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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.”

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. 

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.”

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.

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).”

Oldsmar builds professional BMX supercross facility

The new BMX Supercross Facility under construction in Oldsmar is not for the faint of heart. With its titled “Elite Ramp” nearly three stories high, this hair-raising track is sure to draw crowds when it opens.

“We expect the project to be completed by late July,” says Ahmad Erchid, President of Tampa Bay Construction and Engineering, Inc, whose team is working on the $2 million project.

The completion of the project is timed for hosting "Gator Nationals'' in October, the inaugural North American BMX Supercross series by USA BMX. Oldsmar is one of only four American cities selected to host the event October 16-17th.

Funding for the quarter-mile track and facility was obtained through a $1.2 million grant to the city of Oldsmar from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. The rest of the funding for the project is coming from the city itself.

For those driving or walking by the track, located at 3120 Tampa Road, it is hard not to notice the gargantuan size of the ramps as construction moves along.

"This is completely unlike any other project we’ve done, but it’s been really exciting so far,” says Erchid.  “This is definitely one of the most engaging projects we have ever tackled, and it’s awesome to think that the national supercross tournament will be held in it in just a few months. We’re just as excited as the rest of Oldsmar to finish the track and look forward to serving our community with our best product.”

For more information on the supercross series you can visit the USA BMX website

3 new shops opening in downtown Tampa

As downtown Tampa grows as a work-live-play environment, new residential and commercial properties will soon include three new shops designed to take care of the personal needs of residents, workers and visitors. 

Pearl Salon

Pearl Salon is aiming to be an oasis for clients with 4,200 square feet in Park Tower at 400 North Tampa Street. The salon will offer nail care, waxing, eyelash extensions and massages as well as a blow dry bar for professionals on the run.

The owner of Pearl Salon, Kim Nguyen, an entrepreneur from Miami, strategically picked the downtown location.

“There are so many workers in the downtown area, as well as the University of Tampa, however, there is currently nowhere for people to get their beauty treatments done,” she says.

The $700,000 investment will create at least 25 jobs according to Nguyen.  It is scheduled to open in early June.

Uncommon Finds

Uncommon Finds is a niche perfume storefront that enables customers to discover unique scents.

“Niche perfumes are a growing product,” says owner Rob Atkins, a self-acclaimed ‘scent junkie.’

"They are much different from your typical perfume, which only has one layer of scent; ours has three, so if you put some on in the morning you should still smell it in the evening. Also we use essential oils in our product, as opposed to synthetic ingredients found in other perfumes, therefore those who have allergies can wear our products“

The store's 300 square feet of space will be located within Studio K, 406 N. Morgan St.

Uncommon Finds is scheduled to open in mid-June.

Doxa Design Lab and Gallery

Doxa Design Lab and Gallery is approximately 500 square feet of interior design services.

“We are offering full interior design services, fine art as well as custom upholstery, vintage furnishings home accents, lighting, art and design books, textiles and industrial designs created by renowned architects and product designers,” says Jaime Rogers, Senior Partner of Doxa. “We offer products for as little as $30, or as much as $20,000.”

Doxa’s opening will create jobs including a general manager, part-time bookkeeper and part-time design assistant.

The Gallery will be located at the base of SkyPoint, 777 North Ashley Drive. It also is expected to open in June.

South Tampa's Hyde Park Village attracts new shops, restaurants

Four retail vacancies at Hyde Park Village in South Tampa will soon be filled with new restaurants and shops designed to attract workers on lunch breaks and visitors leisurely strolling through on weekends.

“Hyde Park Village offers a unique sense of place for a variety of exclusive shopping, dining and entertainment for our patrons and retailers alike in a charming, family-friendly atmosphere,” says Gabby Soriano, who works on the development team for Hyde Park Village.

One of the restaurants opening soon will be Goody Goody on the corner of west Swann Avenue and South Dakota Avenue. The historic restaurant known for hamburgers topped with an infamous secret sauce, first opened in downtown Tampa in 1930 and then closed in 2006. Owner Richard Gonzmart plans to revive much of the popular old menu for the new Goody Goody to open later this year.

The other restaurant is Bartaco, which opened its first location in the Tampa Bay area on Snow Drive, across from the Village Green. With locations in New York, Connecticut and Georgia, the restaurant marries upscale Mexican street food with an open-air environment in an effort to recreate a rustic beach resort-like setting.

As for shopping, cooks will rejoice at the news that Sur La Table will be going into the former Restoration Hardware Store, next to Anthropologie. Sur La Table began in 1972 in Seattle, and today has more than 100 stores featuring culinary tools and products. This is the retailer’s first store in the Tampa Bay area and will open this fall.

Lastly, for those needing invitations or announcements, Paper Source will open its first location in Tampa this summer. The papery and gift retailer offers greeting cards, gift wrap, party supplies and personalized stationery and stamps.

Soriano attributes the success of the revitalization to the Hyde Park community and surrounding neighborhood.

Hyde Park Village is located in the heart of the community and supports local events, arts and other community happenings, which is a great drawl to retailers.”

Redevelopment plan for West Tampa looks to brighter future

In the heart of the historic West Tampa neighborhood, residents, business owners and community leaders congregated together on two separate nights in April to discuss the redevelopment plan the city has put forth.

Sitting in fold-out chairs facing a PowerPoint presentation in the MLK Community Center on Oregon Avenue, the city laid out its proposal for revitalizing the traditionally lower income, working class neighborhood. The new community redevelopment area (CRA) in west Tampa encompasses the west side of the Hillsborough River to Armenia Avenue on the west, up to Columbus Drive to the north and Kennedy Boulevard to the south.

While this part of Tampa has a rich history, city planners believe that updates need to be made. According to one study, 56 percent of the roads in the area are in need of improvement, 33 percent of roadways have a pavement condition index of "failed,'' more than 50 percent of housing units were constructed before 1959, and more than 60 percent of the area lacks sidewalks.

"I think the people that live here, and do business in west Tampa have waited a very long time to catch up with some of the other areas that have been redeveloped,'' says Jeanette Fenton, Urban Development Manager for the city of Tampa.

The CRA includes provisions for numerous tasks including new affordable housing, façade and building improvements, pedestrian access, road improvements, as well as beautification projects.

Those in attendance at meetings held on April 14th and 30th were able to give feedback and input to the city as to what they would like to see happen in their community as this process moves forward. It was explained by Fenton that the next step in the process includes her team putting together a strategic action plan for approval, including input from the community.

As for the cost of this project, that is undetermined at this time.

"We have not run the revenue projections yet,'' Fenton says. "That will be the next step once the plan is approved, then there will be an analysis of all the taxes of the property and what the revenue will be.''

The deadline for the Urban Development team to present its strategic action plan is July 1st.  
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