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Studio Movie Grill lights up screens at University Mall

Studio Movie Grill is bringing "dinner and a movie" to University Mall with its brand of in-theater dining coupled with first-run and alternative movies.

The 14-screen movie house will open Oct. 22 in the renovated theater space vacated last year by Frank Theatres. Previously Regal 16 operated at the venue. University Mall is the 18th location nationwide for the Dallas-based chain and its first in Florida.

The University area, in close proximity to the University of South Florida, offers an opportunity for a ready audience of students who can hop on the Bull Runner shuttle for a free ride to the mall. But Studio Movie Grill also sees opportunities to play a role in increasing the mall's overall customer base and the future growth of the University area. 

"We really do look to bring economic development and impact to an area," says Lynne McQuaker, director of alternative programming, public relations and outreach for SMG. "This was an area that met that because the impact will be extra foot traffic."

The concept of restaurant-style dining at a movie theater isn't new.

There is Cine Bistro at Hyde Park Village and Grove 16 in Wesley Chapel and Villagio Cinemas at Carrollwood.

But Studio Movie Grill has its own style.

There is 100 percent reserved seating with comfy armchairs and individual dining tables. McQuaker says that eliminates waiting in line even for such anticipated blockbusters as the next installment of "Hunger Games."

Ticket holders are asked to arrive 20 minutes early to place food orders. But service doesn't end when the movie starts. A red call-button at each seat puts a server a tap away from new orders.

Studio Movie Grill will feature a contemporary look and a full-bar and lounge with daily specials, signature cocktails and micro-brews. Its menu features appetizers, such as edamame, and entrees, such as gourmet pizzas, ceviche lettuce wraps, salads, turkey burgers and chicken nachos.

The 14 screens will show first-run movies. But there also will be alternative programming, often at discounted prices, including a summer children's series, girls' and guys' nights out, independent films, special film series, documentaries and concerts. And a Family Rewind will bring back movies from the past. 

Studio Movie Grill also plans sensory-friendly screenings for special needs children including children diagnosed with autism. Theater lights will stay on, sound will be lowered and children will be free to move around the auditorium. 

Vegan dining will be "Delicious Surprise" in Seminole Heights

Michelle Ehrlich has a "Delicious Surprise" in store for Seminole Heights.

By mid-November she plans to open "Delicious (food for thought) Surprise," her plant-based, vegan restaurant at 5921 N. Nebraska Ave. She and husband Howard are sprucing up a building adjacent to the Publix grocery store. The vacant building has been home over the years to an appliance store, a sandwich shop and most recently a pizzeria. 

When it comes to the menu, Ehrlich doesn't want anyone to think of digging into a plate of lettuce and sprouts. She's out to break down misconceptions about vegan dining. 

Look for pizzas, burgers and anything else on a typical restaurant menu. But there also will be a few unexpected choices, such as tropical quinoa salad, drunk chai French toast and black-eyed pea sausage with kale and white bean gravy. The made-from-scratch menu items will feature local, organic food and produce.

"We'll be making healthy plant-based versions of these," says Ehrlich who lives in Seminole Heights and has watched the neighborhood become a destination for restaurants and bars such as Ella's Americana Folk Art Cafe, The Refinery, The Mermaid Tavern and Independent. "We want to offer delicious food for our community. We hope to be the ones to break the barriers (on vegan). There is a demand for this."

Ehrlich got a hint of that demand at a plant-based Bites in the Heights "pop-up" brunch in August when about 50 people showed up at a local business co-op to sample her dishes. She had planned two more "pop-up" events to test-market her restaurant concept but the pizzeria shop suddenly came on the market.

It was a chance too good to pass up so now her energies are in opening "Delicious Surprise." Ehrlich will be a vendor at the Nov. 2 "Taste of the Heights", serving up food samples within a couple weeks of the restaurant's opening.

Ehrlich and her husband eased into the vegan life-style about three years ago simply by trying to eat healthy and over time eliminating less healthy options. And then a co-worker at her husband's office asked if Michelle would cook lunches for her like those she made for her husband.

Within six weeks, she had a waiting list of clients, all from word of mouth and no marketing. "I think I've found my niche," Ehrlich says.

Word of mouth via social media is spreading the news about "Delicious Surprise." There is a Facebook page. And she is raising part of her capital through crowd-sourcing on gofundme. 

While the majority of donors appear to be local residents, Ehrlich says people from Orlando and Bradenton also have responded. "I feel like they have ownership now," she says. "The loyalty of folk, that's what I'm more emotional about. It's been wonderful."

Bourgeois Pig opens soon in Seminole Heights

Seminole Heights is adding yet another restaurant to its cornucopia of dining choices. But The Bourgeois Pig will be a stand-out on North Nebraska Avenue.

Owners Lysa and Mike Bozel are settling into a converted bungalow well north of Hillsborough Avenue on a stretch of Nebraska dotted with motels, tire shops and pawn shops. Though Seminole Heights has been transformed in recent years into a destination place, new shops and especially its restaurants largely have populated Nebraska and Florida Avenue, south of Hillsborough.

Think Ella's Americana Folk Art Cafe, Reservations Gourmet to Go, The Refinery, Cappy's Pizza and Independent. The Rooster and the Till is a rarity with a north of Hillsborough spot on Florida along with long-time restaurants, Front Porch Grille. and Rincon Catracho. The Mermaid Tavern is just south of Sligh Avenue. And the Refinery's owners, Michelle and Greg Baker, are building a new, north-of-Hillsborough restaurant -- Fodder & Shine -- on Florida.

But the Bozels will be at the farthest outpost of the neighborhood, just shy of the boundary with the Hillsborough River and Sulphur Springs. They are pushing beyond Sligh following the loss by fire last year of Domani Bistro Lounge.

"We believe in this community," says Lysa Bozel. "We purchased this building to make it a landmark in the area. We were really pioneers of this part of the neighborhood."

Many long-time residents believe the Bozels' restaurant is the spark that could bring more retail and restaurants to this end of Nebraska.

"It can be the genesis for a complete redevelopment," says resident Randy Baron, who spoke in support of the Bozels's request for sales of beer, wine and liquor. "It is being done by local owners who have put a lot of resources into this. It is a beautiful building."

The Bozels are converting a bungalow, at 7701 N. Nebraska, into a "Bohemian chic" style restaurant open seven days a week with closing times of midnight on Sunday through Wednesday and 1 a.m. Thursday through Saturday. The couple, who live within walking distance of their restaurant, opted against a 3 a.m. closing though that would be allowed under city code.

"We do not want this to turn into South Howard," says Baron referencing the on-going conflicts in South Tampa between bar owners and nearby residents.

A search is under way for a head chef and kitchen staff but Lysa Bozel says an opening is planned for late October or early November. Tampa City Council is expected to approve beer, wine and liquor sales on Oct. 2.

The menu will be eclectic with items such as fish tacos, steak, wraps, salads and sandwiches. Diners will have indoor and outdoor options for seating in the main dining room, wrap-around porch and patio. Some on-site parking will be available but valet services also will be provided.

And The Bourgeois Pig will be dog-friendly with little couches and food bowls.

"We really feel it's going to be amazing," says Lysa Bozel. "We've had enormous support from the entire neighborhood."

Atlanta developer to build apartments on North Franklin Street

North Franklin Street just found a new resident -- Atlanta-based Carter & Associates.

The development company plans to build a 23-story apartment building and garage on two parcels at 911 and 915 N. Franklin St. A rezoning application is under review by the city's planning department.

If approved, construction could begin in the first half of 2015.

"We've been eyeing the Tampa market for awhile," says Conor McNally, chief development officer for Carter & Associates. McNally formerly worked for the Novare Group, another Atlanta firm that developed the SkyPoint condominium building on Ashley Drive.

"It's looking good from a jobs perspective...Downtown is getting some good momentum back," McNally says. "We like being within walking distance to the river and arts and downtown offices."

While too early to discuss monthly apartment rates, McNally says the luxury apartments will be on par with others in the area including the nearby Element.

This latest project follows a list of announcements in the past year for new apartments and retail in downtown and the Channel District. And, the recent openings of Le Meridian and Aloft hotels are adding to downtown's allure.

The project from Carter & Associates could be the stage-setter for more to come. The firm is under contract to buy the property from Kress Square IV LLC, which is owned by father and daughter, Doran Jason and Jeannette Jason. They also own the iconic S.H. Kress building at 811 N. Franklin St., which is still awaiting a development deal.

"I think this is sending a signal that the North Franklin area is primed for what I think will be an explosion of projects," says Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn. "The time is right. I'm ecstatic."

McNally sees a strong market for apartments over condominiums generally but especially in Tampa, which is among the fastest growing cities in Florida.

"People want to be in urban areas," he says but they also want mobility. And many still have fresh memories of the market downturn in 2008 which has made it more difficult to get financing for condos, he adds.

"People were left high and dry," McNally says. "The 25-,27-,29-year olds, they can't tell you where they are going to be in five or 10 years down the road."

Walmart in East Tampa to create 300 jobs

A Walmart Supercenter will generate about 300 permanent jobs and a new revenue stream for the city's East Tampa redevelopment efforts.

The supercenter is under construction at 1720 E. Hillsborough Ave. on the approximately 12-acre site of the former Abraham Chevrolet dealership. It has been a neighborhood blight for nearly a decade. County records show Walmart paid about $4.9 million for the property.

A grand opening for the national discount chain is expected in spring 2015.

"This is such a win-win for East Tampa," says Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who attended a groundbreaking with Walmart officials and Tampa City Councilman Frank Reddick. "This has been a food desert for a long time. Folks in East Tampa have had to rely on convenience stores and getting charged exorbitant prices for food that's not necessarily healthy."

Now the mayor says there will be an alternative that residents can reach by walking or taking public transportation. And the jobs will "give economic security to people who need it," the mayor says.

 Already Walmart officials say about 150 local, temporary jobs are expected during construction. These will be from local sub-contractors and some additional labor needed as the work proceeds.

The approximately 120,000-square-foot store is somewhat smaller than most supercenters but it will offer groceries, including fresh produce, meats, deli items and bakery goods, plus merchandise typically sold at the discount chain store. There also will be a discount pharmacy with a drive-up window.

Eco-friendly building practices will be followed by the project's contractor, Satterfield & Pontikes Construction. "The buildings that have been torn down will be (reused) to lay the foundation for the parking lot," says Glen Wilkins, Walmart's senior manager for public affairs and government relations.

Water recycling and mulching of removed trees also will be done.

While Walmart sometimes draws spirited criticism from people who say it hurts small businesses, many in East Tampa hope this project, and its tax revenues, spurs more development.

"We've been asking for this for many, many years," Reddick says. "It's not every day we get a major business to come into this community. Now that we have it we're going to have to support it. We're going to have to tell our friends and neighbors that this is a valuable product for our community."

A portion of property tax revenues collected within East Tampa must be re-invested in infrastructure projects that will encourage new investments. The district is bordered by Hillsborough Avenue, Interstates 275 and 4, and the city limit. In its best year, the district had about $6 million to spend.

After the real estate crash and plummeting property values, the coffers are now drained. The new supercenter will open the spigot again. A Walmart store on Gandy Boulevard offers a comparison for potential East Tampa property tax revenues

County property appraisal records show the Gandy site is valued at about $8.6 million and generated about $183,000 in property taxes for 2013.  The Hillsborough site is valued at about $1.7 million and its previous owner paid about $40,000 in property taxes for 2013.

"This will be an amazing transformation of what had been an eyesore," says Buckhorn. "Let's get this on the tax rolls. Let's go dig some dirt."

Florida Crystals Corp. plans luxury apartments in Channel District

It's a sweet deal in the Channel District.

Sugar company, Florida Crystals Corp., is buying a prime spot in this upscale booming neighborhood to build a 7-story, 270-unit luxury apartment building and six-and-a-half story parking garage. The company, which last year launched a real estate division, paid about $3.8 million for three parcels at 222 N. 12th St., 215 and 217 N. 11th St., next to The Slade.

The property, at close to two acres, includes two vacant warehouse structures which will be torn down. It is the former site of the Amazon Hose and Rubber Company.

This is one more project added to recent and planned residential towers including the SkyHouse Channelside which is under construction and The Martin at Meridian, which is on the drawing board. And, there is anticipation over Tampa Lightning owner Jeff Vinik's plans to revive the distressed Channelside Plaza as well as develop other parcels he has bought in the area.

"The transformation that has happened since 2000 has been pretty amazing," says Sean Lance, managing director of NAI Tampa Bay, a commercial real estate company. The firm represents the seller, Finergy Group of Sarasota.

Lance anticipates apartment rents will be about $1.80 to $2 a square foot, based on unit sizes of between 900 to 1,000 square feet.

Florida Crystals, which is based in West Palm Beach, is a family-owned business that traces back to Cuba in the 1850s. It sells sugar products under several brands including Domino and Florida Crystals.

This is the company's first Tampa project but Juan Porro, VP of real estate and acquisitions, is the former president of Cobalt Development Group which developed The Slade, one of the Channel District's earliest residential projects.

Tampa City Council will weigh in on the project at a rezoning hearing scheduled for Nov. 13. Finergy Channelside Holdings LLC is seeking a unified commercial zoning for the trio of parcels.

The recession temporarily stalled residential and commercial development in Channel District . But with the recovery under way, there is a pent up demand especially among millennials and boomers who want a walkable urban lifestyle, Lance says.

Residential towers, high-rise and mid-rise, are filling up and sites for additional projects growing scarcer. "It's pretty picked through now," Lance says. "You could get creative and pick another site or two."

Prospects for additional retail, maybe a rumored Publix grocery store or CVS Pharmacy, also are brightening.  "As you get the body count, you'll see more retailers," he says.

Tampa reveals vision for re-designed Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park

The 25-acre grasslands of Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park are dotted with berms that recall ancient Indian mounds, a concrete "Greek-style" amphitheater, basketball and tennis courts and a Boys & Girls Club. But for most people who visit the park one spectacular view is missing -- the Hillsborough River.
 
It is blocked from view except to those who almost by accident wander over to its shores.
 
Susan Lane, daughter of former Mayor Julian B. Lane, is among those who had no idea what an unfulfilled treasure the park is. "I guess they thought this was a good design," she says after taking her first walk down to the park's shoreline.
 
She likes the city's plan to re-design the more than 40-year-old public park by tossing out much of what in the 1970s was considered contemporary and cutting-edge.
 
At a press conference, Mayor Bob Buckhorn unveiled a multi-year, conceptual plan to transform the park. It is a blueprint crafted from ideas and opinions gathered at a series of public meetings attended by about 350 residents. The next step is for consultants with Colorado-based Civitas to take the plan from concept to detailed drawings. About $8 million is set aside by the city to seed the project. Final costs are unknown but could be $20 million or more.
 
"This is an opportunity that is too great to pass up," Buckhorn says. "We have a moral obligation to do it and do it big and do it right."
 
The park, at 1001 North Blvd., is a jewel in the city's 25-year InVision Tampa master plan to re-invent downtown as an urban village with connectivity to surrounding neighborhoods on both sides of the river. On the west bank more than 150 acres, including Riverfront Park, are targeted for redevelopment. The nearby North Boulevard Homes are slated to be torn down by the Tampa Housing Authority and replaced with a mixed-income, mixed-use complex similar to the Encore project under construction just north of downtown.
 
Dozens of ideas bubbled up during public discussions of desired park amenities including a ferris wheel, a beach area, picnic facilities, boating docks and a history walk. Not all are on the final list. But if the final proposal doesn't please everyone, city officials believe it does meet with approval from most residents.
 
"What we have is the future of the city of Tampa right here," says Rev. James Favorite, pastor at Beulah Baptist Institutional Church, located on Cypress Street, a short walk from the park. "My church members have used this park on many occasions. With all the improvements to be made, I like the concept. I like the vision. I like the inclusion of so many people. We feel we are a part of this. We feel ownership."
 
The new park will include a great lawn for special events and festivals; a play area with a splash pad; a history walk to honor Phillips Field, Roberts City and surrounding neighborhoods; a community center and public boathouse; a garden; an oak-lined promenade; a half-mile trail with exercise stations; an extension of the city's Riverwalk; a fishing area; and a paddle learning area created by a floating boat dock.
 
Additional parking also will be carved out by re-aligning and shifting Laurel Street. A multi-use field will be enlarged to regulation size and seating installed. New basketball courts will be built. Tennis courts will be renovated and sand volleyball courts added.
 
The berms and amphitheater will be razed. 
 
Making the park all about families and recognizing the area's history are the driving motivators that emerged from the public meetings, says Civitas' President Mark Johnson.
 
And picnic areas are the most desired feature. "That's not the most common thing I hear around the country," Johnson says.
 
Lane remembers her father's stories about being captain of the Hillsborough High School football team which played annual Thanksgiving Day games at Phillips Field. He served as mayor from 1959 to 1963 and worked with a Bi-Racial Committee to peacefully integrate Tampa's businesses following the lunch counter sit-ins at F.W. Woolworth's. The park was dedicated to him in 1977.

The city's proposed makeover, she says, "is a great, great idea. He (former Mayor Lane) would have been real pleased."

Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik wins initial approval for 400-room luxury hotel

Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik's planned 400-room hotel/residence complex is a potential game-changer in the city's vision to create a seamless flow from urban neighborhoods, such as the Channel District, to a revitalized downtown and then across the river to the emerging neighborhoods of North Hyde Park and West Tampa.

It is one more large puzzle piece in an urban commercial and residential landscape coming into focus, year by year. The hotel will fill a sandy vacant lot at Florida Avenue and Old Water Street, surrounded by the TECO Line Streetcar at Dick Greco Plaza, the Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina, the Embassy Suites and the Tampa Convention Center.

Also nearby are the Cotanchobee Fort Brooke Park, Tampa Bay History Center, Florida Aquarium, Amalie Arena (formerly the Tampa Bay Times Forum) and the Channelside Bay Plaza which Vinik recently acquired.

"We have a grand vision for this site as a high end development to both serve as a true centerpiece for the (Channel) district and to raise the bar for the district as well as complement and benefit all of the adjacent uses," says Bob Abberger, senior managing director of Trammell Crow's Tampa office. He represents Florida Old Water Limited in the rezoning process, one of several entities controlled by Vinik.

A final vote by council on Oct. 2 will set the stage for Vinik to move ahead with signing up a hotel operator and moving toward a construction start. Some preliminary architectural designs have been completed.

The approximately 25-story luxury hotel will have about 45,000 square feet of retail space and about 170,000 square feet of meeting rooms. The hotel's top floors will have about 50 residences. More than 270 parking spaces will be provided on-site and also through agreement with the adjacent South Regional Garage.

Abberger says the plan is to excavate the site to create underground parking. There also will be what Abberger describes as a "grand retail main street connecting the forum with the convention center."

Connectivity in purpose and vision is a major feature for the development including the potential for a covered walkway and overpass for visitor flow from one venue to another and ease of access from the convention center to the hotel's meeting space.

"This is the break out space that you don't currently have (at the convention center)," says Abberger.  "You've got great exhibit space. This is going to allow a lot more nights for not only bookings for the convention center but a higher quality for the convention center."

While the Downtown Tampa Partnership doesn't take positions on specific projects, the partnership's President Christine Burdick says the development will "add to the vital vibrancy and value of downtown."

Architect Mickey Jacob of BDG Architects lives and works in the district. He sees job creation in a project that also addresses the challenges of developing an urban infill property.

 "Our city stands on the verge of some exciting times," he says. "And our urban redevelopment and new density that we have the opportunity to create will do nothing but make us a world class city where people want to live, work and play."

Osborne Pond, Community Trail To Be Named For Civil Rights' Leader Clarence Fort

On Feb. 29, 1960, Clarence Fort was just shy of his 21st birthday, fresh out of barber's school and president of the NAACP Youth Council. That day he, and Rev. A. Leon Lowry, led a group of students from Blake and Middleton High Schools to F. W. Woolworth's in downtown Tampa.

They did what no blacks then were allowed to do. They sat down at the lunch counter and waited to be served. Fort's inspiration was the lunch counter sit-ins by students in Greensboro, N.C. that same year.

While blacks could enter Woolworth and buy its products, eating at the lunch counter was against the law.

"You could spend $500,000 in the store but you couldn't sit down and have a Coke," says Fort, now age 76. "It just was an unfair system."

At 2:30 p.m. on Sept. 18, the city of Tampa will name the Osborne Pond and Community Trail in honor of Fort and his long history of fighting injustice.  The park will be officially named the Clarence Fort Freedom Trail.

"I was just elated," says Fort when he learned of the city's plan.

The honor comes on the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“It’s important that we as a community know and understand our history, particularly during the 50-year anniversary of the Civil Rights Act being signed into law. I am honored to be able to dedicate this park in name after my friend Clarence Fort but also to the ideas that he fought for,” says Mayor Bob Buckhorn in his announcement for the dedication. “The park area itself is truly something special, and I think the residents will be proud of what it has become.”

The half-mile long trail circles Osborne Pond, at 3803 Osborne Ave., with eight fitness stations for adults and seniors spaced along the route at four locations. The park also features three boardwalk segments that give visitors a chance to walk to the water's edge for a bird's eye view of the egrets, ducks and moor hens that wade through the pond's waters.

More than 110 trees, including palms and cypress trees, offer shade and beauty. The trail connects with adjacent sidewalks on Osborne, North 29th Street, North 30th Street and East Cayuga Street.

About $500,000 in Community Investment Tax dollars paid for construction which began in December 2013. 

This is the third city retention pond in East Tampa to be re-designed. 

Years ago residents complained that the city's retention ponds, often locked behind chain link fences, were eyesores that contributed to neighborhood blight. Today residents stroll along walkways at the Herbert D. Carrington Community Lake on 34th Street, adjacent to Fair Oaks Park, or the Robert L. Cole Sr. Community Lake at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, across from Young Middle Magnet School.

Funds to re-do the retention ponds as "lakes" came from a portion of property taxes collected within the city's East Tampa Community Redevelopment Area bordered by Hillsborough Avenue, Interstates 275 and 4, and the city limits.

At the "lake" on Martin Luther King, segments of the walkway commemorate historical figures such as civil rights activists Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; the first black congresswoman, Shirley Chisholm; Jackie Robinson, who broke Major League Baseball's color barrier; and President Barack Obama.

The city will place a plaque at Osborne pond that will recount the role Fort played in breaking down barriers in Tampa. Following the successful Woolworth demonstrations. Fort pushed the city's bus service to hire black bus drivers, and he became the first black hired by Trailways Bus Co. as a long-distance bus driver in Florida.

Fort worked 20 years as a deputy for the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Department and for 17 of those years organized the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Parade. He also founded the Progress Village Foundation.

He isn't slowing down in retirement and works tirelessly with Saving Our Children, a youth program started nearly 26 years ago at New Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church. "I'm devoting all my time with this group," Fort says.

A rendering of the park can be viewed on the City of Tampa's website.

Writer: Kathy Steele
Sources: Clarence Fort, Saving Our Children; Bob Buckhorn, City of Tampa
 

Urban Charrette, CNU Tampa Bay Host Urbanism On Tap 4.1

Tampa's Urban Charrette and the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) Tampa Bay will host Urbanism on Tap at PJ Dolan's Irish Pub & Grille, North of USF on September 9, 2014 starting at 5:45 p.m. 

Starting this fall, Urbanism on Tap organizers have moved north of Downtown Tampa to host a new Urbanism on Tap Series highlighting “The Role of Universities in Urban Design and Innovation’’ and engage the University of South Florida (USF) community in the conversation.  

Led by Urban Charrette and CNU Tampa Bay, 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 upcoming event, entitled “The USF Factor,” is the first discussion of a new three-part series focused on the relationship between University of South Florida and Tampa’s urban landscape. 

Typically, universities across the country are drivers of jobs, education, innovation and urban development as well as redevelopment. Attendees of the upcoming event will look at how this trend plays out in Tampa. 

The event will focus on how the university is important for Tampa’s local economy and politics and how it can play a critical role in creating vibrant urban environments that inspire innovation. The event will explore related issues, opportunities and challenges for a range of stakeholders, including the residents, the city and the university. 

The event organizers encourage people to share their opinions on this topic by visiting Urbanism on Tap’s online Facebook page. People can also use the Facebook page and website, to continue the conversation online, following the event. 

Venue: PJ Dolan's Irish Pub & Grille, North of USF (2836 E Bearss Ave Tampa, FL 33613); 
Date and Time: September 9, 2014 from 5:45 p.m – 7:15 p.m

Writer: Vinod Kadu
Sources: Erin Chantry, CNU Tampa Bay; Ashly Anderson, Urban Charrette

Hillsborough Leaders Engage Public On Transportation

When local residents dream of transportation Utopia in Hillsborough County, what exactly do they see?

Do they see roads repaved and potholes filled? Widened interstates with commuter lanes? Bridges repaired? More connections between neighborhoods and cities? Expansion of rapid transit bus service? Automated "people movers"?

Is light rail on anyone's mind, for or against? And where do they dream the money will be found? 

Hillsborough County elected officials, community leaders and a soon-to-be-hired transportation consultant will begin a listening campaign with a series of public meetings soon after Labor Day.

A report on the findings will be brought in October to Hillsborough County's Transportation Policy Leadership Group, a committee of the seven county commissioners, mayors of Plant City, Tampa and Temple Terrace, and the chairman of HART (Hillsborough Area Regional Transit). 

"We're not selling anything, but we want to be able to bring back something that will be useful to you," says Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill. He spoke to the group on August 12 before a packed county commission chamber.

Documents and a video show the magnitude of transportation problems facing the county. 

Estimates for roads, bridges, trails and sidewalks in all parts of the county is pegged at $4.3 billion. The cost of repaving roadways alone is estimated at $745 million. Projects for walk/bike trails and sidewalks is about $680 million.

Depending on chosen options, mass-transit could be another $6 billion. 

Funding could come through a one cent sales tax that county commissioners appear ready to put to a referendum in 2016. If approved, estimates are for more than $6 billion to be collected over 30 years.

Ideas include widening five miles of Cypress Avenue; bus rapid transit and a rail option between the University of South Florida and downtown Tampa; bus rapid transit on U.S. 60 to and from Brandon; and, a water ferry from Gibsonton to MacDill with later expansion to downtown Tampa and St. Petersburg.

Policy planners clearly have in mind the political thumping that voters gave to a light rail referendum nearly four years ago. Voters then complained about the lack of specifics.

"That was very muddy. That's what happened to it," says County Commissioner Les Miller."We want to make sure it's crystal clear."

County Commissioner Victor Crist is concerned about time constraints in reaching out to the public by October. "I'm not sure we have enough time to sell this," he says.

But Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn is ready to forge ahead. "We've got to have a game," says Buckhorn. "I don't know any other way to play than full throttle. ...I can tell you sooner is better than later."

Writer: Kathy Steele
Sources: Mike Merrill, Les Miller, Victor Crist, Hillsborough County; Bob Buckhorn, City of Tampa

Roux Brings Creole-Style Dining To South Tampa

Two restaurants aren't enough to keep Suzanne and Roger Perry busy. And then there is the couple's love of New Orleans.

So before Labor Day, the owners of Datz and Dough plan to open Roux, their homage to New Orleans cuisine and the French quarter. Roux is at 4201 S. MacDill Ave., at the St. Croix Plaza, within a mile of Datz and Dough, also on MacDill.

A trio of chefs are collaborating on a menu described as Creole-nouvelle.

Suzanne Perry says collaboration defines New Orleans cooking with its centuries of Cajun and French influences. And most recently a flavorful dash of Asian has been added in deference to a city that now has one of the largest Vietnamese populations in America.

"We just love it," says Perry. "It's the most foodie city in the United States. We want to bring a little bit of that here."

A newer, fresher spin will be put on old New Orleans favorites from gumbo to etouffee to alligator. Po boy bread with a delicate crust and soft inside will be authentic New Orleans.

Richard Potts, formerly executive chef at Rococo Steak in St. Petersburg, is working on the menu with Toni Hayes, who specializes in Cajun cuisine, and Laura Schmalhorst, who is consulting on French dishes.

Designer David Jackson is creating a New Orleans' feel to Roux with mirrors, marble-topped tables, wrought iron and brick accents, gas lanterns and chandeliers. "It's ornate," Perry says. "It's visually the French quarter."

To begin, Roux will pour beer and wine. And, within a few weeks of opening, Perry says a New Orleans craft cocktail bar also will be open for requests.

Roux seats more than 100 guests. Initially lunch and dinner will be served with a brunch to be added later.

Roux and more has been on the Perrys' minds for awhile.

"We've been interested in having a collection of concepts up and down the MacDill corridor," she says. "A space became available that we liked. So, we took it."

MacDill Avenue is home to Datz and Dough as well as new boutiques, a yoga studio and art galleries that are laying a foundation for revitalizing one of the city's main commercial roadways. 

"All it takes is a couple people to come in and invest," Perry says. "We're invested because we live here. This is our neighborhood. A little bit of investment brings other people."

Writer: Kathy Steele
Source: Suzanne Perry, Roux, Datz and Dough

Soup's On! Dine At Ulele Restaurant Starting Aug. 26

The word is out and the reservations line is busy. Ulele Restaurant will turn up the cooking heat for the public's dining pleasure at 5 p.m. on Aug. 26.

The opening date has been one of the most anticipated culinary happenings in Tampa for months. The restaurant and adjacent Water Works Park are part of a larger vision for re-inventing and re-developing Tampa's downtown core and its connection with surrounding neighborhoods.

They anchor the northern end of the nearly completed 1.8 mile Riverwalk, which will link Tampa Heights to Channelside. Ulele is the name of a legendary daughter of a Native American chief who saved the life of a young Spanish explorer in the 1500s.

"This has been a labor of love,'' says Richard Gonzmart of the Columbia Restaurant Group and developer of Ulele. "I can’t wait to open our doors and show what we've been working on. This project has been in my mind for the last 10 years. I really hope this will be my legacy, and that my children and my grandchildren will remember and thank me for the vision.''

Nearly two years ago the city chose Columbia Restaurant Group and Metro Bay Real Estate to partner in the restoration of the historical Water Works Building which pumped much of the city's drinking water from Ulele Spring until the 1930s. The Beck Group did the architectural design and construction.

Ulele is located at 1810 N. Highland Ave. on a large swath of riverfront between the park and the historical Armature Works Building. Ulele will open a couple weeks after the city's celebration of a completed $7.4 million project to redesign Water Works Park.

Initially the restaurant will be open only for dinner from 5 to 10 p.m. on Sunday-Thursday, and from 5 to 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Lunch and brunch hours will be added by Fall.

Executive Chef Eric Lackey will feature dishes inspired by Native American and multicultural influences including from European explorers. The on-site Ulele Spring Brewery will create craft beers exclusively for the restaurant.

Guests will enjoy a dining room, German-style beer garden, rooftop bar and outdoor patio, all within view of the Hillsborough River and the restored Ulele Spring.

Complimentary valet parking will be available.

"The phone lines have been ringing quite a bit. It's been tremendously gratifying," says Michael Kilgore, Chief Marketing Officer for the Columbia Restaurant Group. "Reservations are encouraged but not required."

Writer: Kathy Steele
Sources: Richard Gonzmart and Michael Kilgore, Ulele Restaurant

Water Works Park Opens With Fanfare, Fireworks

The re-invention of Tampa's urban core is mere child's play at Water Works Park.

For many years the riverfront park land sat unused behind a chain link fence, but on Aug. 12 a ribbon-cutting ceremony will officially open the re-designed park. The following Saturday will continue the celebrations with a festival and fireworks show.

For Tampa Heights' residents, the $7.4 million investment in Water Works is especially significant. The park, at 1720 Highland Ave., and the adjacent soon-to-open Ulele Restaurant are the most visible signs the neighborhood's master plan for redevelopment is taking root. More transformation is promised in future with redevelopment of the nearby historical Armature Works building and about 37 riverfront acres owned by SoHo Capital which plans a mixed use project known as The Heights.

"It's a big deal," says Brian Seel, president of the Tampa Heights Civic Association. "Everyone has been waiting for (the park) patiently."

The Aug. 16 festival will have food trucks, children’s activities and entertainment. Friends of Tampa Recreation Inc. will sell alcohol, with proceeds going towards programming in Tampa's parks.  The fireworks display will begin at approximately 9 p.m.

Work crews with Biltmore Construction are finishing up the park and laying in landscaping in time for the August opening. Dozens of volunteers spent a recent weekend cleaning algae from Ulele Spring, nestled between the park and the restaurant. Manatees, ducks and egrets are among the wildlife already spotted along the spring's banks.

The play area resembles a ship. There also is a splash pad, a performance pavilion and open lawns for special park events. A kayak launch, eight boat slips and a water taxi will be installed once permits are approved.

Water Works and Ulele will be the northern anchors of the city's 1.8 mile-long Riverwalk, which when completed later this year will link Tampa Heights with Channelside.

“This park is transformative for historic Tampa Heights and our urban core but also for our entire city. It’s another point of connection with the Hillsborough River, and will be a space for entertainment and activity,” said Mayor Bob Buckhorn. 

The civic association is thinking ahead.  "We'll probably host small events and get-togethers for the neighborhood," Seel says.

The civic association already is planning a music festival at the park for Nov. 22. Tampa Electric Company and Ulele's owner, Richard Gonzmart, will sponsor what could become an annual event. A portion of the festival's proceeds would aid the restoration of the former Faith Temple Baptist Church at Palm Avenue and Lamar Street.

Every weekend for nearly four years volunteers for the Tampa Heights Junior Civic Association have pitched in to rehabilitate the historical church which will be re-opened as a youth and community center.
  
A walking trail that slips past the Tampa Heights Community Garden on Frances Avenue and the future community center stops now at Seventh Avenue. But eventually the trail is planned as a link to the Riverwalk with possible offshoots to Perry Harvey Sr. Park and the Encore project, a mixed use, mixed-income residential and commercial development north of downtown.

"We're connecting with everything," says Lena Young-Green, president of the junior civic association. "We see it all circulating then expanding all through the neighborhoods."

Writer: Kathy Steele
Source: Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn; Brian Seel, Tampa Heights Civic Association; Lena Young-Green, Tampa Heights Junior Civic Association

New Owners: Park East Apartments In North Tampa To Get Touch-Up

Sarasota-based Insula Companies is making another move into the Florida apartment arena with its $12 million purchase of the Park East Apartments on Bearss Avenue in North Tampa. This is the third apartment complex bought in Florida in 2014 and the 13th in the last five years.

"We really like the area, that particular street -- Bearss -- has got a lot of exposure, a lot of drive-by traffic," says Jeff Talbot, Insula's director of acquisitions. "We love the growth going on in there. It's one of the areas you want to be in Tampa."

Insula specializes in acquiring apartment complexes and revitalizing them for investors. Other properties are in Orlando, Jacksonville and Atlanta.

Park East, at 2020 Bearss, is an attractive investment due to its location within an established neighborhood that is experiencing new growth as a result of its proximity to university and medical campuses of University of South Florida and Florida Hospital Tampa.

The complex of 192 one- and two-bedroom apartments will have a typical mix of tenants, Talbot says, including young professionals just out of college, young families, empty-nesters and possibly a few students.

Insula plans to spend between $300,000 to $500,000 on modest renovations.

Plans are to test market amenities, such as vinyl wood floors, upgraded counter tops and cabinets, in about 10 to 20 apartments, Talbot says. A new metal roof will be installed on the clubhouse and fitness center as well.

Current residents will be asked for feedback on the renovations and more apartments could be upgraded in future. Park East is about 95 percent occupied. With its acquisition, Insula has more than 3,300 apartments and $150 million in assets in Florida-based complexes. 

The Park East property went through tough financial times in recent years and landed in foreclosure in 2010. A California company bought it along with similar properties around the country. After spending money to upgrade the complex, the apartments went on the market.

To qualify for purchase by Insula, apartments must be 15 to 40 years old with a minimum of 150 units that need cosmetic or substantial rehabilitation work. Park East was built in 1986.

Writer: Kathy Steele
Source: Jeff Talbot, Insula Companies
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