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Besito Mexican restaurant opens in Westshore, Tampa

The new Besito Restaurant in the Westshore neighborhood of Tampa adds spice to the district. As you walk around restaurant row at Westshore Plaza, you will see a new kid is on the block, one that packs a refined and savory punch.
Besito, which is located in the 7,500-square-feet space vacated by The Palm steakhouse, opened its doors to the public in April. According to owner John Tunney, his restaurant is the perfect urban joint for locals.

“The people of Tampa enjoy dining, they go out a lot, they understand food, they understand recipes, they understand cocktails, all in all they’re foodies,’’ he says. “So we are giving them what they want. Our cuisine is very authentic from central and southern Mexico. When you come here, you will have a culinary experience, you will feel like you are in Mexico.’’

The menu offers authentic recipes that include steak, chicken and seafood, guacamole made tableside, and a variety of cocktails, not to mention 75 different types of tequila. Tunney says what sets his restaurant apart from others is the flavors found in the food.
“We balance the flavors so the food is not too spicy,’’ says Joe Mugenski, Executive Chef at Besito

“The flavors are incredible,’’ adds Alan Reynolds, also Executive Chef. “Everything is made from scratch every day.’’

Beyond the food, Tunney points out the décor of the restaurant also adds to the experience. 

“The décor is inspired by my own travels in Mexico,’’ he says. “The masks we have over the lighting pieces around the walls are actually made after a mask I found on a beach during one of my trips to Mexico. Every detail, everything you see, there is a reason for it.’’
Besito is located at Westshore Plaza across from Mitchell’s Fish Market in the space once occupied by The Palm. 

New salon and spa opens in Palm Harbor, Pinellas County

A new medical salon and spa is now open in Palm Harbor to serve people looking to spruce up their hair, nails or even bodies.
The Rehab Salon and Spa of Palm Harbor offers an array of services in a newly remodeled atmosphere with a European ambiance. 

“The space used to be a massage parlor, but it’s been completely transformed,’’ says Nate Warren, owner of the Rehab Salon. “We reset the floor plan to make it work for a salon, and rip up the flooring and put in brand new Spanish Marble tile that was imported from Spain. We wanted a really good look and feel in the space, so we went all out with the fixtures and the finishes.’’

The Salon and Spa offers clients an array of salts and scrubs for pedicures, everything from aromatherapy scents like lavender to help calm and relax to fun and energizing fragrances of the beach. They also provide clients an assortment of hair services from cuts, highlights, blowouts, up-dos, hair detox, straightening and perms. Unlike many salons and spas, the services do not stop there. 

“We just brought in a physician, who is our medical director, Katherine Rodriguez,’’ Warren says, Under her direction, we are going to be offering dermal fillers, medical grade peel, medically supervised weight loss and bio-identical hormone replacement therapies.’’

Rehab Salon and Spa is located at 37542 U.S. Highway 19 N. in Palm Harbor.

Seminole Heights tour of homes showcases renovations, historic preservation

Take a step back into yesteryear at this year’s Old Seminole Heights Home Tour on Sunday, April 12th. The event will showcase 10 homes, some of which are more than 90 years old.
This is the 17th year that the Old Seminole Heights Neighborhood Association and Old Seminole Heights Preservation Consortium have presented the home tour, but according to one of the organizers of the event, this year will feature the unexpected.
“First you think that the charm of Seminole Heights is just about bungalows, but there is more,’’ says Bill Truett, home tour committee member. “Attendees will experience the charm of all these homes that integrate design elements that take you back in time to the 1920s, ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s, yet many have the up-to-date conveniences of today. You will even see how pennies, yes copper pennies, were used in a remodel of a home.’’

The experience is a self-guided tour; however, neighborhood association members will be on-hand to provide attendees with maps and tips on how to make the most of their day. The tour showcases many of the historic neighborhoods in Seminole Heights, and can be completed by car, tour bus or bike. The TPD Bike Patrol will also be available to help cyclists maneuver the streets.
In addition to experiencing a relaxing Sunday wandering in and out of beautiful houses, those who attend will be bettering the community.
“This year a portion of the proceeds will be donated to Community Stepping Stones (CSS) in Sulpher Springs,’’ Truett says. CSS is a non-profit learning center that offers an arts-integrated curriculum to inspire and educate at-risk teens and youth. The art work from CSS will also be displayed at the garden center and select homes.’’

The Old Seminole Heights Home Tour will be on Sunday, April 12th, from 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Ticket prices are $15 in advance and $20 day of the tour. For more information, or to buy tickets visit the Neighborhood Association website.

The Ella at ENCORE! Tampa earns Gold LEED certification

The Ella at ENCORE! Tampa has been awarded a prestigious LEED Gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. 

The apartment building, one of four newly built in the planned community designed to accommodate 2,500 residents on 40 acres between downtown Tampa and Ybor City, is already at full capacity. The neighborhood developers are working to build and attract retail and other amenities to further serve residents. 
The developers -- the Tampa Housing Authority along with the Bank of America CDC -- sponsored a celebration of the LEED certification in March attended by Ed Jennings, the highest ranking HUD official in the southeastern United States. 

“The LEED Gold Certification for Ella at ENCORE! means this building is a showcase example of sustainable design,’’ says VP and COO Leroy Moore, Sr. of the Tampa Bay Housing Authority. “LEED Gold certification requires efficiency in design at every level starting with building orientation to maximize solar exposure, a commitment to some of the most advanced energy efficient equipment from windows and doors, water conservation, waste recycling, heating and cooling, low emitting, volatile organic compounds in finishes such as carpeting and painting, just to name a few.’’

Robert Ledford of Baker Barrios, whose design team helped the building achieve the certification, says he is proud of the accomplishment and credits all of the people who were involved. 

“This is a great achievement for the team, however, there was a lot of effort on behalf our partnerships to achieve this,’’ he says. “It is a great win for all of us, and we look forward to the projects ahead.’’

Vinik hires top urban planners to design waterfront properties in downtown Tampa

Jeff Vinik’s Strategic Property Partners LCC has appointed world-renowned urban planners Jeff Speck and David Dixon to lead the design of downtown Tampa’s southern waterfront into a mixed-use, walkable metropolitan neighborhood.

The property abuts the Tampa Riverwalk, a miles-long stretch of pathways that snake through downtown Tampa’s Channel District and along the Hillsborough River north to Water Works Park in the Tampa Heights neighborhood. A new over-water Kennedy Boulevard segment is set to open in late March 2015. Eventually, 2.2 miles of uninterrupted sidewalk will follow the river through the city.

Vinik's SPP master planning development team is behind a billion dollar plan to transform the area’s landscape over the next five years, with new downtown facilities for the University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine and USF Heart Institute proposed, along with hotel, retail and mixed-use residential space. The TECO Line Streetcar would also be expanded.

Over the next four months, Speck and Dixon will work with retail planners, transportation and traffic design engineers, brand architecture designers and New Urbanism residential planners to create a practical plan for the 40 acres SPP owns along downtown Tampa’s southern waterfront.

Tampa Bay Lightning owner and SPP principal Vinik says, "At the onset, Urban Design Associates initiated a wonderful vision for what the area can become -- America’s next great urban waterfront -- and now we are confident that Jeff and David will guide us in turning that vision into a practical, yet dynamic Master Plan."

SPP, which Vinik founded in 2014, controls Amelie Arena, Channelside Bay Plaza and the Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina. Cascade Investment, based in Seattle and founded by billionaire Bill Gates, is the primary funding partner for the project.

Speck, who wrote a book in 2013 titled Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time, leads a design practice (Speck & Associates, LLC) based in Washington D.C. He is the former director of design at the National Endowment for the Arts, where he oversaw the Mayors’ Institute on City Design and worked with dozens of American mayors to solve city planning challenges.

Dixon, a Senior Principal and Urban Design Group Leader for Stantec, has won numerous urban planning awards, lead the redevelopment of post-Katrina New Orleans, and helped Washington D.C. maximize the social and economic benefits of a new streetcar system.

Speck will serve as SPP’s overall consulting Design Leader, while Dixon will lead the SPP Master Plan team.
"We are asking Jeff and David to help us advance a great live, work, play and stay district,'' Vinik says. "One that is welcoming, pedestrian-friendly, progressive, and also healthy, as we aspire to create a true 'wellness' district for our residents, employers, students and visitors.''  

New Montessori School to open in Trinity, Pasco County

Parents looking for a Montessori School in the Trinity area of Pasco County will be pleased to know that one is currently under construction and set to open this fall.

Ground broke four months ago on The Montessori at Trinity Oaks, after one mother, a former Montessori student herself, saw a need in the community.

“I was a Montessori child as were my two younger siblings. Montessori was a big part of our lives,’’ says Anisha Patel, President of The Montessori at Trinity Oaks. “I have two young children of my own now, and it’s time for them to go to school. I wanted to bring the Montessori curriculum into the community. There is not a Montessori school nearby. I decided that would be a good location to open a school and bring the Montessori curriculum here.’’
The school will feature three classrooms, an activity room and administration offices, and will serve children ages 2 to 6. Offering two, three and five-day programs, The Montessori at Trinity Oaks will offer both part-time and fulltime schedules depending on the needs of your child.
Construction is being completed by Spartan Builders Design & Contract of Tampa.

“We should complete construction in June, and at that time we will begin parent tours,’’ says Patel. “In the fall we will be ready to take in students for the academic school year.’’ 

The Montessori at Trinity Oaks will be located at 9941 Trinity Blvd. in Trinity.

Art party studio under construction in Oldsmar, Pinellas County

While traffic zooms by on Tampa Road in Oldsmar, construction is underway on the Bottle & Bottega, an art party studio. 

The studio, which is set to open mid-May, will marry art with food and wine in a judgment-free zone where ordinary people can become artists for a couple of hours. 

While the Tampa Bay area has several studios with the concept of painting while enjoying adult beverages, Bottle & Bottega will be different by going beyond the canvas.
“We strive to be innovative by introducing glass painting, crayon mounting for kids, mixed media, ornament paintings during Christmas time and glass cutting board paintings,’’ says Minal Patel, General Manager of Bottle & Bottega. “There are a lot of things that we do that are not canvas only.’’

In addition, to the brick-and-mortar location, the studio also offers a mobile service in which artists will go to a company or home for private events and instruct a class at a customer’s preferred location.

The 1,625-square-foot space located in Oldsmar at 3687 Tampa Road, Suite 205, in Bay Arbor Plaza is surrounded by Aveda Hair Salon, Rumba Bar and Grill, Salt Rock Tavern and Tijuana Flats. Patel says the space is larger than similar studios and thus offers the ability to accommodate more customers and give them their artistic space.

“We will have two studios, one public and one private, the private studio will be for events like bridal showers, bachelorette parties, baby showers or corporate events,’’ Patel says. “This offers us the opportunity to have two events going on at the same time. Plus, with the larger space, people have more room to move around. If you are painting, you really want to have your own space to let your creativity flow.’’

Urban Charrette, CNU Tampa Bay host open mic on urbanism and the arts

Tampa's Urban Charrette and the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) Tampa Bay will host Urbanism on Tap at the Independent Bar and Café in Seminole Heights on Tuesday, March 24, starting at 5:30pm.  
Urbanism on Tap consists of recurring open mic discussions, thematically organized in groups of three. Each event generates constructive conversations within the community about current ideas and trends that are shaping our city. Events are open to the public, and moderators and attendees are invited to share their views and stories related to the topic of the day. 

The resulting lively exchange of ideas is designed to enhance attendees’ ability to make Tampa a more livable city, says Organizer Ashly Anderson. 
Starting this spring, Urbanism on Tap organizers have moved to Seminole Heights, a neighborhood north of Downtown Tampa, to host a new Urbanism on Tap Series on Arts and Urbanism. The series will explore the link between the arts and the development of neighborhoods.
Tuesday’s discussion, “The Visual Identity of Tampa,” is the first in the Arts and Urbanism series. Organizers will focus on how the arts have shaped the visual identity of Tampa. Participants will talk about how Tampa's image is defined by its iconic structures, landmarks and historic places, resulting in a unique urban form. 

Questions to be addressed: What makes a visitor remember Tampa? How should the visual identity of Tampa be kept intact as development continues within the area? Participants will have the opportunity to answer these questions and many more, trying to decide what matters most.  
Residents, students, art enthusiasts and neighborhood groups are encouraged to attend. 
The event organizers encourage people to share their opinions on this topic by visiting Urbanism on Tap’s online Facebook page and website before and after the event.  
Venue: Independent Bar and Cafe, Seminole Heights, 5016 N. Florida Ave. Tampa, FL-33603  
Date and time: Tuesday, March 24, 2015, 5:30pm–7pm 
Questions: email the Urban Charrette

Haven opens in Sidebern's former SoHo space

A new upscale dining destination and sister to world famous Bern’s Steak House opened in Tampa’s popular SoHo neighborhood in early March 2015.

Haven, housed in the the former Sidebern’s and Bern’s Fine Wine and Spirits space at 2208 West Morrison, delivers a modern sensibility to the SoHo dining experience with rich wood, strategic lighting and upscale décor. The redeveloped bar, lounge and restaurant is a refuge for lovers of charcuterie, cheese and cellars full of fine wine on a street that mixes casual dining with upscale experiences.

Haven’s menu will be under the direction of Executive Chef Chad Johnson (two-time James Beard Award Best Chef: South Semi-finalist), along with Chef de Cuisine Courtney Orwig and General Manager Kira Jefferson. 

Menu offerings focus on beverage selections as much as food: craft beer, 300 Bourbons and over 40 wines by the glass mingle with featured wines from a 2,500 bottle wine collection that includes 550 regional and global vintages. At the 25-seat bar, handmade signature cocktails are muddled using fresh ingredients. 

Attention to detail can be found in everything from a “cheese cave” with over 100 cheeses to homemade sodas on tap. 

Along with interior renovations at Haven, additional dining space and an exterior patio area facing Howard Avenue have been added to the restaurant.

“Our bar and charcuterie areas are sure to be a popular gathering place for guests, in addition to our newly added patio space,” Owner David Laxer says in a news release.

Laxer calls Haven "a new beginning for SideBern’s, and a tip of the hat to the history of Bern’s. It’s a natural progression of our brand and growth of our restaurants.”

Laxer’s parents, Bern and Gert, bought the Beer Haven bar in 1956 and moved it to 1208 S Howard Ave., renaming it Bern’s in the process. Over time, the restaurant and bar grew to include eight dining rooms and the renowned Harry Waugh Dessert Room, which was built in 1985 from redwood wine casks. 

Bern’s Steak House is a mainstay on a street that is a growing foodie destination for both fine and casual dining. In 2014 alone, the long-anticipated Epicurean Hotel opened at 1207 S. Howard Ave., home to Bern’s sister restaurants Élevage on the ground floor and the EDGE Social Drinkery rooftop bar. Former Tampa Bay Rays owner Joe Maddon and 717 South owner Michael Stewart opened the upscale, Italian-inspired Ava at 718 S. Howard Ave. in Nov 2014. 

Well-known Tampa restauranteurs Ciccio & Tony’s latest venture, Fresh Kitchen, opened at 1350 S. Howard with a healthy fast food concept in October last year. And in early 2015, the popular Tampa food truck Wicked ‘Wiches opened a casual dining spot, Wicked ‘Wiches and Brew, on the end of South Howard closest to bars and clubs that are frequented by many young professionals and college students.

Now, Haven will join the mix.

Haven will serve dinner from 5:30-10pm Mon-Weds and 5:30-11pm Thurs-Sat. The bar at Haven will be open from 5-10pm Mon-Weds and from 5-11pm Thurs-Sat. 

For more information, visit the restaurant’s website. 

Community kitchen brings new hope to Tampa's University area

Combating adult obesity begins with small steps, like the community garden that the University Area Community Development Corporation (UACDC) first opened in Tampa in November 2013 to provide residents with access to healthy food. Now, the group has opened the Harvest Hope Center Kitchen to further help residents of Tampa’s university area learn about healthy eating and sustainability. 

UACDC first began making moves toward a healthier Tampa by teaching University of South Florida area residents how to maintain beds of leafy greens and cultivate an array of hearty vegetables in the community garden on North 20th Street.

In March 2015, the program’s efforts expanded with the opening of the Harvest Hope Center Kitchen, directly adjacent to the community garden, with the aim of teaching more members of the university area community about healthy habits and nutritious eating. 

The Harvest Hope Center Kitchen, located at 13704 N. 20th St., is designed to serve residents of the University area, a community that has been the focus of economic revitalization efforts in recent months.

“We believe that educating residents about good nutrition can make a positive, long-term impact on those in our neighborhood,” says UACDC’s Executive Director and CEO Sarah Combs in a news release.

The Harvest Hope Center Kitchen is a fully functional kitchen that provides a classroom-like setting for lessons in nutrition and opportunities for cooking demonstrations, using fruits and vegetables from the community garden. Lessons will focus on teaching residents about the nutritious benefits of the items, along with their seasonal attributes.

“The opening of the Harvest Hope Center Kitchen is a key component in building and keeping a strong, healthy community,” Combs said.

The Harvest Hope Center Kitchen is made possible by community partners and sponsors, including: the Florida Medical Clinic Foundation of Caring, Whitwam Organics, the Westchase Rotary Club, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office and Hillsborough County Code Enforcement.

Community partners and sponsors provide the renovations, equipment, education and support for the Harvest Hope Center Kitchen.

Combs, along with UACDC’s board Chairman Gene Marshall, board Secretary T.J. Couch, Jr., and board members Jo Easton and Darlene Stanko, led the Harvest Hope Center Kitchen ribbon cutting in late February 2015.

UACDC is a 501c3 public/private partnership based in Tampa’s University Area Community Center Complex at 14013 N. 22nd St. The UACDC is focused on helping to redevelop and sustain the areas around the University of South Florida through children and family development, crime prevention and commerce growth.

To learn more about upcoming classes and events at the Harvest Hope Center, or for details on services and programs available through the University Area Community Development Corporation, contact the UACDC by visiting the organization’s website or calling 813-558-5212. 

Urbanite Theatre prepares to launch first season in new black-box theatre in Sarasota

The buzz around the Urbanite Theatre is unmistakable in downtown Sarasota — the drone of carpentry tools placing finishing construction touches competes daily with the energetic hum of creative anticipation as the new black-box theatre space prepares for its opening night in April.

Urbanite co-Founders and Artistic Directors Brendan Ragan and Summer Wallace met while pursuing Masters’ degrees at Sarasota’s FSU/Asolo Conservatory. Urbanite Theatre emerged from their shared vision to bring provocative contemporary productions to Sarasota in an intimate black-box setting. 

“This is such an arts community. Sarasota is very strong in its visual and performing arts scene, already. But what’s not here, yet, is a small box theater that’s staging edgy, contemporary work,” says Ragan.

Having both lived the nomadic lifestyle of career actors, working in larger cities like New York City with robust contemporary theatre scenes, Ragan and Wallace see great potential in Sarasota.

The Urbanite Theatre was announced late last spring and quickly received 501c3 nonprofit status. A developer who wishes to remain anonymous is responsible for the funding and construction of the new theater, an addition to an office complex on 2nd Street, located between Fruitville Road and the Whole Foods Market. The space, formerly a parking lot, was purchased for $600,000.

“We’ve been generously given the shell of the space to utilize, but we’re responsible for filling it in and making a theater of it,” Wallace says.

Filling in the shell of a theater means providing the lighting, seating, sound equipment and other operational components. Wallace says estimated start-up costs for the theater are approximately $30,000, and that each production will cost between $25,000-$30,000. Active fundraising campaigns have raised more than $50,000 to date, and the theater hopes to raise an additional $100,000 to keep ticket prices at $20 or less and offer student discounts.

The Urbanite Theatre features a cozy black-box setting designed for customizable production space and intimate performances. Theater capacity is limited to 50-70 seats, depending on the configuration for each show.

“When you’re in a bigger space, you can kind of remove yourself from the production. You’re up there, safe in your seats and separate from the stage. Here, where the actor is not just feet, but mere inches away from you — it evokes a different emotional response,” Wallace says.

“Because we have a small venue, I believe we will be able to really push the envelope in terms of the types of plays we produce,” Ragan adds. “I look it at the same way that HBO differs from network television: People week out their work because it’s something different; more provocative.”

Opening night is scheduled for April 10 with the U.S. premiere of British playwright Anna Jordan’s award-winning “Chicken Shop.” For ticket information, visit The Urbanite Theatre website.

Adventure Island opens new water slide in Tampa

The newest attraction at the Adventure Island water park near Busch Gardens, Colossal Curl, sends riders along a slide standing nearly 70 feet high and measuring 560 feet in length. The ride features corkscrews, high speeds and waterfalls, an experience unlike anything else in the Tampa Bay area. 

While the water slide is notable as the first new attraction at Adventure Island since 2006, Colossal Curl is significant for another reason – it represents yet another sustainable project for parent company SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, which operates Adventure Island and neighboring theme park Busch Gardens. 

Colossal Curl stands on the site of Gulf Scream, a water slide that was built in 1982 and removed a few months ago to make way for the new family thrill slide. 

“The wood, metal, and concrete from the previous slide was recycled at various facilities throughout Florida,” says park spokesman Travis Claytor. “Plus, we just refurbished the Adventure Island parking lot by using the existing asphalt, having it finely ground then mixed to create a base for new parking lot.” 

Across McKinley Drive at sister park Busch Gardens, recent construction projects have been completed with a similar efforts toward environmental sustainability.
Last year, when Busch Gardens opened the newly reimagined section of Pantopia in an area of the park once known as Timbuktu, one of the most popular attractions became a unique gift shop called Painted Camel Bazaar. Standing in the shadow of the new 335-foot-tall Falcon’s Fury drop tower thrill ride, Painted Camel Bazaar was built in a renovated structure that previously served as the West African Trading Company.
“In this shop, we used lumber from the old gift shop to make the new fixtures and used the wood spools that the Falcon’s Fury cables were shipped on to make display counters,” Claytor says. Merchandise ranges from apparel to housewares that have been made from recycled and repurposed materials. 

In 2011, when the triple-launch Cheetah Hunt roller coaster was being built, the park saved two large structures and repurposed them for the new attraction – a move that potentially spared tons of old concrete and metal from going to landfills. Also, the old Clydesdale barn was converted into the new cheetah housing area. 

“These (sustainability) efforts also extend to the animal habitats at Busch Gardens,” Claytor says. “For instance, we take groundwater that flows into the trenches on Cheetah Hunt, filter the water and use it to put water back into the hippo habitat.” 

Originally opened in 1959 as an Anheuser-Busch brewery hospitality center, Busch Gardens is acclaimed in the zoological community for building naturalistic habitats that serve as sanctuaries for some of the world’s most endangered animal species. The park also participates in the SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund, a 501 (c)(3) program that distributes 100 percent of its proceeds to animal rescue and rehabilitation, conservation education, habitat protection and species research around the world.

'Building a Healthier Sulphur Springs' project aims to create safe, energy-efficient Tampa homes

Slowly but surely, efforts to transform a long-neglected neighborhood north of downtown Tampa are taking shape.

“Building a Healthier Sulphur Springs” is a new collaborative community program that will address the shortage of safe, suitable housing in the neighborhood, a factor that Rebuilding Together Tampa Bay says increases housing instability and transiency in the area.

Sulphur Springs is a blighted section of Tampa known for high crime rates and low income but the neighborhood was, decades ago, a destination that attracted tourists with its sulphur waters, spring-fed swimming pool and lively storefronts.

“Through our neighborhood revitalization initiative known as ‘Building a Healthier Sulphur Springs,’ Rebuilding Together Tampa Bay intends to improve the living conditions of this community for its present and future residents,” says RTTB Executive Director Jose Garcia.

Creating stable opportunities for children, improving general wellbeing and developing more positive neighborhood settings are part of the “Building a Healthier Sulphur Springs” program goals.

The program is “uniquely positioned for success because of the collaborations formed with numerous nonprofit organizations that are part of the Sulphur Springs Neighborhood of Promise and the support of the City of Tampa,” Garcia says.

“Building a Healthier Sulphur Springs” services aim to make homes in the Sulphur Springs neighborhood safer, healthier and more energy efficient. This will include implementing the “Healthy Home Kit” in many homes: a combination of learning workshops for residents and on-going community support in the form of home repairs and services.

Efforts to revitalize the low-income community in Sulphur Springs have been underway for several years, with the opening of Springhill Community Center and Layla's House, which offers parenting programs and resources for children to neighborhood families. The Sulphur Springs Neighborhood of Promise, which was founded in the mid-2000’s by the Tampa Metropolitan Area YMCA in partnership with local organizations like United Way Suncoast and the Children's Board of Hillsborough County, led the efforts to open Layla’s House.

Backed by federal funding, the City of Tampa also initiated the Nehemiah Project, an effort to tear down dozens of dilapidated abandoned Sulphur Springs houses, in 2014.

“We have strong support from various corporations and foundations that want to see the neighborhood stabilize and thrive in their new environment,” says Garcia. “We look forward to sharing the outcomes with everyone in the Tampa Bay area.”

The “Building a Healthier Sulphur Springs” project launches at 10:30am on Thursday, March 19, at the Abundant Life Worship Center, 8117 N. 13th St. “Healthy Home Kits” will be installed in the homes of several Sulphur Springs residents following the program kickoff.

RTTB, a nonprofit organization dedicated to rehabilitating neighborhood homes and providing home repair services to low-income families as well as elderly residents, wounded veterans or those with disabilities, has already renovated or repaired more than 350 neighborhood homes through sponsorship support, labor and hundreds of volunteers. Services include anything from emergency repairs to weatherproofing or improvements to make homes more energy efficient.

More information is available at the Rebuilding Together Tampa Bay website.

Luxury cigar retailer to open flagship Tampa store

Tampa, aka 'Cigar City,' will gain a new luxury cigar retailer in late 2015.

Davidoff of Geneva - since 1911, a more than 100-year-old luxury retailer of cigars and cigar accessories, plans to open a 5,000-square-foot flagship store in Tampa's Westshore Business District by late 2015.

Richard Krutick, Davidoff of Geneva USA’s director of marketing, estimates that the flagship store will hire around 30 new employees before opening in late 2015.

“Tampa is historically a great cigar city and we want to further establish Tampa as our home market,” Krutick says. “We are very excited about the new store. We’re hoping it becomes a fixture in the Tampa Bay community.”

The Pinellas Park-based company has a worldwide reach; in fact, the only other licensed Davidoff of Geneva boutique in the United States is located in Las Vegas.

The company's future Tampa location is across from Tampa International Airport and International Plaza and Bay Street in the MetWest International Retail Village, an award-winning, mixed-use center currently under development by MetLife.

Office buildings and upscale restaurants like Cooper’s Hawk Winery and RestaurantKona GrillTexas de Brazil and Del Frisco’s Grille are already located in the space, which when completed will include almost 1 million-square-feet of office space, 254 residential units, a 260-room full-service upscale hotel, and a 74,200-square-foot retail village.

Tampa's Davidoff of Geneva flagship store will be the largest in the world. Retail space will co-mingle with indoor and outdoor lounges, complete with a full service bar, a first for the company. Other luxuries will include a completely humidified store and private lockers.

“We are delighted to open a new ‘Davidoff of Geneva - since 1911’ store in our home market,” Jim Young, President of Davidoff of Geneva North America, says in a news release.

The new location will be opened in partnership with Jeff and Tanya Borysiewicz, owners of the popular Orlando-based Corona Cigar Company

The partnership is a particularly exciting aspect of the new store for Young. The Borysiewicz’ “know how to provide consumers with a premium retail experience, they know our entire product portfolio, and they know our company,” Young said.

The move is met with enthusiasm on both sides, with Jeff Borysiewicz also noting in a news release, “it's an honor to be partnering with Davidoff of Geneva. It's exciting to be building upon the legacy that Zino Davidoff started over 100 years ago.”

“We're thrilled to expand our retail operations and to serve cigar enthusiasts in the Cigar City of Tampa,” Borysiewicz said. “We look forward to creating the ‘Ultimate Cigar Experience’ in a community with such a long history of cigar manufacturing and rich cigar culture.”

Tampa Pizza Company opens downtown, Westchase locations

Downtown Tampa residents and visitors may already be familiar with the locally driven, all-natural restaurant that shares a corner of the ground floor in Skypoint Condos with Kurdi's Mediterranian GrillAnise Global Gastropub and Taps Tavern.

The pizza restaurant’s name and menu, however, is new.

Local restaurateurs Dave Burton and Ralph Santell, who previously ran the downtown and Westshore locations of the Deerfield Beach-based Pizza Fusion franchise, have reopened the establishments under the new name Tampa Pizza Company.

Though the decision to leave Pizza Fusion before contracts expired led to a lawsuit, which was settled in Feb 2015, the restaurateurs remained focused on the vision of Tampa Pizza Company.

“We believe in Tampa and all the great things going on in our community,” says Santell. “We strive to be a point of pride for all of our customers and local residents through our restaurants and out in our neighborhoods.”

Indeed, the creation of the Tampa Pizza Company brings together many local elements, from mural art to menu ingredients.

The Tampa Pizza Company’s downtown location is home to new murals of local Tampa scenes painted by artists Robert Horning and Bianca Burrows.

New furniture for the location was purchased at local independent furniture stores such as Rare Hues and The Missing Piece, while Florida Seating in Pinellas County serviced reupholstered banquettes and Tanner Paints of Tampa developed a new interior paint palette.

Upgrades to the Tampa Pizza Company’s Westchase location include new paint and décor, along with a server system with mobile tablet ordering capabilities.

“It was important to us to turn to our local vendors here in the Tampa Bay area to make improvements to the dining experience that we offer our guests,” adds Burton, who hopes to see changes to the space make it feel “more eclectic, independent and local.”

Changes at both locations include upgraded bars and an expanded beverage program, along with plans to expand the restaurant craft beer selections in coming months.

One unique implement? A wine tap system.

Some aspects of the new brand won’t feel like a big change for customers – the lean, healthy influence of a menu laden with all-natural, vegetarian and special dietary needs-friendly options is still there.

Traditional pizza is also available, along with chicken wings, seasonal appetizers, custom sandwiches and wraps, and desserts including bakery items and gelato.

“Ralph and I have built a loyal following over the years, and it is very important to us that we maintain the quality service and incredible food that our guests expect,” says Burton. “Our mission is fairly simple -- create fresh, delicious meals that are appealing to even the health conscience customers who crave great tasting food.”

The first two Tampa Pizza Company restaurants are located in downtown Tampa, in the ground floor of the Skypoint Condos at 777 N. Ashley Dr., and in Westchase, at Westchase Town Center, 9556 W Linebaugh Ave.
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