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RCMA abre nuevo centro de cuidados infantiles en Dover

Redlands Christian Migrant Association (RCMA) abrió las puertas a un nuevo centro de cuidado infantil para los hijos de trabajadores agrícolas migrantes en Dover el pasado lunes 31 de octubre. el centro de 15.000 pies cuadrados triplica la capacidad de atención a los niños de 88, en el centro actual, a 264.
 
RCMA espera arrancar sus operaciones con 70 niños que estaban en lista de espera. Pero esperan que ese número aumente a 172 durante la temporada alta de cultivo de fresas en Dover el mes de febrero.
 
Los niños atendidos en el centro actual también serán trasladados al nuevo centro. RCMA es el mayor proveedor de cuidados infantiles sin fines de lucro en Florida con 68 centros en todo el estado. Sus operaciones en Dover son financiadas por el programa federal Migrant & Seasonal Head Start, que se centra en servir a las familias migrantes.
 
Para más información contacte a Elda Cruz, Coordinadora del centro de RCMA, llame al 813.707.7002 o vía correo electrónico 

Seminole Heights bike shop reopens in new location on North Florida Avenue

Velo Champ Cycle Sport, which enjoyed six profitable years at 6112 N. Central Ave. in Tampa, has moved into a new location on busy North Florida Avenue in Seminole Heights.

Jordan Miller, who owns the business with his mom and dad, Doug and Sue Miller, says he was looking for more space and the chance to further enhance the concept of a specialty bike shop. 

“We do a lot of things other bike shops don’t do, like custom wheel building,” says Jordan at the new location, 4415 N. Florida Ave. “We use a more consultive approach with customers when it comes to customizing a bike or building a bike from scratch.”
 
Though Velo Champ is open for business, the family is still in the midst of interior renovations, with Jordan handling much of the labor and Doug, an architect, helping with design. The bike service area is complete, but Jordan, 34, is still working on the other half of the 2,700-square-foot shop where bicycles for sale will be displayed.
 
Doug collaborated with his son on designing customized light fixtures which still lay on the floor waiting to be mounted. Doug, a disabled Air Force veteran, says the family wants the modern work and sales space to advance the business’ ultimate goal of being a “destination” cycling center.

“When someone leaves here, they can say, ‘This is my bike and it’s special’,” Doug says.
 
The brick building, which the family is leasing, dates back to the late 1930s or early 1940s and is an example of an architectural style called federal modern, Doug says.
 
“There are some interesting details on the front that are masked by paint,” Doug says. “We’re going to fix it at some point to bring back some of the original details.”

Jordan Miller, who worked in motion pictures and imaging before opening a bicycle business, says he always thought Seminole Heights needed a shop like his. The residents who frequent the neighborhood’s hip restaurants, coffee shops and craft breweries share similar concerns with devotees to the culture of cycling. 

They both care about the environment and tend to support improvements in mass transit, along with walkable, bike-able streets.

“We share similar interests and a passion for the neighborhood,” Jordan says. “I definitely see there is an environmental concern here and a transportation concern that seems more prevalent with bicyclists.”
 
As part of that cultural crossover and support, Jordan says he intends to soon restart the Pub Bike Ride that was a monthly event and started at his bike shop on Central Avenue. The event regularly drew more than 100 cyclists.

“It’s a great way to show what the neighborhood is about,” he says.

New townhome development Westbay planned for South Tampa

What is now a vacant lot will become the location of affordable townhomes by next summer.
 
Urban Edge Development plans to build a six-unit townhouse development on West Bay Avenue, just east of Dale Mabry Highway. It will be called WestBay Townhomes and will consist of 1,400-square-foot town houses with three bedrooms, two and a half bathrooms, garages and designer kitchens with stainless steel appliances, granite countertops and 42-inch upper cabinets. Prices will be in the mid-$200,000s.
 
Russ Versaggi, president of Urban Edge, says the company hopes to break ground on the project in November and complete it by early summer 2017.
 
"South Tampa continues to be one of the strongest markets in the Bay area and therefore provides strong demand for well-designed housing," Versaggi says. "South Tampa has much going for it: proximity to employment centers, restaurants, specialty retailers, recreational venues, Bayshore, etc."
 
Versaggi is an experienced infill developer who says he is focusing on bringing quality affordable housing to top infill locations in the Tampa Bay Area where most people want to live, work and play. The company looks for job centers, entertainment, shopping and highway access.
 
"Infill development is the process of developing vacant or under-utilized parcels within existing urban areas that are already developed for the most part," he says. "It is like 'filling in' the gaps of a neighborhood."
 
The townhouses are designed with first-time homebuyers in mind. The company is offering a builder credit of up to $5,000 to help buyers with closing costs.
 
"The current focus is really on delivering a quality home at a value price," says John Bielefeldt, Versaggi's marketing consultant. "The financing crunch, affordability gap and high rental rates makes affordable infill projects like WestBay very attractive to today's buyers. The younger buyers have been affected by school debt and the slowing economy, making homeownership very difficult for many."

More trails for walking, bicycling coming to Pinellas County thanks to state SUN Trail program

The Florida Department of Transportation has awarded $44,345,430 to 45 projects across the state, and Pinellas County received $7,062,488 of that total.
 
The majority of the money earmarked for Pinellas, $5.7 million, will go toward the second phase of the Pinellas Trail Loop from John Chestnut Park to Enterprise Road in Palm Harbor. The rest, almost $1.4 million, will go toward the Ream Wilson Clearwater Trail from the Courtney Campbell Causeway to Bayshore Boulevard.
 
The money comes from the state's Shared Use Nonmotorized or SUN Trail program, which was established in 2015 and is meant to help Floridians enjoy safe, recreational opportunities. The SUN Trail network consists of the developing statewide system of paved, multi-use trails for bicyclists and pedestrians, physically separated from vehicular traffic.
 
The projects span 21 counties throughout Florida and include the construction of 11 separate trail segments, which will add or improve approximately 20 miles of trail to Florida’s trail system. Another 34 projects will be in various pre-construction phases of work, such as feasibility study, environmental review and design.
 
Pinellas was the only county in the Tampa Bay area to receive funding.

"Combining multiple trail projects into an integrated statewide system requires coordination and a concerted effort," says Robin Birdsong, SUN Trail program manager. "The two projects in Pinellas County highlight how funding provided through the SUN Trail Program can help agencies leverage local funds, close trail gaps, and improve safety while enhancing multimodal transportation options."
 
The two Pinellas projects are part of five total projects that will help advance the Coast to Coast Connecter a 250-mile trail system linking the Gulf and Atlantic coasts through Central Florida.
 
Seventeen other projects are part of the St. Johns River Sea Loop, a 270-mile trail system that will link several communities, including St. Augustine, Daytona Beach, Titusville, DeLand and Palatka.
 
The other 23 projects are for individual trail segments throughout the rest of the state.

How you can vote for best local architectural design in AIA Tampa Bay competition

Are you into local architecture? 

Maybe you really like the craftsman style of the Gulf Gate Library, the unique canopies of the Tampa Riverwalk or the futuristic aspects of the USF Health Pharmacy.
 
Whatever your architectural preferences, AIA Tampa Bay is inviting you to be the judge of its annual Design Awards competition. Through Nov. 2, you can vote for the 2016 People's Choice winner.
 
"This year, we have 51 outstanding projects vying for the honor of being recognized by the community," says Phil Trezza, president of AIA Tampa Bay. "This competition during Tampa Bay Design Week is important to our community because it gives a voice to the people who live, work and play in the buildings our members have designed."
 
AIA Tampa Bay is the regional chapter of AIA or the American Institute of Architects, the professional association for architects and those in the architecture field. The organization has been holding a People’s Choice Design Award program consistently since 2012. Last year's winner was Rashid Medical Complex by Gresham, Smith & Partners, which received more than 170 votes.
 
This year's entries have been submitted by local architecture firms, design-build teams, architectural interns and students. Voters can see a gallery of the projects online and vote for their favorite.
 
"When voting, people should consider more than building aesthetics," says Dawn Mages, Executive Director of AIA Tampa Bay, "they should consider how the building functions for its users and if it is sustainable."
 
The winner of the People's Choice Award will be recognized during Tampa Bay Design Week at the Celebrate Design awards reception on Nov. 3 at The Italian Club, 1731 E. Seventh Ave. in Ybor City. The event is open to the public and tickets are $55 for AIA members and $75 for non-members.
 
For more information or to purchase tickets, visit AIA Tampa Bay online or call 813-229-3411.

Owner of Ybor City Wine Bar wants to bring wine culture to Seminole Heights

Jayme Kosar initially decided to retire after working 27 years in her family’s restaurant, Guido’s Italian Restaurant in Miami Beach.

But Kosar, 51, discovered she wasn’t quite ready to spend sultry South Florida afternoons playing shuffle board and canasta. A master sommelier, or wine expert, she decided to bring her passion to Tampa, opening the Ybor City Wine Bar in December 2012 with partner Michael Boehme.

Her mid-life career correction worked out so well that Kosar is expanding her Tampa-based business to the Seminole Heights neighborhood with a second wine bar in the Graham Building at 6703 N. Florida Ave. The grand opening, with a complimentary tasting table, is this week on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

“We’re looking to extend the culture of wine to Seminole Heights,” Kosar says. “Seminole Heights is up and coming; they’re certainly a food destination. I think a wine bar would be an excellent fit.”

Kosar dislikes terms like expert and connoisseur because they ring of snootiness. She wants the Seminole Heights Wine Bar to be a place where the novice can learn about wine and the wine culture.

“The only thing we’re pretentious about is we’re not pretentious,” she says.

The bar will have 200 different wines available by the glass or bottle, ranging in price from $5 to $50 a glass.

“We have every price point and every pallet covered,” she says.

For those relatively reasonable prices, the customer will get an education about the wine he or she is drinking. All the bar’s serving staff are sommeliers, Kosar says. They can tell stories about the heritage of the grape and histories of the families who have owned vineyards for many generations.

“They tell you about the winemaker and his family, how the grapes are grown,” she says. “We’re the whole thing. We don’t just pour you a glass of wine; we are the glass of wine.”

The wine bar will also stock 100 different types of bottled craft beers from around the world. Small plate food offerings can be ordered that complement the wine, including hummus, a cheese board, spinach and artichoke dip served with organic pita chips.

The Seminole Heights Wine Bar will be open from 4 p.m. until midnight this weekend. The complimentary tasting table will be from 6-9 p.m.

New independent drugstore, café coming to Seminole Heights in November

Seminole Heights will continue to build on its hip and unique style when a pharmacy soda shop opens in November.
 
Mortar & Pestle is under construction at 6308 and 6310 N. Florida Ave. One part of the property is new construction and the other part is renovation of an existing historic bungalow. When it's done, the 3,920-square-foot space will house an independent pharmacy and café.
 
Visitors will be able to have prescriptions filled and enjoy locally made sodas, espresso drinks, Florida craft beers, wines, desserts and small plates.
 
Mortar & Pestle is a family business, jointly owned by married couple Ujwal and Jessica Patel, and Ujwal's cousin, Badal Patel.
 
“We are very excited to bring this old-time pharmacy tradition to life in Seminole Heights,” Jessica Patel says. “We hope this will change the way people gather in the community.”
 
The owners were inspired by America's historic mom-and-pop drugstores. Patel says they hope to revive the quaint traditions of ice cream and soda jerks with a modern twist, and create a social hub.
 
According to the company, corner pharmacies were prevalent between the 1870s and 1950s, and their popularity peaked in the 1920s during Prohibition when many people traded alcohol for soda.
 
Seminole Heights hasn't had an independent drugstore since 2007 when Pharmacist Rose Ferlita closed Rose Drugs to focus on her role as a Hillsborough County Commissioner. She served on the Commission from 2006 to 2010.
 
Mortar & Pestle has received positive responses about its concept from the community on social media. Facebook user Kathleen Turner wrote, "What a welcome addition to the burgeoning business community in Seminole Heights! Cannot wait to spend some time there." And Facebook user Sally Finney commented, "Thank you so much for this! We r so excited you are coming!"
 
The business is hiring for a sous-chef, dessert chef, coffee roaster, baristas, servers, and beer and wine bartenders. Those interested can email info@mortarandpestlefl.com for more details.

How you can help decrease traffic fatalities in Hillsborough County through Vision Zero?

The Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) is working to make the county's roads safer for drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists, and it wants you to help.
 
On Oct. 25, the MPO will host a workshop, 9-11 a.m., at Ragan Park Community Center, 1200 E. Lake Ave. in Tampa, to get input for a community action plan called Vision Zero.
 
The initiative started in Sweden as a road traffic safety project in 1997. Since then, it's been picked up by many cities around the world, including the United States, according to Gena Torres, executive planner for Hillsborough's MPO.
 
"The whole premise of it is even one traffic fatality is too many," Torres says.
 
Hillsborough County has one of the highest traffic fatality rates in Florida. As of Oct. 12, there have been 142 traffic crashes with fatalities this year, including 27 pedestrian fatalities and 10 bicyclist fatalities, according to data from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.
 
The Hillsborough MPO had a Vision Zero kickoff in June with community and business leaders, as well as bicycle and pedestrian activists, and got an idea of the direction it should take with the initiative, Torres explains. The result is a total of four workshops, with the first in October. Future workshops will take place in January, April and July.
 
At each event, attendees will brainstorm steps the county can take to reduce traffic fatalities. Topics include: how to get or keep limited resources focused on key locations with safety issues; how to reach target audiences; how to insist on good behavior in the rights of way; and how to avoid re-creating the problems that the county currently experiences as new areas are built or roads are reconstructed.
 
The ideas will become part of the action plan.
 
"The goal of the action plan is to be a 1- or 2-year implementable thing," Torres says.
 
To register for the first workshop, call Torres at 813-273-3774, extension 357, or email her here.
 
"People who really are passionate: Come on," Torres says. "We want to have everybody."

Elevated barbecue restaurant UNION72 to open at The Shops at Wiregrass in November

A new restaurant opening at The Shops at Wiregrass in Wesley Chapel is taking barbecue up a notch.

UNION72 plans to open in mid-November in a 2,000-square-foot space previously occupied by 100 Montaditos. It's located at 2000 Piazza Avenue, Suite 150, between Cantina Laredo and The Brass Tap.

Brass Tap founder Jeff Martin and fellow restaurateur Bharat Chhabria joined forces with Chef Geoff Zukosky to open UNION72. They declined to disclose their total investment in the restaurant.

"Wesley Chapel is a strong community with an affinity for innovative concepts," says Chhabria. "As an example, Martin's first Brass Tap is located in Wesley Chapel and is now a national chain."

The idea behind UNION72 was to create "an elevated barbecue experience," combining traditional barbecue techniques with modern culinary innovations, Chhabria says.

"Barbecue is inspiring because it is clean," he says. "With barbecue, it is difficult to hide the quality of the product and makes for a lean protein. It is also one of the faster-growing segments in the food industry today."
 
UNION72's menu emphasizes unique ingredients and fusions. There's "The Ribs," which are cooked Memphis-style, rubbed with a house-made dry rub and marinated overnight, then slow-cooked. For the more adventurous foodie, there are sandwiches like "The Conquistador," comprised of Spanish spiced slow-smoked pork, pulled and topped with chimichurri, caramelized onions and a fried egg.

The restaurant also offers house-made sauces, like white barbecue, sweet barbecue, smoked tomato barbecue, Brazilian barbecue and more.
 
Chhabria says the food represents worldwide inspiration, from American food trucks to Asian street vendors.
 
"The barbecue space has been lagging behind other concepts when it comes to adopting global flavors and spices," he explains. "Yet, meats are naturally suited to absorb flavors, rubs and seasonings. Such an elevated experience is already making its way across the country. UNION72 aims to be the first to launch the barbecue version in Tampa."
 
Restaurant hours will be Monday-Sunday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. You can check out the menu online and follow the restaurant on Facebook.

Developer transforming 1920s St. Pete shopping arcade into modern office space

A building that once served as a shopping arcade in the 1920s has been redesigned as office space for today's modern workers.
 
Owner Steve Gianfilippo, who also owns the Station House, bought the historic Green-Richman Arcade at 689 Central Ave. in St. Petersburg for $1.2 million. Now, he is transforming it into the Station House Arcade, expanding his company's inventory of cutting-edge office suites and co-working space.
 
"Our goal is to create convenience, affordability, and add creativity and fun to the workplace environment," Gianfilippo says. "We are a lifestyle company, so we strive to make the live/work/play experience the best it can be. Gone are the 9-to-5 jobs, so if people need to work around the clock or at night, they can do it in a super cool, fun, creative space."
 
Kevin Yeager, senior associate of Retail and Office Services with Colliers International Tampa Bay, represented the seller in the transaction. He says office building owners and landlords are beginning to accommodate modern office needs by offering innovative co-working spaces for start-ups and small businesses.
 
"There is a big need for a lot of the older buildings to be redesigned and redeveloped into newer office space," he says.
 
Millennials and new technology companies are looking for this type of space because "it enables people to use the space a lot more functionally than they have in the past," he explains. Older spaces don't see much of the tenant activity that newer spaces are generating right now.
 
Yeager says he recently visited California, where the trend is driving the commercial sales market. It's slowly making its way to Tampa.
 
"Landlords are really starting to take into account the lifestyle of the tenants in the building," he says, adding many landlords are offering coffee shops or other amenities.
 
The 7,296-square-foot Station House Arcade will have collaborative office space upstairs and in the back downstairs of the building. The front downstairs will serve as space for retailer Urban Creamery and one other retail tenant.
 
"The front retail space is move-in ready for the right retail tenant," Gianfilippo says. "It is 900 square feet right on Central Avenue. It is a great spot, and we are talking to many different groups about it."
 
He says he expects tenants to begin moving in by the end of the year.
 
"There are already tenants in place in some of the spots, and we have a waiting list for the office suites we are building," he says.
 
The Green-Richman Arcade was built in 1925 and was one of 11 shopping arcades in St. Petersburg's downtown core through the 1940s. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1998, and it was most recently office space for Hands On!, a company that designs science centers and museums around the world.
 
Gianfilippo says he's looking forward to creating an innovation hub for St. Pete’s large and small businesses.
 
"Our ecosystem provides contacts and networking, a social environment, community, and all the arts to create a sense of identity for existing and newcomers to St. Pete," he says. "Our next step is to build the funding community to keep these businesses here."

New nature-preserving neighborhood in Parrish sells out

A suburban community built in Parrish in Manatee County with an eye toward nature conservation sold out in September.
 
Forest Creek is a gated community between Tampa and Bradenton, near Sun City Center and Ruskin. It's owned and operated by private builder Neal Communities. It opened in 2005, offering 464 single-family homes ranging from 1,162 to 2,504 square feet.
 
Neal Communities has built more than 10,000 homes in southwest Florida with the goal of integrating houses peacefully with the environment.
 
"We have a policy at Neal to take our sites and to preserve more land, preserve important and significant natural features, preserve habitat, and we think that helps the people, we think it's part of our brand at Neal, and we think overall, it creates a better living environment for the people that live here, and also habitat for the endangered species," says Pat Neal, CEO of Neal Communities, in a video about Forest Creek.
 
The company set aside 45 percent of the community's acreage for conservation space. It also worked to preserve a large oak tree, moving a road to accommodate it.
 
"We then spent quite a lot of time and money making sure that Mr. Oak was healthy," Neal says in the video. "We've trimmed it, we've given some special fertilizer, some biological treatments, and it's much healthier today."
 
Forest Creek features a 1-acre bird rookery, observation deck, gazebo, nature trails, community pool, spa and fitness center, and an 18-acre lake for water-based recreation.
 
“Forest Creek is a classic example of how Neal integrates and takes into consideration the natural elements of a piece of land when we create a community,” says Leisa Weintraub, VP of Marketing and Creative Director at Neal Communities, in a prepared statement.
 
Realtor Jan Swift has lived at Forest Creek for more than two years and calls the community a "masterpiece."
 
"Once the gates open and I drive through, sometimes I say to myself, 'I can’t believe I live here,'" Swift says in the statement.
 
Neal Communities has neighborhoods throughout southwest Florida, including in Tampa, Bradenton, Sarasota and beyond.

University area of Tampa will get new park in 2018, kids' basketball league starts in October

Cooking lessons, a playground and a hiking trail are just some of the features of Harvest Hope Park, a new space planned for 20th Street, north of Fletcher Avenue, in the University area of Tampa.
 
The University Area Community Development Corporation announced last week that it received a $423,000 community development block grant from Hillsborough County, and raised $90,000 during its fifth annual gala to build the 7-acre park. The corporation's mission is to redevelop and sustain the at-risk areas surrounding the University of South Florida's Tampa campus.
 
Ground is expected to be broken on the park in November when lighting, irrigation, fencing and parking will be installed. A learning kitchen and community garden are already in place.
 
"Building a park in the heart of the community is about more than just a construction project," says Sarah Combs, the corporation's CEO, "it is about sending a message to the residents of the University Community, letting them know that we care about them and positive change is coming. This community has been promised many things over the past couple decades, and there will never be a more opportunistic time than now to unite and leverage our partnerships, to truly create a healthy and vibrant community."

The park will be completed in phases, with total completion expected in 2018. Once complete, it will feature a tilapia fish farm, hiking trail, playground and sports field.

"The Harvest Hope Park will be the beacon of hope this community needs, uniting residents, encouraging family unity, and most importantly, offering positive activities for youth and adults so they will begin to feel like this is their home, this is their community," Combs says.

In the meantime, the corporation is inviting children ages 9-14 to participate in an eight-week basketball league.

Registration will take place Oct. 3-14. Practices will be Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, starting Oct. 17, 6-9 p.m., depending on the age group. Games will be played on Saturdays, starting Oct. 22, between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. The cost is $45.

To register, call 813-558-5212 or stop by the corporation's center at 14013 N. 22nd St. in Tampa. 

Cement Tile Shop features hand-crafted product in Seminole Heights design studio

Chris Clamp had been working in the family business, Great Britain Tile, for 25 years before striking out on his own as a major retailer of handmade cement tiles. 

During his time selling and installing tile, Clamp, 43, had fallen in love with the craftsmanship that goes into handmade cement tiles. With the rise of social media, he saw an opportunity to sell the hand-crafted product around the United States and internationally. The result is Cement Tile Shop, which recently opened its new studio and headquarters in Seminole Heights.

“We always sold tile, but as I started getting more educated over the years I started getting exposed to more products,” Clamp says. “I really took a liking to hand-made products in general. That led to selling cement tiles.”

Clamp and his wife Jennifer started the business about five years ago, and it quickly became a leading U.S. supplier of handmade cement tiles. Business was so good they outgrew their shop in Lutz. 

Clamp says he had the Tampa neighborhood of Seminole Heights in mind for a new company headquarters and design studio. He found the building that suited his needs at 6506 N. Florida Ave. Cement Tile Shop “quietly” opened over the summer, with an official opening in September.

“I’d been wanting to get up in Seminole Heights for quite some time now,” he says. “I think the area works with our vibe, it being kind of an authentic neighborhood.”

The renovated building, six months in the making, was redesigned by Tampa-based Junto Design Studio. The south wall of the building pops out at north-bound drivers thanks to a cement tile-themed mural painted by Pep Rally Inc.

Cement Tile Shop’s new headquarters offers customers a well-lit studio where they can peruse hundreds of designs and colors that the company can order up quickly. The shop is interactive and enables customers to see in-stock product as well as to mix and match colors to create custom tiles.

“We were able to get this building to put a design center in so our local customers could come see, feel and touch,” he says.

A wall facing customers toward the back of the shop briefly explains the process of making tiles by filling custom-made metal molds with concrete. Each tile has three layers of concrete.
 
Unlike other types of tiles, the surface colors and designs are not painted on; they are made from concrete colored with mineral pigment, marble dust and natural colorants. The liquefied mixture is poured into different sections of the mold to make the designs. 

Two more layers of concrete are added to give the tile its strength and thickness. A hydraulic press is used to compact the mixture. Unlike other tile products, cement tiles are not fired in an oven, making them more environmentally friendly, Clamp says.

Cement tile manufacture, which started in the 1880s, continues in mostly small factories around the world. Clamp gets his product from two factories, one in Asia and the other in England. He declined to reveal the nation where the Asian factory is located.

The company has a warehouse in Tampa stocked with numerous patterned tiles to supply the eastern side of the country. A warehouse in Phoenix supplies the West Coast. The company also has a European Division based in the United Kingdom.

Clamp, a native of Birmingham, England, graduated from Jesuit High School in Tampa. Jennifer is a graduate of the University of South Florida and handles customer service for the company.
 
Cement Tile Shop’s product has been featured on a number of popular television shows such as HGTV’s “Fixer Upper,” “House Hunters Renovation” and “Property Brothers.” Some of the company’s international projects include Qantas Lounge at Hong Kong International Airport, celebrity chef Todd English’s Olives in Abu Dhabi, and J. Crew in London.

Tampa considers $7.5M offer for downtown block

A New Orleans-based company has received initial approval to develop a downtown Tampa block that Mayor Bob Buckhorn calls a "prime lot."
 
The City of Tampa announced Thursday, Sept. 29, that HRI Properties submitted the winning bid of $7.5 million.
 
"The city received very attractive proposals from three very qualified teams, and after careful analysis, HRI’s proposal offered exactly what the City of Tampa was looking for," says Buckhorn in a prepared statement. "HRI offered not only a vision that would add to Tampa’s burgeoning downtown, but also offered an attractive purchase price, density and innovative design."
 
HRI's mission is to revitalize cities by creating diverse, vibrant and sustainable communities, according to its website. Since it was founded in 1982, HRI has completed more than 81 large-scale projects with more than 6,061 apartment units and condominiums, 5,594 hotel rooms, and 1.38 million square feet of office/retail space, representing more than $2.5 billion of development costs.
 
HRI's plans for Tampa's downtown block, located along the east side of North Florida Avenue between East Kennedy Boulevard and East Jackson Street, include a 21-story building that will include a 223-room Hyatt Centric Hotel, 225 residential units, 7,000 square feet of commercial/retail space, and a 408-car garage. Construction is planned to start in the third quarter or 2017 and is slated to be complete in May 2019.
 
The Tampa City Council will need to approve a purchase contract and development agreement before the deal is complete.
 
Buckhorn says a livable, walkable and pedestrian-oriented downtown has been the city's goal and the focus of its work for the last six years.
 
"We look forward to this new project joining the rapidly growing Tampa skyline," Buckhorn says in the statement.

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.
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