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Where to buy in downtown Tampa? Grand Central at Kennedy gets low financing rate approval

As developers of Grand Central at Kennedy work to sell the property's remaining units, Federal National Mortgage Association (FNMA), commonly known as Fannie Mae, has approved the property's lowest financing rate to date.
 
First-time homebuyers can put as little as 3 percent down and all others can put as little as 5 percent down as long as the unit serves as their primary residence, according to Ken Stoltenburg, co-director of Mercury Advisors, the developer of the project. The approval also allows Grand Central to sell residences at a 30-year fixed rate mortgage instead of an adjustable rate mortgage.
 
"It's not uncommon," Stoltenberg says of the approval, "but for a property like ours, it's a difficult thing to obtain."
 
The East and West buildings that make up Grand Central at 1120 and 1208 E. Kennedy Blvd. in the Channel District were built in 2007. The East building sold out the same year, but during the economic downturn, the West building didn't do as well. Mercury Advisors owned more than 10 percent of the units, which disqualified the company from obtaining low financing rates through Fannie Mae.
 
As the economy has recovered, Mercury Advisors has been able to sell some of the remaining units with limited financing resources, explains Jason Nordin, vice president/area sales manager of American Momentum Bank. Also in the meantime, Fannie Mae created a special approval process for projects in Florida that allows approval for new condo projects that have fewer than 90 percent of the total units conveyed.
 
"Although this project was built in 2007, it's still considered a new construction condo by Fannie Mae terms," Nordin says.
 
"It's not necessarily unusual," he adds of the approval, "but what does occur more often than not is the developer isn't aware of what financing options are available." Or the developer isn't willing to pay for the expensive approval process because they don't understand the benefits.
 
Approval for Grand Central at Kennedy came earlier this month. The $145 million mixed-use urban development is now more than 90 percent sold out with 35 homes remaining. Homes start in the $200,000s with many ready for move-in.
 
Now, Stoltenburg is turning his attention to nearby 1105 E. Twiggs St. where the Channel Club, a 38,000-square-foot Publix Super Market and 22-story residential high-rise, is under construction. The new Publix should be complete in early 2019.
 
"We're excited to bring a Publix to downtown Tampa," Stoltenburg says.

Test ferry service between Tampa, St. Pete to launch in November

Four local governments have come together to test the Cross-Bay Ferry, a six-month pilot project that will transport riders between Tampa and St. Petersburg beginning in November.
 
A 55-foot catamaran will ferry up to 149 passengers at a time between the Tampa Convention Center and the yacht basin along Bay Shore Drive NE in St. Pete. The voyage takes roughly 50 minutes. The boat can cruise at 33 mph, but the actual operating speed will vary.
 
"The Cross-Bay Ferry is a fantastic example of regional collaboration to take on an important challenge -- transportation -- in a way that's exciting to experience and pays homage to our maritime history," says St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman in a prepared statement. "Importantly, this is a test project, and we need the community to support this if we want it to continue and expand."
 
The City of St. Petersburg, the City of Tampa, Hillsborough County and Pinellas County collaborated to support the project. Organizers have created a service plan that is subject to change. It begins with online ticket sales on Oct. 15.
 
Friday-Sunday service begins on Nov. 4 for day-tripping locals, sports fans and tourists.
 
From Nov. 3-18, community and business organizations can experience the ferry Mondays-Fridays through a series of "Test the Waters" excursions.
 
The general public can ride the ferry for free from Nov. 21-23 right before Thanksgiving.
 
Beginning the week of Nov. 28, regular service will start with Monday-Thursday commuter service and mid-day service for recreational and tourist trips.
 
The ferry will have two round trips Mondays-Fridays and Sundays. There will be three round trips on Saturdays.
 
The regular fare for a one-way trip will be $10 for adults, $8 for kids 3-12, and free for kids younger than 3.

The test project will end on April 30, 2017.
 
"The opening of ferry service between Tampa and St. Petersburg is a major addition to our offerings as a tourism destination," says Santiago Corrada, President and CEO of Visit Tampa Bay, in a prepared statement. "We know that visitors pay no attention to municipal boundaries, so providing them with an exciting alternative to driving between Tampa and St. Petersburg will make their visit all the more memorable."

Developers expect to start hotel construction at Cypress Creek Town Center after New Year

Visitors to Wesley Chapel, about 20 miles north of downtown Tampa, will have a new place to stay in 2018.
 
Construction on the Hyatt Place Hotel & Conference Center is expected to begin in early 2017. It will have 130 rooms, free Wi-Fi, and 24-hour food offerings. It will also bring about 60 jobs to fast-growing Wesley Chapel, according to Dilip Kanji, president of Impact Properties, which is developing the hotel with Sierra Properties.
 
"It's important for us because Pasco County is a great up-and-coming community," Kanji says, noting the 2012 opening of Florida Hospital Wesley Chapel and the expected opening of Florida Hospital Center Ice this fall. "Our formula always has been to go into areas that are just starting to grow."
 
The hotel is part of the first phase of development at Cypress Creek Town Center, an approximately 500-acre mixed-use project started by Sierra Properties. Tampa Premium Outlets opened at the site last year, followed by Cheddar's, Chick-fil-A and Culver's restaurants.
 
Costco, BJ’s Brewhouse and Longhorn Steakhouse are under construction around the outlet mall, and Ford’s Garage, Pollo Tropical, Wendy’s and Taco Bell are currently in permitting, according to a statement from Sierra Properties.
 
The first phase of the Cypress Creek Town Center development also calls for the completion of 230 multi-family luxury apartment units, according to the statement.
 
Hyatt Place & Conference Center will be located across from the outlets. The conference center will offer about 6,000 square feet of space for high-tech meetings and other functions. The hotel will also have a 24-hour gym featuring cardio equipment with LCD touchscreens and free ear buds.
 
Kanji says the hotel is expected to open in the first quarter of 2018.
 
"We're looking forward to bringing the first Hyatt to Pasco County," he says.

Free shuttle service coming to downtown Tampa this fall

A complimentary shuttle service will soon be operating in downtown Tampa.
 
The Tampa Downtown Partnership has chosen The Tampa Downtowner Group to run the service. Downtowner is based in Florida and offers service in South Florida; Newport Beach, CA.; and Aspen, CO. TDP's agreement with Downtowner comes after two years of research, planning, fundraising and selecting. The service is expected to launch in early fall.
 
Riders will use the Downtowner App to request shuttle service in a designated area, which includes the downtown Tampa business district, the University of Tampa, the Channel District, the River Arts District, and the non-gated north end of Harbour Island. The service will be available Monday-Friday, 6 a.m.-11 p.m.; and Saturday-Sunday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.
 
An estimated 10 electric vehicles will carry up to five passengers each, although TDP and Downtowner are still determining how many vehicles will operate at any given time and expect to have more in service as demand increases.
 
"A successful urban environment requires an abundance of transportation choices," says Greg Minder, TDP board chair. "Our forthcoming Downtowner service adds to those choices and helps support downtown's growing needs. The appeal of workers, residents, and visitors parking once and using the service to get around throughout the day will increase the value of the live, work, play experience downtown offers.”
 
Residents can use the service instead of driving their cars, TDP says. Workers can park remotely and take a shuttle to their offices or favorite lunch destinations. Visitors can park once and travel around downtown all day.

TDP estimates that Downtowner will serve 8,100 residents, 58,000 workers, and a countless number of visitors.
 
The service will also bring 20 new jobs to Tampa. Drivers are being hired now and those interested can apply on the Downtowner website.

2nd phase of Sulphur Springs revitalization project begins

When the City of Tampa broke ground on the initial phase of the Nehemiah Project in 2014, Mayor Bob Buckhorn shoveled the ceremonial dirt holding a little girl named Legacy in his arms.

Earlier this month, Legacy stood on her own two feet, helping Buckhorn hold his shovel as he and other community leaders broke ground for the second phase of the project.

Legacy represents hope for the future of Sulphur Springs, one of the poorest communities in Tampa. The goal of the Nehemiah Project is to revitalize the area. It's named after Nehemiah, a biblical figure who rebuilt the protective wall around Jerusalem within two months.

The project began in January 2014 when Buckhorn announced that the city would invest $1.4 million to build new, single-family homes in Sulphur Springs.

"To create sustainable change, we need more good, steady homeowners who will take pride in their property and in the neighborhood. Those are the type of buyers we want for these new homes,'' Buckhorn told 83 Degrees in May 2014. "My hope is that our public investment will be the catalyst to transforming Sulphur Springs into the type of neighborhood that it can and should be."

Eleven initial parcels were chosen to be rebuilt first because of their proximity to each other, the Sulphur Springs Elementary school and Springhill Community Center. All 11 homes were built and sold by December 2014. 

Groundbreaking of the project's second phase took place Sept. 10. Plans are to continue the revitalization, creating 24 homeownership opportunities on 18 lots. Proceeds from the sales of the homes will be used to build at least six additional homes. 

"Families are now returning to Sulphur Springs and to help us rebuild and restore a great neighborhood," Buckhorn said in a prepared statement. "I can’t wait to see what the next chapter in the history of the Springs brings us."

Newest shop in Seminole Heights readies for grand opening

Seminole Heights’ first cigar shop and lounge is the product of a friendship that began on Facebook.

Benny Blanchard and Glenn Genereux started communicating through the Cigar Cartel Facebook site and discovered they lived just seven blocks from each other on Central Avenue. The men come from different backgrounds: Blanchard, 37, is a massage therapist with Soothing Palm Bodyworks; Genereux, 51, serves as chief financial officer for Custom Cable in Sabal Park. 

But their shared passion for fine smokes kindled a friendship. In the spring, the two men each came to a decision that they needed to elevate their friendship to a business partnership. It started with a text message from Blanchard telling Genereux he wanted to ask a question. Genereux immediately messaged back: “The answer is yes.”

“I hadn’t even asked the question yet,” Blanchard said. “He said, ‘You want to open a cigar shop.’”

Genereux remembers his stroke of clairvoyance and laughs. He had meant to broach the subject of a partnership to Blanchard after some informal research.

“I had had a number of conversations at business lunches and other gatherings, and the talk was about Seminole Heights,” says Genereux, 51. “And people said, ‘You know what’s missing is a cigar shop; a place where you can sit down and smoke a cigar.’ And these were people that I wasn’t even talking about cigars with.”

The pair searched for four months before they found a location they liked at 6207 N. Florida Ave. The 98-year-old house needed some renovations, but the landlord was willing to work with them. It didn’t hurt that the Jug & Bottle Dept., a fine wine and craft brew shop, had recently opened nearby at Florida and East Hanna avenues.

Right now the lounge consists of a main salon where the television, counter and display cases are located. On the other side of the wall is another room with seating. Genereux said he and Blanchard plan to put a third seating area in with tables and chairs where customers can play dominos or board games as well as socialize.

The shop had its “soft opening” Saturday, Sept. 3, promoting the event through The Heights Cigar Shop Facebook page. The opening was well-attended, with many customers taking advantage of the 55-inch television to watch college football while enjoying cigars.

“All day Saturday we had an outpouring of people from the area,” Genereux says. “They had been watching our signs saying, ‘Coming soon,’ and following us on Facebook, waiting for us to unlock the doors. We’re really happy we found this location in Seminole Heights.”

A grand opening will be Oct. 8 which a representative from Drew Estate cigars will host, Blanchard says. 

The shop carries many well-known, main-line brands such as Arturo Fuente, Drew Estate and Rocky Patel. But Blanchard says he plans to diversify with smaller, boutique brand cigars as the business gets rolling. 

“We’re going to listen to what our customers like as we grow over the next few months,” Blanchard says. “We’re going to find out what they like, plus helping them find out about some of the boutique cigars.”

New St. Petersburg College library will serve students, community

A new library is under construction on the St. Petersburg College Clearwater Campus.

SPC and the City of Clearwater have partnered to develop the joint-use facility where students can focus on the academic pursuits and residents can enjoy cultural enrichment opportunities. It replaces the current library built in 1964.

"The campus’s existing library is over 50 years old and reflects the needs of college students half a century ago," says Dr. Stan Vittetoe, SPC Clearwater Campus Provost. "Current students need more collaborative study spaces and technology resources."

Construction on the new 43,515-square-foot library began in June. The building will stand two stories tall and include an open-space concept. The $15 million facility will house more than 90,000 electronic and print books. It is expected to be complete in February 2018.

“St. Petersburg College is committed to the communities where our students and faculty live,” SPC President Bill Law says in a prepared statement. “This partnership allows the college and the City of Clearwater to serve the needs of our citizens and students in one place.”

SPC operates two other joint-use libraries in Pinellas County with the cities of St. Petersburg and Seminole.

The new library is the latest representation of SPC's growth. In the last decade, enrollment has increased by 23 percent, Shaw says. This semester, there are 9,936 students enrolled at the Clearwater campus, and about 66 percent of them will attend classes face-to-face.

The college now has more than 100 academic programs in Business, Information Technology, Education, Health, Paralegal Studies and many other fields. An Ethics and Social Sciences building with 26 classrooms opened in 2013, and a Math and Science building opened in 2008.

Crescent Westshore now open in Tampa

Before Crescent Westshore opened on Sept. 1, the 374-unit luxury apartment community had already leased nearly 50 units.
 
“Crescent Westshore just opened, and we’ve had a fantastic response to the community," says Jay Curran, senior VP with Crescent Communities, the developer of Crescent Westshore. "It’s clear that people are looking for this type of high-quality apartment living in an increasingly amenitized area of Tampa."
 
The $45-million complex boasts a two-story clubhouse with an outdoor elevated terrace, three community courtyards, a community lounge with Wi-Fi and a glass-enclosed conference room, a meeting area with a flat screen TV, a shared indoor/outdoor summer kitchen, a dog run for small and large dogs, two salt water resort-style pools, and a fitness center.
 
"Budding Vortex," a 10,000-pound sculpture by St. Petersburg artist Mark Aeling, greets residents and guests at the front of the property near the leasing office. It's made from aluminum plates, stands 18 feet tall, and has LED lighting at its core. It took 15 months to build.
 
The complex is located at 2202 N. Lois Ave. in the heart of Westshore, Florida's largest office district. Curran says the proximity to retail and business makes the complex attractive. Developers expect young professionals and business travelers to make the community home.
 
“The Westshore area is becoming more than a just a business center for Tampa Bay -- it is evolving into an increasingly desirable live-work-play community,” Curran explains.
 
Crescent Westshore has studio, 1-, 2- and 3-bedroom residences ranging from a 528-square-foot studio to a 1,431-square-foot 3-bedroom apartment. Each apartment comes with modern amenities, such as stainless steel appliances, quartz countertops with high-end tile backsplash, quiet-close cabinets and drawers, and full-size washers and dryers. Rent ranges from $1,200 to $2,400.

Here's what the apartment complex at former Tampa Tribune location will look like

The former Tampa Tribune building on the west bank of the Hillsborough River in downtown Tampa is poised for its makeover, and developer Related Group says the goal is to start construction by October.
 
Arturo Peña, VP of Development, says after the Tribune building at 202 S. Parker St. is demolished, an 8-story apartment complex with 400 units will take its place along the river waterfront. He says he expects that the complex will have an official name before the end of this year.
 
The average unit size will be 975 square feet, and the average rent will be $2,600 per month. Amenities will include a pool along the river with an infinity edge, a sunken bar area and a club lounge.
 
Peña says he expects most renters to be millennials, graduate students at the University of Tampa, and medical students completing their residencies at Tampa General Hospital. Residents will be able to walk to the nearby Publix on Bayshore Boulevard to do their grocery shopping, grab a bite at Oxford Exchange and other nearby restaurants, or head over the Kennedy Bridge for events at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park.
 
"This helps downtown grow across the river," he says.
 
The architect for the project is Arquitectonica. The back half of the building will have three wings stretching east, making it look like the letter "E." There will be a courtyard on either side of the center wing. A 4-story front section of the building will connect with the "E," and there will be another courtyard in the center of that segment.
 
Peña says there's a grand oak tree that Related committed to saving that will be at the center of one of the courtyards. Related is also doing its best to preserve the resting spots of hundreds of birds who roost along the river.
 
"We're working with the City of Tampa and Audubon Society to maintain that."
 
And the company plans to create a continuous walking trail along the river.
 
Peña says leasing is expected to begin in April 2018, and the whole project will be complete by July 2018.
 
He says Related chose to take on the project because its waterfront location is "iconic."
 
"We love this site overlooking downtown Tampa, and we think this is a trophy," he says.
 
Related has built and managed more than 80,000 condominium and apartment residences since its inception in 1979. The company is also building the 21-story Harbour Island apartments at 402 Knights Run Ave. in Tampa, and is redeveloping Tampa's signature West River project to expand downtown west of the Hillsborough River.

Former YMCA transforming into hotel, production company needs interviewees for project documentary

A developer is turning the former YMCA building in downtown St. Petersburg into a boutique hotel, and a local production company has been documenting the process.
 
Nick Ekonomou bought the historic building at 116 Fifth St. S. in November 2015 and wants to renovate it into The Edward, a 4-story, 61,000-square-foot luxury hotel and event venue. He plans to have between 77 and 90 rooms with an average size of 350-500 square feet. Once complete, he sees weddings, parties, corporate events and concerts taking place at the space.
 
"We will have a roof top bar/entertaining area; a huge ball room, 5,000-6,000 square feet with 40-foot ceiling heights; full restaurant with fine dining and full bar; event spaces; original YMCA pool and his/hers sauna/steam and changing rooms; specialty cocktail lounge; coffee and café; gift shop," Ekonomou says. 
 
He estimates the project will be complete in late 2017 and that the total investment will be between $10 million and $15 million. So far, he has secured the exterior renovation, which includes a new roof, as well as some exterior wall repairs, painting, water proofing and new windows.
 
Throughout the process, producers Ben Daniele and Doug Tschirhart of Scatter Brothers have been documenting the restoration. Eknonomou hired them at the beginning of the project.
 
"His idea is to document the construction and put together a documentary about the history of the building and its rebirth," Tschirhart says. "We also are creating YouTube videos talking about the people and companies involved in its construction."
 
So far, the pair has completed eight installments, interviewing a few people about their memories of the building. Jack Bodziak, an architect who owned the building at one time and is also the current architect, was one of the first people to share an anecdote.
 
"The building was one of several built in 1926, right before Florida had a 'great depression' before the rest of the U.S. and stopped construction and building around St. Pete," Tschirhart says. "Jack Bodziak told this story."
 
Now, Daniele and Tschirhart are looking for others to interview. They'd like locals to share their memories for the next phase of their documentary.
 
"Any stories from people who had any involvement at the old YMCA in its original form," Tschirhart explains.
 
The documentary is intended for distribution by a major network sometime after completion, although there is no distributor secured at this time.
 
"We know this building means a lot to people who grew up in the area,” says Daniele in a statement. “We want to give those people a chance to share their stories, so that they can be a part of the YMCA's preservation, as well as it's restoration."
 
If you'd like to share your memories of the YMCA with the Scatter Brothers for inclusion in the documentary, email info@scatterbrothers.com.

Officials break ground for new stage at Land O' Lakes Community Park

Plans for a new stage in Land O' Lakes took a step forward this month.
 
The Pasco Board of County Commissioners, the District School Board of Pasco County and community supporters broke ground for the performing arts venue on Tuesday, Aug. 16, at Land O' Lakes Community Park, north of Tampa.
 
Not only will the 1,020-square-foot stage serve the community, it will also be available to nearby Sanders Memorial Elementary School.
 
"This stage is going to actually be a cornerstone of future cultural events here in Land O' Lakes, something that we currently don't have -- and we have a lack of countywide, actually," said Pasco County Commissioner Mike Moore during the groundbreaking ceremony. "So you can think about things that are going to be happening on that stage could be school band concerts, plays, pageants, and various other presentations. It's just going to be a wonderful amenity."
 
The $250,000 stage is the second part of $2.3 million worth of improvements to the park where the Land O' Lakes Community Center is located. The first phase was celebrated about a year ago with a ribbon-cutting for a new practice field, football field, softball field, walking trail, concession building with restrooms and meeting rooms, maintenance building, event field, two shelters, parking lots, playground and remodeled patio area.
 
Money for the stage comes from donations from architects, contractors and a grant from the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs.
 
The park was built in the 1960s, and an organization called the Heritage Park Foundation was created in 1997 to help protect it.
 
"Our desire was to keep our little historical park alive, to keep it as a community gathering spot it was created to be, and the co-facilitated shared use of space with Sanders Elementary," Sandy Graves, honorary mayor of Land O' Lakes and Heritage Park Foundation president, said during the Aug. 16 event. "That was the plan from the inception."

The group has long advocated for a stage at the park.
 
"Heritage Park Foundation has a motto," Graves said, "building a better community by building a better community center."
 
Construction on the stage is expected to begin in the fall and wrap up in January 2017.

Tampa Bay Sports to open store at Tampa International Airport

Local Tampa Bay sports fans and travelers to the area will soon have a place to shop the latest sports merchandise.
 
Tampa Bay Sports & Entertainment, the parent company of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Tampa Bay Storm, has partnered with Tampa-based airport retailer Stellar Partners to open a retail location inside Tampa International Airport next spring.
 
The 1,000-square-foot store will be located in the landside terminal near Starbucks. It will offer the latest licensed merchandise from every local sports team, including the Tampa Bay Lightning, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tampa Bay Rays, USF Bulls, Florida Gators and Florida State Seminoles, as well as large-scale sporting events that take place in the region, like the Frozen Four and Women's Final Four.
 
"We are excited to offer this new retail location not only for the fans of our home teams but also for our out of town visitors as they come in to cheer on their favorite teams in championship events hosted in Tampa Bay," says Tampa Bay Sports & Entertainment CEO Steve Griggs.
 
He says the store will bring visitors closer to the game than they've ever been before with video screens showing highlights, games and other content; appearances by trophies, athletes and other sports personalities throughout the year; and virtual reality experiences, like tours of the area's sports venues and events.
 
"The interactive aspect of the store with its video walls and virtual reality experiences will make it a unique retail experience," says Susan Stackhouse, President and CEO of Stellar Partners.
 
"For travelers, Tampa Bay Sports provides a 'sense of place,' providing visitors a glimpse into one of the things that makes Tampa Bay unique," she says.
 
The airport location will join Tampa Bay Sports' brick and mortar store at Amalie Arena and its online store.

Gobioff Foundation to launch creative placemaking program in September

A creative placemaking initiative is aiming to improve Tampa through the arts.
 
The Gobioff Foundation, a private family group that works to support human rights organizations in the Tampa arts community, is launching Treasure Tampa (T²) 8:30-10 a.m. on Monday, Sept 19, at The Vault, 611 N. Franklin St., Tampa. The initiative will include up to $30,000 in seed money for a creative placemaking project in the City of Tampa or the neighborhood area served by the University Area Community Development Corporation.
 
According to the National Endowment of the Arts, creative placemaking is the act of partners from public, private, non-profit and community sectors coming together to shape the physical and social character of a neighborhood around arts and cultural activities. The goal is to revive the space, improve local businesses and bring the community together.
 
The free Treasure Tampa (T²) launch event will include breakfast and an inspirational presentation about creative placemaking by Jamie Bennett, executive director of ArtPlace America, a 10-year project to position arts and culture as a core sector of comprehensive community planning and development.
 
"At the launch in September, we will be announcing more details, including the application, review panel and timeline," explains Neil Gobioff, president of the Gobioff Foundation.
 
Gobioff has been involved with the Tampa arts community as a patron since he moved to Tampa in 1995, and he became active in the community through Jobsite Theater during its first season in the late 1990s. He now serves on the Jobsite board.
 
Gobioff's wife, Gianna Rendina-Gobioff, is a Tampa native who has been a cheerleader in the arts community since her brothers were in art school at the University of South Florida. She was a founding board member with Tempus Projects.

"We both believe in the artistic talent that resides here in Tampa," Neil Gobioff says. "It is exciting to us to build great communities through artistic collaborations across multiple sectors."
 
The Treasure Tampa (T²) launch event is open to anyone interested in learning about and participating in creative placemaking. Space is limited, and registration is required. Doors will open at 8 a.m.
 
For more information, contact the Gobioff Foundation.

Unique dining concept, The Hall on Franklin, coming to Tampa Heights

Tampa Heights will soon have a distinctive collection of eateries that Developer Jamal Wilson hopes will help Tampa become a food destination.
 
The Hall on Franklin is an upscale, chef-driven food hall that will feature several dining options, a craft coffee bar, a lounge with specialty signature cocktails, outdoor seating and live entertainment on nights and weekends. It's expected to open this fall in the historic Farris Building, 1701 N. Franklin St., which housed an automobile company in the 1920s. A grand opening is tentatively scheduled for Nov. 1.
 
Wilson came up with the concept over several years. He was exposed to cultural restaurants and food curation while playing professional basketball in Europe, and he visited modern-day dining halls more recently while traveling with his family in the United States, like The Source and Avanti F&B in Denver and The Pennsy and Gotham West Market in New York City.
 
"At some point you begin to wonder if you can deliver something of that level where you live, and eventually you say, 'Why not,'" Wilson says. " … Our local talent, for one, is exceptional, and one of the things I love about Tampa in general and the small pockets of communities like Tampa Heights and Seminole Heights specifically, is how supportive and welcoming we are for new ideas and entrepreneurial ventures."
 
Property owner Maureen Ayral of A2 LLC restored and renovated the building over two years. She refreshed the hardwood floors, brick walls, ceilings and ornate iron details. She also converted the street-level windows that once showcased new model cars to glass garage doors that will bring light and fresh air to the indoor-outdoor dining experience.
 
The 8,000-squre-foot Hall has already partnered with local restaurants, which will showcase unique dishes from their flagship locations or create new pop-up concepts. They include: The North Star Eatery, an Asian fusion concept by Kevin and Singh Hurt of Anise Global Gastrobar; La Bodega, Latin fusion by Felicia LaCalle, the former executive chef of The Samba Room, which is now closed; Bar K?-fe, a coffee bar by Ty Beddingfield, former master barista at Buddy Brew; Bake ’N’ Babes, desserts and confectionary by Julie Curry; Bar Concept, bespoke cocktails by Ro Patel, bar program creator of Franklin Manor and Anise; and Heights Melt Shoppe, gourmet sandwiches, homemade soups and sides, hand-spun milkshakes, and unique popsicles by David Burton of Holy Hog BBQ, Tampa Pizza Co. and So Fresh.
 
Wilson, who estimates the total investment in the project is between $500,000 and $750,000, says The Hall is a great opportunity for local chefs looking to deliver their vision on their own terms.
 
"It's not an easy proposition to start your own restaurant from the ground up, so the collective is a great entry point for an up-and-coming chef to break out," he says.
 
He says the collective is an even better opportunity for Tampa foodies.
 
"There is nothing like being able to order an appetizer from one restaurant, share dishes from three more, while having a craft cocktail designed to complement the menus from multiple restaurants," he says. "Or maybe you just want to stop in for ice cream, dessert or coffee at the walk up open door cafes. I just can't imagine a better experience with family and friends."
 
The dining area will feature modern, high-end design elements, and if visitors see something they like, they'll be able to purchase the same item from The Hall's retail space and have it shipped directly to their home.
 
Entertainment on nights and weekends will be provided by DJs and live bands.
 
"It also helps that on the weekends we will be open until 2 a.m., which lends itself well to the live, work, play theme of the urban corridor," Wilson says. "Your food options should not be limited after (midnight) in a thriving city like Tampa."

St. Petersburg awards $468K to 6 local businesses

Six businesses in St. Petersburg are getting a leg up.
 
On Thursday, Aug. 11, the St. Petersburg City Council gave its approval for more than $468,000 to be divided among the businesses: Delores M. Smith Academy, Imagination Station, Florida Brake and Tire, Power Sports, Advantage Solutions and Chief's Creole Café.
 
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman says he appreciates the council's support for the measure.
 
"I believe our business community is part of the fabric of St. Petersburg," he says.
 
The money comes from a 2016 Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Grant from the South St. Petersburg Community Redevelopment Area (CRA) and is a component of a 30-year revitalization plan for the area, which is generally located between Fourth Street and 49th Street, from Second Avenue North to 30th Avenue South.
 
This is the first year the CRA has had a competitive grant program. It's designed to help boost private investment by property owns and businesses in commercial and multifamily residential development in South St. Petersburg.
 
"It represents a turning point for not just those in our business community, but for everyone in Florida's best city," Kriseman says. "We are investing not just in buildings and places, but in people as well, because we want to be an innovative, creative and competitive community that helps businesses not just survive but thrive."
 
Kriseman also encourages this year's grant applicants to consider reapplying for additional funding in next year's TIF cycle, which will begin in the first quarter of 2017. An estimated $1.2 million will be available, according to a statement from the City of St. Petersburg.
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