features a cozy black-box setting designed for customizable production space and intimate performances. Theater capacity is limited to 50-70 seats, depending on the configuration for each show.

“When you’re in a bigger space, you can kind of remove yourself from the production. You’re up there, safe in your seats and separate from the stage. Here, where the actor is not just feet, but mere inches away from you — it evokes a different emotional response,” Wallace says.

“Because we have a small venue, I believe we will be able to really push the envelope in terms of the types of plays we produce,” Ragan adds. “I look it at the same way that HBO differs from network television: People week out their work because it’s something different; more provocative.”

Opening night is scheduled for April 10 with the U.S. premiere of British playwright Anna Jordan’s award-winning “Chicken Shop.” For ticket information, visit The Urbanite Theatre website.

Adventure Island opens new water slide in Tampa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luxury cigar retailer to open flagship Tampa store

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tampa Pizza Company opens downtown, Westchase locations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One unique implement? A wine tap system.

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

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

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

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

SPCA Tampa Bay to open St. Pete vet hospital

SPCA Tampa Bay will open a full-service veterinary hospital and spay and neuter clinic in St. Petersburg by mid-2016.

St. Pete's new vet hospital and clinic will be located at 3250 5th Ave. N, in a 12,500-square-foot former medical office building purchased by the Tampa Bay chapter of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in early 2015.

"What a way to kick off our 75th anniversary year!” says SPCA Tampa Bay president Martha Boden. 

Providing pet owners with accessible veterinary care for their pets, promoting humane care, and reducing pet overpopulation are the SPCA Tampa Bay's main goals in opening the new veterinary clinic in St. Petersburg.

According to Boden, access to care is a challenge for some pet owners, leading some animals to end up in shelters. A new location, she explains, could help to alleviate the problem of overpopulation or homeless shelter animals.

“Purchasing this property in St. Petersburg allows us to expand beyond our Largo campus to bring services to more pet owners in Pinellas County,” Boden says. “We're dedicated to caring for animals and supporting a community that cares about its pets.”

Renovations will begin in coming months. The St. Pete veterinary hospital and clinic is expected to open  mid-2016.

"We expect to add 20 – 25 jobs when we’re fully up and running," Boden says. "Up to seven of those jobs will be for veterinarians, so advanced degrees will be required. Other jobs include veterinary nurses, assistants and receptionists."

Hiring should begin in early to mid-2016. Educational requirements vary depending on the position.  

SPCA Tampa Bay board chair Marilyn Hulsey and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman announced the purchase in a news conference at the future facility.

The St. Petersburg veterinary hospital will provide medical, surgery and general care services for dogs and cats. The spay and neuter clinic will “help prevent unplanned litters, reducing the number of homeless and unwanted dogs and cats in the community,” Boden says.

Veterinary hospital visits and spay and neuter services will be available to any pet owners during extended weekday hours and weekend appointments. 

SPCA Tampa Bay will be hosting a networking social March 18th. RSVP here.

Contact SPCA Tampa Bay by visiting the website or calling 727-586-3591. To donate to the SPCA Tampa Bay online, follow this link.
     
SPCA Tampa Bay’s 10-acre animal sanctuary and Wellness Clinic is located at 9099 130th Avenue N in Largo. Hours are Tuesday - Friday, 1pm to 7pm; Saturday, 10am - 6pm; and Sunday, 1pm - 5pm. SPCA Tampa Bay’s Wellness Clinic is open Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, from 8am-noon.

Downtown Tampa quiet zone silences train horns with FDOT grant funds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Architectural photography contest open in Tampa

Calling all architectural photography artists!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luxury condo, The Salvador, headed for ground-breaking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

McAlister's Deli will add Tampa/Hillsborough County restaurants

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hablo Taco opens in downtown Tampa's Channel District

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will work for food? Try Harbor Dish Community Cafe in Safety Harbor

Harbor Dish Community Cafe is a restaurant where people can eat healthy foods for whatever price they can afford to pay. And they may leave with something more enriching than a good meal.

They'll feel themselves as part of a caring community.

"There is something for everyone at the cafe, not just food," says Christina Sauger, founder and director of the nonprofit Harbor Dish, Inc., and the community cafe at 123 4th Ave. South in Safety Harbor.

The cafe is awaiting approval from the city of Safety Harbor for its permit.  Sauger anticipates opening in late March or early April.

Harbor Dish will rely on volunteers, grants, donations and a handful of paid staff members including a chef, volunteer coordinator and cafe administrator. Patrons will dine buffet-style and pay the suggested discount price or whatever amount they can afford.

People also can "pay it forward" for another person. Or volunteer for one hour and get a meal voucher.

Not all of the volunteer work must be cafe-related. Educational programs and mentoring also are part of Sauger's broader goal of helping the working poor, seniors, people with disabilities, veterans and at-risk youth.

"Whatever skills people have they can share," says Sauger.

Harbor Dish already is holding "pop-up" events and working with other nonprofits and social agencies in the community.

A job training program, culinary training for disabled veterans, Bright Future scholarship hours, life skills for children aging out of foster care and gardening classes are among future enterprises that could be supported by Harbor Dish. An event stage and a community garden also will bring the community together for family-oriented activities.

The model for Harbor Dish is the national nonprofit, One World Everybody Eats community cafe movement. About 40 cafes are operating across the country with about 20 additional restaurants preparing to open, Sauger says.

The most well-known of the cafes is Soul Kitchen in New Jersey supported by the Jon Bon Jovi Foundation.

One World Everybody eats recently held its 2015 summit at the Safety Harbor Resort and Spa.

Sauger visited five community cafes in New Jersey, Tennessee and North Carolina before organizing in Safety Harbor. The cafe's location is the former home of her great-grandmother.

Renovations at the house began in October 2013. A new roof, paving stones, a stage and a fence are among donated items. Sauger is covering basic costs of mortgage and utilities but once the cafe is up and running, it is expected to become self-sustaining.

The cafe is in need of commercial kitchen appliances and capital funding. Sauger estimates about $10,000 to $15,000 is needed to open.

Sauger has two engineering degrees and worked as a real estate broker for 25 years. But her care giving began at age 15 when she brought homeless people home for her mother to feed. 

She carried that over into her adult life.

"I was feeding people out of my house because I saw there was a need," she says. She was particularly touched by the struggles grandparents have caring for their grandchildren.

"We wanted to take this to the next level," Sauger says. "We want to see what we can do in a bigger way."

Waypoint Homes aids restoration at Tampa Heights youth development and community center

For more than four years volunteers have shown up weekend after weekend to put in sweat equity to salvage the historical Faith Temple Missionary Baptist Church for a new mission. By March the church is expected to be ready for its debut as the Tampa Heights Youth Development and Community Center.

The final push to complete the makeover is coming from Waypoint Homes and its WIN (Waypoint Invests in Neighborhoods) Program. On successive Thursdays in January a dozen or so WIN team employees work room by room to hang doors, install drywall, put up light fixtures, and finish up trim work. 

The single family rental company owns property throughout Tampa Bay including in the Tampa Heights neighborhood. As part of its WIN program, Waypoint Home sponsors a number of projects to give back to those communities. 

"We search out projects," says John Rapisarda, regional property manager. "We love to do something where we impact the neighborhood where we rent and own  homes."

Company officials are offering materials and company volunteers to finish renovations at the community center for its March opening. Some of it vendors also are contributing materials and labor including Sherwin Williams which is providing flooring.

Waypoint Homes employees will install the flooring.

"It was perfect for us because in addition to contributing financially we want our team to contribute their time," says David Diaz, Waypoint Home's regional director.

The Tampa Heights Junior Civic Association, which is spearheading the renovation project,  provides free youth programs year-round, including after-school and summer activities. The renovated church will include a computer lab, art classroom, recording studio, dining/kitchen area, 300-seat auditorium and performance stage.

"We like everything about this program," says Diaz. "They follow the kids from kindergarten to make sure they graduate from high school."

Over the years national chains, such as Sears, and local businesses, such as CGM Services: Air Conditioning and Heating, have contributed labor and materials to the project. Nonprofit Rebuilding Together Tampa Bay and Richard Gonzmart of the Columbia Restaurant Group also are contributors. 

The total in donations and volunteer labor  likely is close to $1 million, says Lena Young-Green, president of the Tampa Heights Junior Civic Association. Once Waypoint Homes completes its work, the last step is finding a vendor and materials to replace the roof, Young-Green says. 

The Beck Group is helping with this search.

Local architect John Tennison, with Atelier Architecture Engineering Construction, has supervised the volunteer work and guided restoration efforts. 

"It's been enlightening working with people who come by to help," he says. "It's surprising how many people want to give their time and effort. It's a great program and people see that."

Tampa invests $30M in water lines, cycle track

The city of Tampa will invest nearly $30 million in three infrastructure projects that aren't likely to stir up the kind of excitement that comes with news of a new residential tower or hotel in downtown.

But those projects, mostly out of sight and below ground, are part of a long-term effort to expand and upgrade the city's aging water lines to meet the demand of a growing urban population.  Among the benefits are increased water pressure and fire hydrant flows.

Construction will begin on all projects in January and last approximately 18 months. Each project costs slightly under $10 million.

"It's not something shiny and flashy but it's something equally important," says Tricia Shuler, a construction engineer for CH2M Hill, the engineering firm hired by the city to oversee the projects.

Former Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio started the expansion and upgrades to the city's utility infrastructure nearly six years ago in East Tampa. Since then, various Utility Capital Improvement Projects (UCAP), also by CH2M Hill, have replaced and extended water and sewer lines into the downtown area and South Tampa.

One noticeable change will be the conversion of Cass and Tyler Streets from one-way to two-way streets and the construction of a cycle track where bicyclists will be separated from vehicular traffic by a concrete barrier.

"It's going to become a very appealing asset through downtown," Shuler says. "People will feel like they live in a big city."

The changes to Cass and Tyler are part of Invision Tampa, a blueprint that emerged from Mayor Bob Buckhorn's efforts to redevelop the downtown core and surrounding neighborhoods. The goal is to restore the downtown's street grid which for years has been dominated by one-way streets.

CH2M Hill also will bury box culverts to ease flooding along Rome Avenue and Cypress Street. This will set the stage for future storm water projects.

Work will continue on installation of a 36-inch water transmission line from David L. Tippin Water Treatment Facility to South Tampa.  In December CH2M Hill completed construction of a 500-foot tunnel across the Hillsborough River to minimize the impact of pipeline installation on the environment.

Additional work will extend the pipeline from North Jefferson and East Cass streets, then along Tyler to Fortune, west across the river and end at North Boulevard and West Cass.

Bus riders get new transit center in Pinellas Park

Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority is setting ridership records and filling a need for a growing urban population in Pinellas County. Two express routes also carry riders to and from downtown Tampa.

Now the new Pinellas Park Transit Center at 3801 70th Ave. is filling a "huge hole'' in customer services for riders in the middle of the county, according to Brad Miller, PSTA's chief executive officer, who spoke at the center's grand opening on Jan. 13.

The transit center is the first Customer Service Center in 13 years. The last was opened at Grand Central Station in St. Petersburg in 2002. Riders at the new transit center can buy tickets, figure out bus schedules or get a quick question answered by a PSTA employee.

The facility replaces the former transit center behind the Shoppes at Park Place. Boulder Venture South, a commercial real estate company with offices in Clearwater, donated the land. CHTR Development, LLC, built the transit center after winning the contract with a low bid of about $360,000.

"This is the first public/private partnership in our system," says Bill Jonson, PSTA'S board chairman. "It turns out to be a welcome one."

The transit center has public restrooms, a 2-station customer service booth, security cameras, an ATM machine, a new sidewalk and a raised traffic table for safer pedestrian crossings.

In November 2014 voters rejected a "Greenlight Pinellas" proposal for a 1 percent sales tax to pay for a 30-year plan to improve transit service and potentially have light rail service connecting St. Petersburg and Clearwater. 

"PSTA is in sort of a transition phase right now, looking beyond Greenlight Pinellas, looking at ways we might be more efficient and provide the best services," says Miller. "No matter what our funding status, our size or growth, we have to maintain our (commitment) to our customers."

In fiscal year 2013-2014, riders boarded PSTA buses about 14.5 million times or about 35,000 more boardings than the previous fiscal year, according to PSTA records.
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