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Downtown Tampa's Ashley Drive Closes For 3 Weeks

Ashley Drive in downtown Tampa will close for three weeks in May as CSX Railroad continues work on replacing tracks along Polk Street.

The closure, beginning on May 7th and continuing through the Memorial Day holiday, will detour southbound traffic to Tampa Street using Cass Street while northbound traffic will be detoured to Florida Avenue using Madison Street.

According to Irvin Lee, director of City of Tampa Department of Public Works, the City has worked closely with CSX for close to four months, assisting in their scheduled maintenance and rehabilitation of tracks in the downtown neighborhood. The rail lines running along Polk Street at Ashley Drive is the last segment in the downtown core effort.

“The impact to traffic will be significant but we are asking the motoring public to plan ahead, observe the posted detours and be patient,” Lee says.

The City has provided a map of detour routes and recommended alternative routes to ease congestion while signal timings will be adjusted to facilitate traffic flow.

“Access to the Poe Garage will be maintained throughout the project for patrons enjoying the Straz Center, John F. Germany Public Library, Curtis Hixon Park and museums,” Lee says. “We will work with CSX to get this work completed as quickly as possible."

The project is anticipated to be completed by Memorial Day, allowing the intersection to reopen when commuters return to work after the holiday.

Writer: Alexis Quinn Chamberlain
Source: Irvin Lee, City of Tampa

FDOT Plans Improvements For S.R. 583, Tampa

In an attempt to reduce pedestrian fatalities, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) is planning a repavement and sidewalk project for S.R. 583 in Tampa.

Located at 50th and 56th Streets (also known as S.R. 583) between 23rd Avenue and north of Fowler, the FDOT's contractor, APAC Southeast Inc., will make improvements to the neighborhood, including new pavement, new sidewalks and new traffic signals and poles.

Paid by state funds, the $7.1 million project's goal is to make the roadway smoother for motorists while adding and repairing sidewalks for pedestrians. According to FDOT Public Information Officer Kris Carson, the Tampa Bay region currently has a  high number of pedestrian fatalities.

“Our goal is to reduce pedestrian fatalities by 20 percent by 2015,” she says. “We have a multidisciplined approach to accomplish this with the help of law enforcement, media, education and engineering improvements -- one of them being additional sidewalks.”

According to Carson, traffic will be monitored for congestion as the project requires lane closures. The project is expected to see completion by Spring 2013.

Writer: Alexis Quinn Chamberlain
Source: Kris Carson, FDOT

Bradenton Riverwalk Gets State Funding For Construction

The City of Bradenton is making progress on the Bradenton Riverwalk -- a project that has been in the works since the early 2000s.

The $6.2 million project, which broke ground in September 2011, will receive nearly $500,000 in state grants to put toward the city's signature redevelopment project.

“The economic impact [the Riverwalk will have] will be huge,” says David Gustafson, executive director of the Bradenton Downtown Development Authority. “It's an asset that has never been utilized and will strongly affect downtown Manatee County, as well as the rest of the Tampa Bay region all the way from Sarasota to St. Pete.”

Expected to see completion by October 2012, the Riverwalk project will receive two major grants: $400,000 from the Southwest Florida Water Management District for construction, permits and design and nearly $100,000 from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission via the Boating Improvement Program for a dock extension project.

“We've seen the success of riverwalks in other parts of the country such as Jacksonville, Tampa and Tennessee and see a lot of promise in this project,” Gustafon says.

In addition to the additional funds, one-sixth of the budget will come from tax increment financing (TIF) while an investment has been made into a multimillion dollar bond that the City of Bradenton will pay off over the next 20 years.

Writer: Alexis Quinn Chamberlain
Source: David Gustafson, Bradenton Downtown Development Authority

Florida Hospital Wesley Chapel Breaks Ground On New Wellness Plaza

Pasco County officials and local dignitaries broke ground in April on Florida Hospital Wesley Chapel's new three-story 100,000-square-foot Wellness Plaza.

The facility will supplement Florida Hospital Wesley Chapel, a new 80-bed hospital with the capacity of expanding to 288 beds as community health care needs grow. The hospital is expected to open in September 2012 while the Wellness Plaza is slated for January 2013.

“This project is part of the continuum of care for the Wesley Chapel community,” says Donna Jarmusz, senior VP of business development for Alter+Care, who is overseeing the Wellness Plaza project. “The hospital will be treating people who need impatient care for more serious illnesses while the Wellness Center is part of the hospital's mission and philosophy to help people improve and maintain their health.”

The $25 million Wellness Plaza project will feature a 50,000-square-foot wellness facility open to the community on a membership basis. The state-of-the-art facility will include amenities such as an aquatic center with a warm water therapy pool, aquatic group exercise classes including pre- and post-natal classes, a lap pool for swimming and swimming lessons; a 9-mile-to-the-lap indoor track; an extensive fitness area with cardio and strength training equipment; group fitness rooms for yoga, pilates and hot yoga classes; men's, women's and family locker rooms; and a heart healthy cafe.

“The Wellness Plaza will help to give people who have been trying to improve their lifestyle by losing weight or trying to quit smoking live a healthier life,” Jarmusz says. “It will be a major resource with several rehabilitation services in one location.”

The facility will also include a conference area with a demonstration kitchen for healthy cooking classes. Disease management classes will also be available.

“We'll integrate an exercise program with dieticians and nutritional counseling -- whatever you might need to manage your chronic disease,” Jarmusz says.

Other services at the center include physician offices, a women's center and specialty clinics.

Writer: Alexis Quinn Chamberlain
Source: Donna Jarmusz, Alter+Care

USF Receives Funds, Makes Plans For Heart Health Institute

The University of South Florida (USF) was recently approved to receive state and county funding to move forward with its USF Heart Health Institute project.

On April 17th, Florida Governor Rick Scott approved $6.9 million in state funding to support the initial design of the institute while, just one day later, the Hillsborough County Commission approved $2 million to help support equipment and space for the institute.

USF Health has also pledged approximately $25 million in resources for genomics-based personalized medicine, including funds for research equipment, facilities and the recruitment of two top physicians: Dr. Leslie Miller, USF chairman of the Department of Cardiovascular Sciences, and Dr. Stephen Liggett, a nationally prominent researcher who will become director of the Personalized Medicine Institute.

The institute will need an additional $42 million in state funds in order to break ground on the 100,000-square-foot facility where 60 employees are expected to work. USF will partner with Tampa's Florida Hospital Pepin Heart Institute on this project.

“When you look at where you can really make a difference, you go to where the prevalence of cardiovascular disease is most likely the highest in the United States: You start with the oldest population in the country and add in the high instance or prevalence of hypertension and obesity here in Florida,” Miller says. “The Heart Institute is a mandate to do some really cutting edge research and create new knowledge in this field, developing translational research and new therapies as soon as we can.”

According to Miller, USF President Judy Genshaft and USF Health CEO and College of Medicine Dean Stephen Klasko were so convinced that the Heart Institute was the right initiative to move forward with that it became the number one priority for university funding from the Florida Legislature for the next three years.

“They're committed to changing the health care of this community and you can't do it anymore importantly than to focus on cardiovascular disease,” Miller says. “We feel it's really imperative to do something for the residents of this state, the rest of the country and, ultimately, the world. Our therapies are going to have such broad applications.”

Currently, cardiovascular disease accounts for 40 percent of all hospitalizations and deaths in Florida. According to Miller, one in four people in the United States have cardiovascular disease; that number is expected to jump to one in three by 2020.

“This is the greatest health risk and impediment to long-term survival. This is the disease of this community and this state and we really need to do more than we have,” Miller says. “We don't see this as competitive -- it's about new discovery and new science. We hope all health care groups in the region and in Florida will be supportive of this very important new initiative.”

Writer: Alexis Quinn Chamberlain
Source: Dr. Leslie Miller, USF Department of Cardiovascular Sciences

NRP Group To Build 300 Upscale Apartments, St. Pete

A new upscale apartment complex is in the works for downtown St. Petersburg.

Cleveland-based NRP Group plans to develop and build 330 units of luxury multifamily housing at the northwest corner of 4th Street South and 4th Avenue South near St. Pete's medical district on property-- currently the southernmost parking lot of the Tampa Bay Times.

Developing an entire city block, the $55 million unnamed project will include a 4-story apartment building on approximately 4.3 acres. The new complex will feature on-site management by NRP, as well as a structured parking garage, cyber cafe, upscale fitness room, clubroom and pool.

Downtown St. Petersburg continues to grow, providing jobs and an ever-growing nightlife,” says Kurt Kehoe, VP of NRP Development in Florida. “Because of this, there is a current and future need for upscale rental options in the downtown area.”

With expected completion by 2013 or early 2014, the project could break ground as early as Fall 2012. The new complex will provide one- to three-bedroom units ranging in price from approximately $880 to $1,800 per month, featuring high-end finishes including granite counter tops, custom cabinets and energy efficient appliances.

“We think this project will have an extremely positive influence on downtown St. Pete by continuing to draw higher income earners to the area which will, of course, have a positive effect on downtown businesses including restaurants and bars," Kehoe says.

Writer: Alexis Quinn Chamberlain
Source: Kurt Kehoe, NRP Group

Fire Station #22 Begins Responding To Calls, New Tampa

A new fire station recently began responding to calls in New Tampa.

On Thursday, April 19th, New Tampa's newest fire station, Fire Station #22, began responding to emergency calls from a new 8,600-square-foot facility at 10871 Cross Creek Blvd.

According to Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, New Tampa has had an increasing demand for emergency service as it has grown.

“Station #22 will help fulfill the needs of New Tampa residents,” he says. “Tampa Fire Rescue is committed to providing quality services across Tampa.”

Staffed with a four-person crew and two vehicles, Engine #22 and Brush #22, the $1.7 million facility and staff will provide assistance by responding to emergency medical incidents; both structural and brush fires; and other fire-related incidents. All staff assigned to the new station are State of Florida Certified Emergency Medical Technicians and Paramedics.

Funded by an Assistance to Firefighters Fire Station Construction Grant (SCG) provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Fire Station #22 includes a center garage with three bays, as well as work and sleeping quarters; high efficiency lights and controls; solar powered exterior lighting and water heating; and an HVAC system. Other on-site sustainability features include the use of recycled materials, Florida Friendly Landscaping and a storm water retention system.

The City of Tampa Fire Rescue Department was one of 100 selected to receive funding by SCG.

Writer: Alexis Quinn Chamberlain
Source: Mayor Bob Buckhorn, City of Tampa

FDOT Plans To Widen I-275 Between Floribraska, Yukon In Tampa

The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) is planning a new project for 4.2 miles of Interstate 275 between Floribraska Avenue and Yukon Street.

According to FDOT Public Information Officer John McShaffrey, the $30 million project will widen both inside and outside shoulder areas along north- and southbound I-275, south of Floribraska Avenue to north of Yukon Street. The project aims to create a more consistent shoulder width.

“It's a safety project,” McShaffrey says. “As you drive through that area now, there are shoulders of varying widths -- some aren't even wide enough to pull over if you break down or have a minor accident.”

Partial demolition and widening by Prince Contracting will occur on a total of 26 bridges, widening each to connect in the center. There will also be widening of non-bridge shoulder portions of the highway while existing grass and guardrail in current medians will be replaced by a concrete barrier to match median connections on the north and south ends outside of the project limits.

“Ultimately, the shoulders will be about 10 feet wide, enabling people to pull off in case of an emergency,” McShaffrey says. “A lot of times when you break down and there's no shoulder area, it takes up a lane. This project, once complete, will allow traffic to keep flowing when you have those kinds of instances.”

Expected to begin in June 2012, the project will also include some drainage, sign and signal work. Existing overhead message signs will be replaced by signs with color displays.

Completion of the project is slated for Summer 2014 with periodic north- and southbound lane closures between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. The current 55 mph speed limit will remain during construction.

Writer: Alexis Quinn Chamberlain
Source: John McShaffrey, FDOT

North Port Lowers Impact Fees, Strategy For Growth

The City of North Port is making strides to help shape its economic future.

In an attempt to kick start the local economy, the North Port City Commission recently unanimously decided to adopt lower impact fees to spur new commercial and residential construction in Sarasota County's largest city.

“Because the economy continues to recover at a snails pace, the City of North Port felt that the timing was right to impose a moratorium on its two primary impact fees -- transportation and solid waste -- and reduce all others by 50 percent as a way to further the City's 'open for business' posture, making our community more competitive when it comes to business recruitment and attracting new development projects,” says North Port Economic Development Manager Allan Lane. “The business and development community told us this is the way to go and we believe in private sectors driving growth.”

Overall, this translates to a lower cost associated with building a new home or commercial building in North Port. For example, if the decision to place a moratorium had not been made, a single family home would have cost approximately $4,844.60 in impact fees. Now, with the reduction, a single family home will only cost approximately $1,120.13 in fees. A shopping center with more than 50,000-square-feet will pay a maximum of approximately $675.43 per 1,000 square feet in impact fees versus the approximately $5,994.59 per 1,000 square feet it would have cost before the moratorium was adopted.

“There has never been a better time to relocate to our City or start a construction project in the area,” Lane says. “The impact fee moratorium and reductions represent just one of several enticements the City of North Port offers to attract new businesses and development opportunities. We've been recognized throughout the southwest Florida region for its forward-thinking economic development programs and activities, positioning ourselves as the 'Achieve Anything' city.”

North Port also offers ad valorem property tax exemptions, a local preference ordinance that gives consideration to businesses in North Port and Sarasota County that bid on City contracts, expedited plan review and permitting, a small business assistance program to assist start-up entrepreneurs and existing business owners, economic development grants and financing assistance via a revolving loan guarantee fund.

“It's too soon to show whether or not any new businesses or development opportunities have come to the City specifically because of the moratorium and reduced fees, but I would think we will see some impact by June,” Lane says.

In addition, two public meetings recently took place to gain input on updating the North Port's 2007 Economic Development Strategic Plan. The City will focus strongly on what citizens want for the local community, reshaping North Port's economic future for the next three to five years.

Writer: Alexis Quinn Chamberlain
Source: Allan Lane, City of North Port

Channel District Welcomes Six New Businesses, Tampa

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn welcomed six new businesses to Tampa's Channel District by leading the “Grand Opening Express: A Ribbon Cutting Ceremony in Motion.”

The April 12th event marked the grand openings of Eleventwenty Cafe Bistro at 1120 E. Kennedy Blvd. #112, Ragin' Grill at 1719 W. Kennedy Blvd., Sea Dog Cantina at 1208 E. Kennedy Blvd. #114, The Salon 1.0 at 1208 E. Kennedy Blvd. #123, Twelfth Street Studio at 101 S. 12th St. #104 and Victory Coffee at 101 N. 12th St. #101.

With all six businesses located within a one-half mile radius, Buckhorn led a Segway tour to each -- “a ribbon cutting in motion.”

The businesses opened over the last four months, creating approximately 78 new jobs for people living in the Tampa Bay region.

“Young professionals like I see here are moving down here -- my staff can't even find a place to live,” Buckhorn told reporters prior to the ribbon cuttings. “The beds are here and the heads are in those beds. The retail's going to follow, the restaurants are going to follow, the commercial demand is going to follow.”

Coordinated by the Tampa Downtown Partnership, the event aimed to connect the mayor with each entrepreneur in a morning of congratulations designed to showcase the growing vibrancy of the Channel District.

Writer: Alexis Quinn Chamberlain
Source: Mayor Bob Buckhorn, City of Tampa

FDOT Begins Work On Busch Boulevard Construction

The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) is working to improve Busch Boulevard for motorized vehicle and pedestrian traffic in Tampa.

Work began in February on a $2.3 million project to repave 1.3 miles of Busch Boulevard between Dale Mabry Highway and Armenia Avenue. With expected completion by Fall 2012, the project will require nightly lane closures.

“As with all of our resurfacing projects, we evaluate the need for resurfacing and then get projects programmed in our Five Year Work Program,” says Kris Carson, FDOT's public information officer. “The FDOT will always maintain and preserve our current roadways to keep them safe for the traveling public.”

In addition to the repavement work, FDOT's contractor, Oldcastle Southern Group Inc., will build new sidewalks along both sides of the road. Traffic signals and poles at Twin Lakes Drive will also be replaced to meet current standards.

“The road will be a much smoother ride and safer for pedestrians,” Carson says.

Funds for the project were made available by the state of Florida. Other current FDOT resurfacing projects to be completed by Fall of 2012 include Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard from Nebraska Avenue to 42nd Street in Tampa.

Writer: Alexis Quinn Chamberlain
Source: Kris Carson, FDOT

New $17M Rec Center, Skate Park Coming To Largo

As the City of Largo makes way on its new Highland Recreation Complex, a new Largo Skate Park is in the works.

Construction on a new $17 million recreation complex at 400 Highland Ave. NE began in February while early renderings and a site plan were approved by Largo city commissioners in March. The new 39,800-square-foot facility will replace the current 25,000-square-foot, 40-year-old facility and will be rebuilt west of the Highland Family Aquatic Center.

Designed by Tampa's Gould Evans firm, the new center will include a game room, running track, party rooms, two gymnasiums, two fitness rooms, two program rooms, two locker rooms, a two-story child's play area, new trails, a new play field and new shelters.

Funds for the new center will be borrowed and repaid using revenue from Penny for Pinellas while the City plans to break ground in October 2012. Construction of the new center will affect the current Largo Skate Park.

“The new building and parking goes right where the skate park is now,” says City of Largo Parks Superintendent Greg Brown.

According to Brown, a new skate park will be built at Largo's Bayhead Complex at 375 Seminole Ave. where equipment will be recycled from the current park. A public meeting was recently held in March to gain input on suggestions, ideas and features for the relocated park.

“The current skate park is fee based and monitored, but the new one will be free and without a monitor,” Brown says. “Use should soar.”

Construction on the new skate park is expected to go out to bid in the next couple of months with completion of the project slated for late Summer of early Fall of 2012. The former Largo Skate Park closed on March 31st.

Writer: Alexis Quinn Chamberlain
Source: Greg Brown, City of Largo

MetWest Two: New Headquarters For PwC, Tampa

MetWest International recently celebrated the topping out of MetWest Two, a new build-to-suit office building for PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) in Tampa.

Placing the last beam of the new PwC headquarters in place, the 250,000-square-foot building is expected to be completed by December 2012. The new space is part of MetWest International, an award-winning, mixed-use center located in the Westshore Business District across from Tampa International Airport and International Plaza off of Boy Scout Boulevard in Tampa.

“The fact that there is a substantial construction project underway in our Westshore Business District is an indication that companies are looking forward and making decisions based on what they perceive as an improving economy,” says Angela Odell, managing director of leasing at Taylor & Mathis, the building's development manager.

According to Odell, the building was 100 percent pre-leased by PwC. Upon completion, the company will relocate nearly 2,000 of its employees to the new headquarters from various Tampa locations.

“PwC and the landlord are investing millions into this,” Odell says. “An indication that there were many positive elements to proceeding with this project.”

Ultimately, general contractor Skanska and architect tvsdesign expect the building core and shell to achieve LEED Gold Certification, offering PwC an intelligently designed, efficient office space among companies such as Atkins, Skanska, Greystar Management Services, Talbots, Principal Life Insurance Company, Intelident Solutions, Sagicor Life Insurance Company, Residential Financial Corporation and ASPire Financial Services.

Once complete, MetWest International will offer 1 million square feet of Class A office space.

Writer: Alexis Quinn Chamberlain
Source: Angela Odell, Taylor & Mathis

UT Breaks Ground On New Residence Hall, Tampa

The University of Tampa (UT) recently began construction on a new residence hall.

Ground was broken on the university's seventh residence hall -- tentatively named Residence Hall VII -- on March 22nd on-campus at North A Street between North Boulevard and North Brevard Avenue.

At approximately 193,000-square-feet, Residence Hall VII will house 523 rooms total. Each room will be suite-style with a common living room, four single bedrooms and two bathrooms. The $38 million project will also feature two large community rooms, multiple student lounges, a laundry room and common kitchen area.

UT has seen enrollment quadruple over the last 17 years to 6,738 total students in the 2011-2012 school year,” says Eric Cárdenas, UT's director of public information and publications. “That, coupled with an increased desire of students to live on campus, has fueled our need to increase campus housing.”

According to Cárdenas, about 65 percent of full-time UT students live in on-campus housing. Because of this, large groups of UT students have been housed in nearby overflow hotels such as the Howard Johnson Hotel in Downtown Tampa.

“We believe students living in comfortable environs strengthens their sense of community and enhances their academic experience,” Cárdenas says. “This residence hall is intended to build a sense of community and allow for positive student interaction.”

Over the past 15 years, UT has built or renovated 25 buildings on-campus, investing more than $280 million into construction. Designed by the Beck Group, the new 11-story residence hall is slated for completion in August 2013.

Writer: Alexis Quinn Chamberlain
Source: Eric Cárdenas, UT

UT To Build Athletic Facility On Kennedy, Tampa

The University of Tampa (UT) plans to build a new student intramural and athletic field and stadium.

In the midst of a $38 million residence hall project, the university will begin construction on the Naimoli Family Athletic and Intramural Complex, a multipurpose field and 1,450-seat stadium located on the west side of campus, on the north side of Kennedy Boulevard.

Funded by a seven-digit gift from the Naimoli Family, the artificial turf field will be built by Tampa's R.R. Simmons as the new home of the UT men's and women's lacrosse teams, numerous intramurals and various sporting events. The project will also feature two spectator berms, team meeting rooms, a support building, restrooms, a concession area and appropriate parking.

“This is an exciting project that will support both UT athletics and our popular intramural program,” says Eric Cárdenas, UT's director of public information and publications. “It will be an attractive venue that will provide visibility for UT athletics while beautifying Kennedy Boulevard and the gateway to Downtown Tampa.”

Since the 1980s, Tampa's Naimoli family has been significantly involved with the university. Vince Naimoli, chairman and founding partner for the Tampa Bay Rays, is a chairman emeritus of the UT Board of Trustees and helped establish the UT Naimoli Institute for Business Strategy in 1999. The Naimoli family is also funding improvements to current campus softball and tennis complexes, the Naimoli and Young Family Tennis Complex and the Naimoli Family Softball Stadium, as well as two scholarships for a male and female athlete.

“This project has been in the planning stages for several years and really came into fruition in the past couple of years -- partly due to a generous gift from the Naimoli family,” Cárdenas says. “UT students, athletics and its fans will be excited to have an additional, all-weather field for intramurals and dub sports with great visibility.”

Cárdenas says the new complex and field will take some of the pressure off of the on-campus Pepin Stadium, allowing for flexibility. The project will also allow for the future construction of an academic building where the intramural field is now situated.

Now in final construction, design and timeline planning stages, the project is tentatively slated for completion by December 2012.

Writer: Alexis Quinn Chamberlain
Source: Eric Cárdenas, UT
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