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Tampa Bay History Center grows up and out, stays on track with $11M expansion

The Tampa Bay History Center is experiencing smooth sailing so far on an expansion project that will bring the area’s pirate lore to life.

“Knocking on wood, everything is going well,” says C.J. Roberts, History Center President and CEO.

Roberts says construction crews are slightly ahead of schedule on the building expansion that will house the new “Treasure Seekers: Conquistadors, Pirates & Shipwrecks” gallery -- an addition that includes a 60-foot replica of a sailing vessel as its centerpiece and will focus on the stories of Florida’s early explorers.

As construction continues, the Pinellas Park-based Creative Arts is working to design the exhibits and a theatre company out of Boston is writing an “immersive pirate theatre experience” to complement the new gallery, which should be complete before the end of the year.

The expansion is just one part of an $11 million capital campaign, which Roberts says he is hopeful will be completed successfully in another year or so.

The goal of the capital campaign is to raise $5 million for the new gallery and maintenance on the existing structure, $5 million for the center’s endowment -- which funds about 25 percent of operating costs annually -- and $1 million for the new Florida Center for Cartography, a joint effort with the University of South Florida.

“We’ve raised $7.5 million dollars to date,” says Roberts.“We’ve got good wind in our sails, and I am optimistic that we’re going to be successful in completing this campaign.”

The full-size ship included in the gallery aims to provide an immersive experience that will help dispel some myths or misconceptions about pirates while providing a unique chance to learn about navigation, engineering and mathematics.

“These stories of early navigation and maritime exploration really lend themselves very well to pulling out those kinds of educational opportunities,” Roberts says.

Roberts hopes this expansion will broaden the center’s reach by telling stories that go beyond our backyard in the Bay Area.

“This is not a Tampa or Hillsborough story, as many of our other exhibits are,” he says. “This really is a Florida story.”

The Tampa Bay History Center’s expansion project is just one part of a period of exciting growth for the downtown area and Roberts is eager for the next chapter in Tampa’s story.

“We’re excited about the contribution this will make to an already growing downtown,” he says. “I think that we’re in a good place, and the future for both downtown Tampa and the history center looks pretty bright.”

City of Tampa invites public input on streetcar route extension

The City of Tampa is looking for input from residents as it continues the first phase of a project that aims to update and extend the Tampa Historic Streetcar System.

At a series of public meetings, city officials have discussed the project while surveying attendees. The most recent “brainstorm session” took place on April 4 and focused on evaluating corridor options for potential additions to the streetcar line.

City Director of Transportation and Stormwater Services Jean Duncan began the meeting by saying that the decisions made in updating the streetcar system must reflect the ongoing development of downtown and surrounding neighborhoods.

“We want to make sure that our transportation decisions are supporting those near-term and long-term land development plans,” she says.

So far, the city has received about 800 comments during phase one of the two-phase InVision: Tampa Streetcar project and Duncan says it is looking forward to receiving more.

“That is valuable information for us to take into consideration,” she says.

According to the city’s website, the planning effort is being funding largely by a $1 million contribution from the Florida Department of Transportation. The city has dedicated $677,390 to the effort.

The first phase of the project will establish options for extensions of the line and seek to open the door to federal funding before proceeding with a more detailed second phase. Lead consultant on the project is HDR Engineering.

At the April 4 meeting, Steve Schukraft of HDR said right now his team is looking for feedback on what areas are best suited for potential extensions.

“We’re trying to understand different corridors downtown and in surrounding neighborhoods that have the characteristics that might support transit,” he says.

An important factor in determining if a corridor is viable is whether or not it can generate enough ridership to justify an investment, Schukraft adds.

The final public meeting will focus on results gathered at the previous two sessions and is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on May 2 at the Hillsborough Community College Ybor City Campus.

For more information or to submit a comment on the project, visit the city’s website.

What's new in Westshore? Find out at upcoming development forum

Looking for an update on Tampa’s Westshore District? Be sure to attend this year’s 15th Annual Westshore Development Forum on April 11.

The event, hosted by the Westshore Alliance, brings together representatives from all of the district’s industries to discuss ongoing developments and market trends that are rapidly transforming the area.

“We’ll have different speakers from each industry,” says Heather Mackin, Westshore Alliance spokeswoman. “They’re there to give the scoop on what’s new and what’s happening in the Westshore District.”

According to Mackin, the Westshore District -- which starts at Tampa Bay, including parts of Rocky Point, runs east to Himes Avenue and is bordered to the north and south by Hillsborough Avenue and Kennedy Boulevard – has 12 million square feet of office space.

“Westshore has always been and still is the largest office submarket in the state of Florida,” she says.

But in recent years, the district has evolved into a “true live, work, play community,” boasting 15,000 residents, dining options, two retail shopping malls, entertainment venues and more.

“It’s really a place where you can enjoy it all,” Mackin says.

The forum’s presenters will discuss development highlights and trends in offices, retail locations, hotels, multifamily residential housing and Tampa International Airport. Transportation infrastructure and transit will also be covered.

Presenters include:
  • Mary Clare Codd, Managing Director of Office & Industrial Services, Colliers International
  • Patrick Berman; Senior Director Retail Leasing, Cushman & Wakefield of Florida
  • Lou Plasencia; Chief Executive Officer, The Plasencia Group
  • Casey Babb, First VP Investments, National Multi Housing Group Director, Marcus & Millichap
  • Randy Forister, Commercial Real Estate Director, Tampa International Airport
“Our presenters will be discussing what’s currently under construction, recently delivered and what’s to come in the district,” says Mackin, adding that having a panel of diverse industry representatives in the same room is a great way to tie different areas of development together.

The event runs from 8:30 a.m. to noon on April 11 and will take place at AMC Westshore 14, 210 Westshore Plaza.

Presentations will be given on the big screen and, yes, there will be popcorn.

Registration, which closes on April 7, costs $50 for members of the Westshore Alliance and $75 for nonmembers. For more information or to register visit Westshore Alliance’s website.

Beyond sustainability: Tiny homes, electric cars and more at HCC expo

As sustainable and environmentally conscious lifestyles become increasingly popular, new, creative and sometimes tiny trends are taking hold.

Tiny houses, along with other unconventional domiciles, are the theme at this year’s Beyond Sustainability Expo sponsored by Hillsborough Community College’s Sustainability Council.

At the expo, attendees can check out tiny houses, buses converted into homes and gypsy wagons while learning how downsizing their living space can have a positive impact on quality of life, communities and the environment.

HCC spokeswoman Angela Walters says the trend has really emerged nationally in the last couple of years with popular TV shows about “alternative living structures” and “living tiny.” Recently, the idea has started to catch on in the Tampa Bay area and offers several unique benefits.

“As opposed to acquiring tangible things and materials, if you scale down you’re experiencing life and you’re creating more experiences,” says Walters.

Tiny homes are usually mobile, giving owners the opportunity to travel and experience multiple communities. They also may help heighten environmental awareness.

“If you have a tiny structure, you’re being more cognizant of the waste you produce,” says Walters. “You’re not buying as many material things because you don’t have as much space to store them.”

The United Tiny House Association will join HCC at the event to display tiny houses and help demonstrate the perks of downsizing. Electric cars, a maggot composting system, interactive exhibits, panel discussions and more will also be featured.

To the students at HCC, the environmental awareness promoted by the Beyond Sustainability Expo is an important part of protecting their future.

“We see directly that this is something they are passionate about and that they adamantly want these activities within the college,” says Walters.

The expo will take place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on April 8 at HCC’s Dale Mabry Campus near Raymond James Stadium. There is no charge for attendance but donations will be accepted.

For more information visit HCC’s website.

If you attend:

What: Hillsborough Community College’s 2017 Beyond Sustainability Expo - Sustainable Lifestyles: Living Tiny and Leaving a Tiny Footprint 
When: April 8 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Where: 4001 W. Tampa Bay Blvd., Tampa, Florida 33614

Time to get outdoors to play: Springtime spawns local art festivals

As part of its efforts to revive Station Square Park, the city of Clearwater is holding the first in a series of paint parties/art bazaars at the Cleveland Street Park. Painting in the Park - Art Bazaar at Station Square Park kicks off from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday, April 1, and continues on the first and third Saturdays through June.

“It’s going to be a real active event with lots of art and live music, an open-air painting class,” says Jennie Pearl, the event coordinator, an artist who will teach the $35 painting class. “It’s going to grow. So far we’ve had such a wonderful response.”

The free event sponsored by the city of Clearwater’s Community Redevelopment Agency and Parks and Recreation Department, also features live music by Sal Belloise (known as Guitar Sal), art by Kelly Strong, beer and wine tasting, body/face painting and unique vendors offering items like Hawaiian Island soaps and wearable-art clothing.

A muralist, Pearl still is recruiting for the upcoming events. “I’m looking for comedians, jugglers, hoola hoopers, massage therapists,” says Pearl, who won the 2016 Clearwater’s Downtown Gateway Art Project. “It’s all the arts."

Plans developed after visitors were polled at a grand reopening of the park in February. “They wanted art, they wanted music and entertainment,” says Laura Canary, Community Redevelopment Coordinator. “They also wanted … some type of adult component, some kind of nightlife in the park as well.”

Meanwhile in Tampa, the 6th Annual International Cuban Sandwich Art and Food Festival is underway from noon until 6 p.m. Saturday, April 1, at Hillsborough Community College in Ybor City. Saturday’s agenda? Trying to make the largest Cuban sandwich. The event continues from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday, with competitors worldwide competing for awards.

The Safety Harbor Songfest is taking place April 1 and 2 at Safety Harbor Music and Art Center and Waterfront Park, featuring the Wood Brothers, Rising Appalachia, and more. It supports the nonprofit art center’s events; music begins at 11 a.m. both days.

The Tampa Bay Blues Festival is coming to Vinoy Park in St. Petersburg April 7, 8, and 9.  The event kicks off with Dennis Gruenling at 12:30 p.m. Friday, and includes The Rides with Stephen Stills, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, and Barry Goldberg Saturday at 8:30 p.m.

Organizers of the free, two-day Mainsail Art Festival April 22 and 23, who are expecting to draw some 100,000, also are gearing up for the juried art competition at Vinoy Park. Some $60,000 will be awarded to prize winners at the festival, which began in 1976 when the city’s Bicentennial Committee, the St, Petersburg Recreation Department and St. Petersburg Arts Commission collaborated on a sidewalk arts and colonial crafts festival.

“It wasn’t a juried show. Now it’s one of the top in the country,” says Lisa Wells, who chairs the all-volunteer planning committee. “The prize money’s grown, everything’s grown. ... The quality has gotten better.”

The event, sponsored by the city, Junior League of St. Petersburg, and Tampa Bay Times, was among the top 20 best shows by Wisconsin-based Sunshine Artist magazine in 2016.

The festival, which draws more than 250 exhibiting artists, runs from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. April 22 and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 23. The lineup includes Jah Movement Reggae Band at noon April 22,  Souliz at 4:30 p.m. April 22, and singer-songwriter-instrumenalist Damon Fowler at 3:45 p.m. April 23.

The city is seeking volunteers, who can signup online.

Here are some other art-related events planned in the Tampa Bay area during April.

Broad Comedy, a benefit for Planned Parenthood, is slated from 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. April 6 at Ybor’s CL Space, 1911 N. 13th St. It features standup comics Robin Savage and Becca Childs, along with writers Lori Shannon and Cathy Salustri.

• Coffee lovers can check out the Tampa Bay Coffee and Art Festival from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. April 8 at The Noise Box, 1310 John Moore Road, Brandon. The festival features craft coffee roasters from Florida and local artists, food trucks and desserts.

• The Latin Music Festival is slated April 8 at 5730 Shore Blvd. S., Gulfport. The concert, on Boca Ciega Bay from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m., will include recording artists Orchestra Fuego, The Latin Jazz Knights, Freddy Montez, Victor J. Moreno with Esther Suarez, and Eddie Garrido. It is the first of a series of annual Latin Music Festivals. Admission is $15; children under 10 are free.

• Gulfport’s annual Springfest Garden Art and Faerie Festival is slated from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. April 14 and 15 at Clymer Park at 5501 27th Ave. S. Renaissance-era characters will roam at the event featuring a Good Friday Fish Fry, May Pole dances, a costume contest, and live music. Admission is free; complimentary parking is offered. More information is available at Springfest's Facebook page or 727-322-5217.

The SunLit Festival kicks off with a party from 7 to 9 p.m. April 6 at the Chihuly Collection in St. Petersburg. The third annual event runs April 10 through 25, bringing together literary organizations and others.

• The Florida Antiquarian Book Fair, in its 36th year, is slated April 21 to April 23 at St. Petersburg Coliseum. The fair is a mecca for book lovers, offering books on just about any topic.


Biotech company Amgen to open Tampa center

The biotechnology company Amgen plans to open a Capability Center in Tampa next October, creating 450 new jobs and investing $25 million by the end of 2018. The Thousand Oaks, CA-based Amgen, a global pioneer in the fight against serious illnesses, will operate its 136,000-square foot center out of four floors at Corporate Center One in Westshore.

“Tampa was selected mainly on the availability of skilled talent there,” says spokeswoman Kristen Davis, as well as for its "proximity to our global sites around the world.”

She notes Tampa’s “high quality” and “affordable” standard of living, plus the company’s potential to grow in the area.

The Capability Center is to deliver “business-enabling services,” including analytics, staff and business support, human resources, and financial assistance, she says.

Amgen will be hiring for a variety of positions in the information systems, human resources and finance fields. Interested persons should visit Amgen’s Career Center online for specific information on open positions, she says.

Tampa was chosen as the site of Amgen’s new state-of-the-art Capability Center after an exhaustive search that included visits to the finalist communities.

One of the world’s leading independent biotechnology companies, Amgen operates in about 100 countries worldwide. It provides medicines for serious diseases where the treatment options are limited, or where it can provide a viable alternative to existing treatment. Committed to unlocking the potential of biology for patients, it works to develop, manufacture and deliver innovative human therapeutics.

Amgen focuses on oncology/hematology, cardiovascular disease, inflammation, bone health, nephrology and neuroscience.

Florida is home to some of the country’s most highly regarded research centers, including more than 1,100 biotech, pharmaceutical and medical device companies and more than 46,000 healthcare establishments.

Amgen joins the life science companies Bristol-Myers Squibb  and Johnson & Johnson in the Tampa area.


$130M Belleair development ramps up on site of historic Belleview Biltmore Hotel

Once the winter playground for wealthy northerners escaping the cold, the Belleview Biltmore Hotel first opened to the public in 1897. Thomas Edison, Babe Ruth, the Duke of Windsor, many U.S. presidents, and even singer Bob Dylan were among guests of the Clearwater hotel that enjoyed a reputation as the “White Queen of the Gulf [of Mexico].”

Built by railroad magnet Henry Plant, the hotel sat on the bluff overlooking Clearwater Harbor and had distinctive Victorian-era architecture with an iconic New England-style white wood exterior and green-sloped roof, Tiffany-era leaded glass and beautiful oak tongue and groove heart pine flooring.

According to JMC Communities, Plant built the hotel to increase tourist traffic to the area and promote future Florida real estate development, in which he had invested. The site not only had clear views of Clearwater’s harbor, but there was a freshwater spring nearby.

The original hotel had 145 rooms, each with a view of the Gulf, and was constructed with native Florida pine. A second building housed hotel employees during the “four month season.” The hotel was not occupied during the summer until the 1950s when air conditioning was added. Like many similar luxury hotels in the Tampa Bay region, it was occupied by troops during World War II.

After more than a century of activity, the hotel closed in 2009, and began a steady decline toward disrepair, due to age, lack of maintenance and neglect. Its future was uncertain and controversial, with many area residents fighting to see the building preserved and various developers considering its demolition.

In 2015, JMC Communities, led by CEO Mike Cheezem, bought the hotel and 20-acre property for $6.2 million with the vision of creating an upscale residential development of condos and townhomes.

In what Cheezem calls a “win-win” for the hotel’s legacy, JMC Communities invested another $13 million to rescue, relocate and renovate a 38,000-square-foot section of the hotel that included the lobby and 35 guest rooms.  

“The portion we decided to save was the most architecturally striking and had been there the longest and was the best built,” says Cheezem.

Today, the historic structure is part of the Belleview Inn, a new boutique hotel and amenity center that serves as the centerpiece of Belleview Place, JMC Communities new residential community built on the former Belleview Biltmore Hotel site.

“It was just so evident how important it was to preserve all the memories associated with the hotel,” says Cheezem.  This was a popular place for weddings, graduation parties and reunions, and it was certainly a landmark structure that stood out not only for the region but also the whole state of Florida.  

“Back in 1897 this area was just a wilderness and the hotel really was a catalyst for developing the west coast of Florida,” says Cheezem. “People were coming down in their own private railroad cars and staying for the season.”

Plans call for Belleview Place to have a total of 131 residences, a combination of 104 mid-rise condominiums and 28 two-story carriage homes/townhomes. Cheezem estimates the projected value of the new community to be around $130 million at completion.

The first of four condo buildings, the Allamanda, is now under construction and fully sold out, says Cheezem. Sales for the second building, Brightwater, started in March.  

The first residents are expected to move in by early 2018. Residents will have access to all of the amenities in the new development and to the adjacent Belleair Country Club, which features two championship golf courses, a marina, fitness center and resort pool, as well as restaurant and bar.

In addition to JMC Design & Development, key professionals involved in the community’s development include architects BSB Design; civil engineers Florida Design Consultants; and Phil Graham Landscape Architecture.  

Additional professionals include the Tamara Peacock Company, the designer and conceptual architect for the Belleview Inn; Decker Ross Interiors, interior design for the Belleview Place Carriage Homes; Kay Green Design, interior design for the condominiums; and Sims Patrick Studio, interior design for the Belleview Inn.

In a news release about the community, Cheezem says: “No other community in Florida boasts such a fascinating and treasured history and such a unique combination of amenities: a fabulous location on a Clearwater bluff, two championship golf courses and a restored, boutique inn that continues the legacy and elegance of the Belleview Biltmore Hotel.”

New historic marker honors Temple Terrace orange grove history

Even many Temple Terrace residents may not know that their charming little city surrounded by Tampa was named after an orange.

A 5,000-acre temple orange grove planted in the 1920s gave birth to the city named Temple Terrace. The grove, which included land now occupied by Busch Gardens, the University of South Florida and parts of Temple Terrace, was proclaimed the largest orange grove in the world.

Now city leaders and historical preservationists are honoring the orange grove with an historical marker at the corner of Gillette Avenue and East 113th Ave., next to the Greco Middle School track. A ceremony in early February also celebrated a “mini-grove” of temple oranges planted by Greco students.

Elisabeth Leib, a board member of the Temple Terrace Preservation Society, is also involved with Greco’s Farm 2 School program and helped initiate the mini-grove project.

“We had this large orange grove and our mission is to advocate for local history,” says Tim Lancaster, President of the preservation society. “So, at the same time we dedicate this marker, we’re kind of reliving that history by putting these new orange trees in the ground.”

This will be the fifth marker the preservation society has placed around the city of 22,000.

Temples are regarded by many orange enthusiasts as the tastiest variety around. The orange has a soft and spongy exterior with a shiny, pocked peeling that’s easily removed. The segmented fruit is loaded with juice and has a slightly tart taste that explodes on the palate.
 
A variety of a tangor -- a cross between the mandarin orange and the sweet orange -- the Temple is believed to have come to Florida from the West Indies early in the 20th century, according to an article in the New York Times. The orange was named for William Chase Temple, a prominent grower and owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Lancaster says D. Collin Gillette, one of the original developers of Temple Terrace and its first mayor, was heavily involved in the citrus industry in the 20s. To attract investors, the mayor’s company allowed people who bought property in the city to buy shares in the orange grove.

“You could use proceeds from the orange grove to pay of your real estate investment,” Lancaster says.

The World’s Largest Orange Grove marker is Temple Terrace’s 5th. Others include Spanish Exploration of Temple Terrace at Riverhills Park, Bertha Palmer at Woodmont Clubhouse, Billy Graham at Billy Graham Park, and Sutton Hall (original clubhouse of Temple Terrace Country Club) at Florida College.

Slow down! City of Tampa plans safer bike lanes, traffic calming on Bayshore Boulevard

A more pedestrian-friendly and bikeable Bayshore Boulevard could be on the horizon, as the City of Tampa outlines plans for road design and traffic flow improvements along the south Tampa bayside thoroughfare. 

Although the 4.5 mile waterfront boulevard is known as a destination for recreation and exercise, many people who live along Bayshore Boulevard in South Tampa cite unsafe motorist speeds as a deterrent to enjoying the space as pedestrians and bicyclists. 

"There was a thread of complaints that motorist speeds are not being enforced--and a lot of residents are really frustrated by that," says Christine Acosta, Executive Director of the citizen's advocacy group, Walk Bike Tampa. 

The City aims to address residents' concerns with a traffic calming plan, which includes a road diet that decreases the width of traffic lanes to 10 feet and allows for the addition of a two-foot buffer to existing bike lanes, as well as the installation of Rapid Reflective Flashing Beacon (RRFB) crosswalks at three Bayshore Boulevard locations and a reduction of the posted speed limit. 

"It's fantastic that the city has a need for maintenance that goes about incorporating walk and bike improvements. The primary objective is to reduce the speed on Bayshore so that it is more user-friendly for all the users--and therefore plays to the city's goal of becoming a more multimodal place to live, work and play," says Acosta. The City of Tampa Transportation and Stormwater Services Department held the latest public information session at the Kate Jackson Community Center on February 23, allowing citizens to view and comment on plans for traffic calming and pedestrian safety projects along Bayshore Boulevard.

The proposal for improvements is summarized as follows: 
  • Removal of faded striping along Rome Avenue and Platt Street, and the installation of new striping with black contrast to provide better lane visibility for motorists and cyclists,
  • Provision of buffered bike lanes from Rome Avenue to south of Howard Avenue,
  • Addition of a two-foot buffer to existing bike lanes,
  • Installation of RRFB devices at South Dakota Avenue, South Delaware Avenue, and midway between South Brevard Avenue and W. Swann Ave.; and,
  • Reduction of posted speed limit from 40 to 35 miles per hour. 

"All those elements together, it is hoped, will result in lower speeds--so that it will feel appropriate to drive slower," says Acosta. 

The Bayshore Boulevard traffic calming project, currently in the design phase, is funded by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT). The design process is expected to continue through May, with construction dates to be determined. 

Acosta says that Walk Bike Tampa embraces the proposed improvements along Bayshore. 

"This is a positive step in the right direction for which we are very grateful," says Acosta. "We look forward to more safety measures, like protected space for cyclists, throughout Tampa Bay."

Grab your food and stay to play concept coming to Seminole Heights, Tampa

Shuffleboard, a game that traces its lineage to 15th century England, was once associated mostly with aged retirees pushing oversized hockey pucks on harshly lit courts in Pinellas County.

Bocce ball conjures up its own images, thanks to movies like “Moonstruck,” in which middle-aged and older men of Italian descent roll a hard ball down an alley somewhere in Brooklyn or Queens.

These two casual sports, though centuries-old, are enjoying a revival of sorts, so much so that three Tampa entrepreneurs think they can cash in on their appeal at a new walk-up food and beer stand in Southeast Seminole Heights.

Ferrell Alvarez, Ty Rodriguez and Chon Nguyen plan to revamp the old Nebraska Mini-Mart, a former drive-through, quick-service store on Nebraska Avenue, just north of Osborne Avenue. Alvarez said the restaurant will feature fast, casual food along with craft beers and wine.

“The concept is fast-casual food where you walk up to get the food,” says Alvarez, who is partners with Rodriguez at the Rooster & the Till restaurant down the road.

“It will be the same quality as Rooster & the Till: sourced locally, doing everything fresh,” Alvarez says. “It will be global street food with emphasis on a great beer and wine selection.”

But the partners want customers to grab their food and stay. That’s where the shuffleboard and bocce ball come in.

Alvarez envisions leagues playing tournaments on nights and weekends. The 1.5-acre property will also have room for covered dining and a dog park. Special events like a July 4 pig roast will give consumers more reason to hang out. 

“It’s going to be a multiuse beer garden on steroids,” he says.

The owners are keeping the old Mini-Mart name because of its connection to the history of the surrounding neighborhood. The building will retain its mid-century architecture but with a steel roll-down door facing south. The west wall will be covered with reclaimed wood.

Alvarez says he had his eye on the corner for some time as a great spot for casual, walk-up fare. He had a loose design in mind that he firmed up with help from Junto Design Studio.

“They took our vision and ran with it and made it much better than I envisioned,” he says.

Other local businesses involved in the project include the Pep Rally Inc. creative studio and Trimar Construction.

The partners got the necessary zoning approval from Tampa City Council in December. They are now working with the city on permitting. Residents of the closely-knit neighborhood are eagerly anticipating the opening.

“What an improvement for this blighted area!” wrote Stan Lasater, President of the Southeast Seminole Heights Civic Association, in a neighborhood blog posting.

New apartments, shops coming to Skyway Marina District in St. Pete

The first new mixed-used retail and residential project for St. Petersburg’s Skyway Marina District will break ground in the next six to nine months.  

Phillips Development and Realty, a Tampa-based firm, closed on the $70 million proposed development this month. Plans call for the developer to build a 300-unit multi-family apartment complex, along with retail shops and restaurants.

"The Skyway Marina District is a stone's throw from Gulf beaches and downtown St. Pete -- two areas that so many love to experience,” says Donald Phillips, managing director of Phillips Development and Realty. “The project will allow people to live where they play and be able to afford it all."

The nine-acre site at 34th Street South and 30th Avenue South, is across the street from Ceridian, a global human resource management company. The land was previously owned by The Home Depot, but has sat vacant for a number of years.  Phillips purchased the land from The Home Depot for $4.2 million, according to company spokesperson Parker Homans.

More than 13,000-square-feet of retail and residential are proposed, along with 100,000-square-feet of climate controlled storage space. The company is currently in negations with several local and regional businesses, says Homans.

In a press release announcing the project, Phillips says the Skyway Marina District is “screaming for retail, luxury living and involvement from the St. Petersburg art scene.”  

In recognition of St. Petersburg’s vibrant collection of more than 30 urban mural arts, the company is planning to create its own mural, which will be located at the entry to the Skyway Marina District.

Also planned is an entertainment area with a lazy river, sand volleyball court and beach-style dining. The lazy river will be open to restaurant patrons and apartment residents and their guests. 

“We envision people dining outside and taking a spin on the river,” says Homans. “We want people to feel like they are on vacation when visiting the property.”

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman calls the Skyway Marina District, “the Southern Gateway to St. Petersburg and Pinellas County.”  

The city adopted a Skyway Marina District Plan in 2015, with the goal of adding affordable housing and retail to the site, which is considered to have prime redevelopment opportunity.  

Both the mayor and city council members have voiced strong support for the new Phillip’s mixed-use development, saying it “compliments the city’s vision” for the Skyway Marina District.

The city had already committed to $1.6 million for public improvements to the district for signage, landscaping, pedestrian lighting, banners and bus shelters. Now, in recognition of Phillip’s project as the first major new development in the area, the city is planning another $1 million in improvements to the site adjacent to the new complex, including a proposed extension of the Skyway Trail, a pedestrian and bike linear greenway trail that connects with Maximo Park and the Pinellas Trail.

This is the company’s first venture in St. Petersburg, although the firm has extensive residential and commercial projects in North Carolina and completed Visconti at International Plaza, an upscale apartment complex in Tampa’s Westshore District, several years ago. 

BTI Partners to build new walkable community near Westshore, Gandy in South Tampa

Fort Lauderdale-based development firm BTI Partners will soon unveil Westshore Marina District, a new walkable planned community off Westshore Boulevard south of Gandy Boulevard in South Tampa.

The community is designed to offer an eclectic mix of residential, retail and restaurants in a marina setting on 51 acres. 

“This area [of South Tampa] has historically been industrial, so we knew we couldn’t just throw in new properties there,” says BTI Executive VP of Development Beck Daniel. “We’re adding new roadways, landscaping, utilities, and other infrastructure to create this new community and provide a sense of place.” 

The community will also include public park space and a recreational path that will eventually connect with the Tampa Friendship Trail. 

The 14-acre marina basin will anchor the new development. 

“The community will have the largest marina basin in the Tampa area,” Daniel says. “It will help establish the development as a boating community.”

The development is designed to include 1,750 residential units, 156,250 square feet of retail area, 83,750 square feet of office space, 200 hotel rooms, 185 to 240 marina slips, and a 1.5-mile waterfront park for public recreational enjoyment. 

Luxuries such as a convenient marina are certain to appeal to many new residents in the community, which will boast 396 rentals and special amenities on an 8.5-acre site along a waterfront park. 

The waterfront luxury rentals will be developed by Related Group, a Miami real estate development firm known to many in the Tampa area for its waterfront residential project on the site of the former Tampa Tribune headquarters. Daniel says an unnamed “Top-10 national builder” is also coming onboard to construct the community. Pricing for the residential units is yet to be determined. 

Daniel expects brisk development efforts on the Westshore Marina District.

“You’ll be surprised how quickly this moves,” he says. “We don’t have 1,750 of the same residential units -- we’re mixing it up to have townhomes, condo towers, retail and restaurants, so there will be demand for what we’re building.”

BTI Partners closed on the land deal in early February 2017 and expects to begin construction on the marina community soon. 

“People will be able to drive into the community and see landscaping within eight months,” Daniel says. “Construction begins on luxury rental units in early to mid 2018.” A build-out date is not specified, but Daniels says the community will be constructed in phases and is expected to reach completion quickly. 

“We’re hoping the growth expands into the surrounding area,” Daniel says. “We want this to be the first thing people see as they drive into Tampa along the Gandy Bridge from Pinellas County.” 

Tampa is a prime community with a fantastic waterfront, he says, but currently lacks abundant waterfront access. 

“It’s surprising given how much water surrounds the Tampa area and yet there aren’t as many places to enjoy it as you might expect,” he remarks. Daniel says Westshore Marina District will help provide more opportunities for locals to live, shop and play near the area’s beautiful bay shoreline. 

“We like Tampa very much,” he says, referring to BTI’s recent emergence in the Tampa Bay area. “We’re here to stay.” 

Pop-up project focuses on North Marina street improvements in Clearwater

Just north of Clearwater’s downtown, the North Marina area has long boasted its own distinct identity separate from the nearby urban hub, says Lawrence Young, Jr., the city’s neighborhoods coordinator.

Clearwater Bay borders the area to the west, while the Pinellas Trail runs along its eastern edge. Cedar and Eldridge Streets serve as North Marina’s northern and southern anchors, respectively. The neighborhood also includes several city landmarks: the Seminole Boat Launch, the Francis Wilson Playhouse and North Ward Elementary School.

The North Marina area has so much potential that the city has eyed the neighborhood for improvements over the past several years. At the end of 2015, it finalized and approved a North Marina Master Plan, which covers about 64 acres, to rejuvenate the area.

So last summer, when the city’s Planning and Development Department launched a separate program, a new pop-up event series, targeting neighborhoods in need of streetscape upgrades, North Marina was an obvious first choice. “We’re able to test recommendations from that [master] plan,” Young says. 

Through temporary installations and enhancements made to existing streets within the North Marina neighborhood, Pop-up North Marina: A Community Streets Experiment offers city staff a way to study how to improve the overall experience for pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers in the area before making permanent changes.

Implemented with the help of community residents, impermanent roadway enhancements made to North Marina streets include painted pavement and sidewalk art, sidewalk extensions, on-street parking, improved landscaping, and community benches. For instance, Young says, they temporarily reduced lanes on Ft. Harrison Avenue and dedicated the extra space to pedestrians.
Volunteers extended the sidewalk on that roadway and installed planters designed by children at the North Greenwood Recreation Center.

“The area already has an identity,” Young says. “They need something to activate and bring it all together to attract more businesses and residents to the area. This project could really bring it to life.”

Though the community gathered to celebrate the temporary changes at a Jan. 28 festival, the installation will remain in place for two months. This will give residents and city officials alike the chance to test them out. Some of these temporary enhancements could become permanent in the future, says Young.

This “unique” event is the first of its kind in Clearwater, he adds, and hopefully won’t be the last, given the success of the pop-up event so far. Though the city hasn’t named the next neighborhood to receive similar treatment, they’ll base their decision on comments received from residents throughout the city. Young encourages residents to reach out to him via email.

In the meantime, Young is excited about the possibilities in North Marina. The timing of the pop-up event is perfect, he adds, since the city held its first meeting to discuss the implementation of Phase One of the North Marina Master Plan Jan. 25. “We’re excited about everything and seeing it come to life,” Young says. “We can’t wait to activate this space.”

Coast Bike Share rolls out 20 new hubs with 200 rentable bicycles in downtown St. Pete

Hopping on two wheels for bike ride through the 'burg just became easier than ever: Coast Bike Share celebrated its official launch in St. Pete on Feb. 4 with a community ride, led by Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin, through the downtown streets and along the waterfront. 

Approximately 100 riders participated in the launch, including members of Shift St. Pete, the St. Pete Bike Co-op, and Hillsborough and Pinellas bicycle and pedestrian advisory committees. The launch party culminated in a "ride-through" style ribbon-cutting at the fourth annual Localtopia celebration.

"The city is so ready for it," says Eric Trull, Regional Director of Coast Bike Share and St. Petersburg resident.

"With the culture here -- between the arts community, the food, and the breweries -- the demographic here is all about the bikes. The biggest question we received during the launch was not 'What is the bike share?' but 'Why did it take so long to get one here?'" says Trull. 

The official Coast Bike Share launch brings a total of 20 new bike share stations with 200 new bicycles to downtown St. Pete this month. Coast Bike Share introduced a demo bike share system to St. Pete in November to coincide with the Cross-Bay Ferry launch -- celebrating a growing culture of diverse multimodal transportation options in Tampa and St. Petersburg.

The November demo-release rolled out 100 bikes at 10 bicycle hubs around downtown St. Pete, offering a variety of bike rental rates: pay-as-you-go for $8 per hour, $15 for a monthly membership that includes 60 minutes of daily ride time, or $79 for an annual membership ($59 for students) with 60 minute of daily ride time. For a limited time, St. Pete residents can also sign up for the 'Founding Plan' -- a $99 annual membership that offers 90 minutes of daily ride time. Riders can reserve a bike on location by signing up online and using the bike hub keypad to enter their own unique pin code, or by using the Social Bicycles smartphone app.

The St. Pete bike fleet is the second Coast Bike Share program in the region. It joins the Tampa fleet, which launched in 2014 with 300 rentable bicycles at 30 hubs throughout downtown, the Channel District, Hyde Park, Davis Island, Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, the Tampa Riverwalk and Ybor City.

Trull says that Coast Bike Share aims to improve access to downtown St. Pete and its surrounding districts by strategically placing bike share hubs throughout the region. Coast Bike Share St. Pete hubs are located in the Grand Central District, Old Northeast and the waterfront, the Edge District, the Innovation District, and the emerging Deuces Live District.

"We're trying to make sure we hit as many neighborhoods as we can to connect everybody to downtown," Trull says.

Coast Bike Share cycles are relatively lightweight three-speed cruisers -- weighing in at just under 40 lbs, and come equipped with a basket and a GPS-enabled lock that enables riders to rent-and-ride -- and conveniently drop bikes off at the nearest available bike share station. The bikes also calculate the distance traveled and calories burned by riders.

Trull says Coast Bike Share system was proud to reach its cumulative 300,000 mile mark during the St. Pete pilot -- with 4% of the program's total mileage clocked in St. Pete during the pilot period alone. 

In its first 90 days, Coast Bike Share reports that St. Pete pedalers biked over 12,000 miles in 4,400 trips -- meaning that those who chose to ride rather than drive burned a combined 480,000 calories and contributed to a 10,560 lb reduction in carbon waste. 

Learn more about cruising around Tampa and St. Petersburg on two wheels by visiting the Coast Bikes website

For Good: Duke Energy grant to boost services for South St. Pete families, students

A $1 million grant from the Duke Energy Foundation will allow the United Way Suncoast to expand an innovative program for families in the Campbell Park community and nearby neighborhoods in South St. Petersburg.

“We hope that our financial investment will continue to help address this community’s vital needs,” says Harry Sideris, president, Duke Energy Florida. 

The grant aligns with Duke Energy Foundation’s ongoing giving priorities, which include kindergarten to career educational and workforce development, environmental issues and social programs that positively impact communities.

Since 2011, United Way Suncoast has operated a neighborhood program at Campbell Park Elementary School that offers a variety of social services and support for parents and students. The program is focused primarily on education, including attendance and tardiness, as well as financial stability programs for the adults in the community. 

Last year, the agency took that program to the next level with the launch of a dedicated community resource center at Cross and Anvil Human Services Center, a nonprofit organization run by Mt. Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church in partnership with the Pinellas County Urban League and other organizations.

The Cross and Anvil Human Services Center currently provides academic support services, such as GED assistance, FCAT and college preparation, mental health counseling, parental engagement programs and veterans services.

Duke Energy funding will allow the United Way Suncoast to add new services at the center that target workforce development, including job coaching, resume’ writing and similar skills training, as well as financial coaching, legal advice and other social support services. The goal is to help address variety of community needs, including empowering individuals and families to work toward long-term stability.

In addition to investing in the community through the grant, Duke Energy employees are contributing to the new social services program through the Duke Energy in Action corporate volunteer program. Employees recently participating in painting and landscaping the Cross and Anvil Human Services Center. 

“We live here, work here and are committed to our communities year-round,” says Sideris.

The United Way Suncoast serves Pinellas, Hillsborough, Sarasota and Desoto counties and works with partner agencies to provide programs promoting literacy, workforce development and financial counseling, temporary emergency services during natural disasters and neighborhood community services.

“Duke Energy’s generosity and commitment to the Campbell Park neighborhood is as incredible as the tremendous potential that exists in the residents of this community,” says Suzanne McCormick, president and CEO of United Way Suncoast, in a statement announcing the new partnership. “We are excited for the opportunities this gift brings and proud to be working with so many wonderful business and nonprofit partners.” 
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