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City Of Tampa To Build New Homes In Sulphur Springs

After months of tearing down abandoned and derelict homes in Sulphur Springs, a building spree is about to get under way.
 
The construction activity is the next step in the city's Nehemiah Project to revitalize one of the city's poorest neighborhoods. Work began almost one year ago when Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn hopped onto a bulldozer to begin knocking down the first of dozens of houses slated for demolition. Most are in Sulphur Springs; some are in the North Tampa area.
 
About $1.4 million in federal housing dollars will fund construction of 12 single-family residences close to Sulphur Springs Elementary School and the Springhill Community Center. The first contract for four houses has been awarded to general contractor, Alexander Inc. of Tampa Bay. The city owns a total of 25 lots.
 
"We are going to rebuild this neighborhood, and we are going to do it right," Buckhorn says. "We are going to make this a place where people are proud to live."
 
Reeshemah Green hopes she and her 4-year-old daughter, Legacy Green, will benefit from the new homes. Green bought her brand-new Sulphur Springs home in 2005 at the height of the real estate boom believing that it was a long-term investment. Her house is across the street from where the first house was torn down.
 
"They are building up around my home," she says. "I believe I can look forward to (property) values going up again."
 
Work will be parceled out in blocks of four houses at a time to bid-winning contractors who will complete construction in about 120 days.
 
Nine companies are qualified for the project: All State Homes, Framework Construction, Michael Angelo Construction, Nelson Priede Construction, Manuel Lanz Construction, Florida Home Partnership, Richard Stenholm Construction, Mourer & Mourer, and Alexander Inc. 
 
Estimated cost of construction is about $100,000 per house. Within the next weeks the city will hire a real estate brokerage firm to handle the sales transactions and aid city officials in staging open houses.
 
Sales prices for the homes will be market rate and set through appraisals, says Thom Snelling, the city's director of planning and development. The city might lose money initially but Snelling says, "The hope is as we get four new houses in here, we'll have new comparables." And that may bolster future values as more homes are sold, he says.
 
Any profit made on sales will be re-invested in building more houses.
 
Some down payment assistance through city programs is possible for home buyers, Snelling says
 
Workshops and counseling also will be provided to prospective buyers, says Sylvia Alvarez, executive director of Housing & Education Alliance. "It's needed," she says.  "It has to happen. If not, we'll end up in the same shape as before the housing crisis."
 
The Nehemiah Project is named for the biblical figure responsible for rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem within two months. 
 
This latest effort to revitalize Sulphur Springs is being embraced by long time activists who have struggled for years to overcome the drugs, crime and prostitution that dragged the neighborhood down. In its heydays in the 1930s, 40s and 50s, Sulphur Springs was a tourist mecca where people came to enjoy its healthy sulphur waters, spring-fed swimming pool and lively commercial district anchored by an arcade of shops.
 
There are signs Sulphur Springs is making a comeback. Tampa police report crime is down 20 percent. Over the last year, 150 tons of debris has been removed. Tampa Electric Company has installed more than 400 new street lights. Other bright spots have been the opening of Springhill Community Center and Layla's House, which offers childhood and parenting programs to Sulphur Springs' families.
 
Layla's House is one of several projects supported by the Neighborhood of Promise Initiative founded more than six years ago by the Tampa Metropolitan Area YMCA. Among its partners are the United Way Suncoast and the Children's Board of Hillsborough County.
 
"It's a good feeling. It's like 100 percent of 100," says Joseph Robinson, president of the Sulphur Springs Action League. "It's going to allow people to say, 'If they can do this, I can do this,' even if it's just flowers or mulch added to the yard. It's like a domino effect spreading to the next block."
 
The more home owners in the neighborhood, the stronger the neighborhood will be, Robinson says. "We have the beginnings of stabilization. We're looking forward to all the new homes."
 
Lifting a shovel and holding on to Legacy Green, Buckhorn tossed dirt for the symbolic groundbreaking. "It's ironic," he says of Legacy's name. "That is exactly what we are leaving to her, a legacy." 

Writer: Kathy Steele
Sources: Bob Buckhorn and Thom Snellling, City of Tampa; Joseph Robinson, Sulphur Springs Action League; Syliva Alvarez, Housing & Education Alliance; Reeshemah Green, Sulphur Spring

Walmart Plans Super Center On East Hillsborough In Tampa

A long vacated auto dealership on Hillsborough Avenue in East Tampa is about to get a new tenant -- a brand new Walmart Super Center.
 
The store will be under construction at 1720 E. Hillsborough Ave. by spring, according to Walmart representatives. Based on an estimated construction schedule of 10 to 12 months, the Super Center is expected to open by the middle of 2015.
 
The approximately 120,000-square-foot discount store will be built on the site of the former Abraham Chevrolet auto dealership, which closed several years ago. What would be next for the approximately 12-acre parcel has been the subject of much speculation among neighborhood residents in East Tampa and Seminole Heights.
 
Residents initially learned of Walmart's plans last year when the company sent letters to the Old Seminole Heights Neighborhood Association.
 
In December Walmart representatives met with residents at the monthly meeting of the East Tampa Community Revitalization Partnership. The volunteer group works with city planners to craft strategies to end blight within the East Tampa redevelopment area that is bordered by Hillsborough, Interstates 4 and 275 and the city limits.
 
The store falls within an overlay district that has design guidelines, unique to Seminole Heights, to govern new construction. As a result the store's traditional look will be tweaked.
 
Instead of a sea of pavement for parking in the front, the new building will be situated closer to the street. Customers will park along the side and rear of the Super Center. Other features will include a  "living wall" of trees and other landscaping along Hillsborough. Residents also were told the store's facade will have double-paned windows with opportunities for showcased merchandise similar to traditional window displays at department stores.
 
Prior to construction, the old auto showroom and dealership service bays will be torn down. 
 
The new store will be smaller than most Super Centers, which generally are about 180,000 square feet, according to Walmart spokesman Bill Wertz. Customers will be able to shop for groceries, including fresh produce, meats, deli items and bakery goods, plus merchandise typically sold at the discount chain store. There also will be a pharmacy with a drive-up window.

There will be no garden center and no tire and lube express.
 
Wertz anticipates the store will provide employment for about 200 people.
 
The store's property stretches from 15th Street next to Harris Veterinary Hospital to 19th Street across from McDonald's restaurant. Walmart plans to install a traffic signal at Hillsborough and 19th. The Florida Department of Transportation, which oversees the state road, recently gave its approval for the traffic light.

Writer: Kathy Steele
Source: Bill Wertz, Walmart

Lowry Park Zoo To Build New Veterinary Hospital

Construction on a new veterinary hospital and animal commissary at Lowry Park Zoo will begin soon following approval of a $6.5 million "pass-through" loan by Tampa City Council.
 
The 12,000-square-foot hospital is designed by Elements Architects for both aesthetics and functionality. An additional 2,000-square-foot animal commissary for food preparation for some 1,000 animals also is planned for the initial construction phase. When complete, there will be four buildings: the hospital, commissary, a quarantine and animal holding center and a 4,000-square-foot conservation center for research and study.
 
The hospital and commissary will be the first to open later this year.
 
"It really is meeting a very specific need that the Zoo has with its expanding collection (of animals)," says Bret Azzarelli, VP of Elements Architects. "The aesthetics need to fit into the surroundings. Some aspects are seen from the zoo. These were made to match the Florida boardwalk area. The remainder of the building is very utilitarian and functional."
 
A fund-raising campaign called "New Horizons" was launched in 2010. Approximately $7 million is already pledged; another $3 million is needed to fully fund the hospital.
 
The city, which owns the Zoo, is using its bonding authority to secure the tax-free loan, which is backed by the pledges from donors. The Zoo is operated as a nonprofit by the Lowry Park Zoological Society.
 
“Over the last 26 years, the Zoo has more than doubled in size, but our animal care facilities have not,” says Dick Stohler, co-chair of the New Horizons Campaign and a director of the Lowry Park Zoo Endowment Foundation. “The new animal care complex will provide the medical facilities necessary to meet our expanding needs and support future growth.”
 
The loan from SunTrust Bank will provide interim financing while Zoo officials continue to raise funds.
 
The hospital will be built just off the boardwalk by the Mason M. and Charles P. Lykes Florida Wildlife Center, and next to the existing animal clinic, which is about 27 years old. The new facility will have state-of-the-art medical equipment with areas for surgery, pharmacy, radiology and veterinarian offices.
 
In addition, zoo officials say they plan to use about $2 million for upgrades to the Manatee and Aquatic Center which houses the only nonprofit manatee hospital in the world. Since 1991 the center has treated about 330 wild manatees, or about 6 percent of the state's wildlife count of manatees.
 
Writer: Kathy Steele
Sources: Bret Azzarelli, Elements Architects; Dick Stohler, Lowry Park Zoo Endowment Foundation

City Of Tarpon Springs Seeks Bids To Improve Sponge Docks

The City of Tarpon Springs is moving ahead with plans to seek bids to refurbish the historical sponge docks in this Greek-style seaside village along the Anclote River.
 
Bids are expected to be reviewed before the end of March. If the city's Board of Commissioners agree on the scope and cost of the project, construction likely will begin by summer. About $1.3 million is projected for  a budget that will pay for a small oval-shaped amphitheater, a floating dock for visitors including kayakers, an 8-foot wide wooden riverwalk, benches along the seawall, Florida native landscaping, wooden directional and historical markers and brick elements along Dodocanese Boulevard and around the docks.
 
Wood and brick are historically accurate features for the sponge docks, according to Ed Hoffman, Jr., president of Tarpon Springs-based Hoffman Architects. "We're putting the docks back in the sponge docks," Hoffman says. "Right now, it's just a concrete wharf, a concrete platform."
 
The goal is to make the sponge docks more pedestrian-friendly and create a shaded, landscaped area where people want to gather for Greek dances, special events or just sit and enjoy the docks, Hoffman says.
 
Hoffman gave commissioners and the public an update on the project at a December city commission meeting. The project has been under design for about two years with public input gathered during several workshops.
 
Funds for the project are from the Penny for Pinellas sales tax revenues. Changes are slated for publicly owned land; no private property is involved. Construction bids will be a guide on how much of the project is affordable.
 
"What we want to do is try to enhance what we have there," says Tarpon Springs Mayor David Archie.
 
Still, some residents and business owners are skeptical and worry that the authenticity and quaintness of the docks will be lost. "It's too modern for what we have down there," says former Tarpon Springs Mayor Anita Protos.
 
The project is unanimously supported by city commissioners.
 
"I can't wait to see the finished product," says Tarpon Springs Vice-Mayor Susan Slattery. She anticipates the amphitheater, in particular,  as a field trip destination for young children who will learn about the city's history and the legacy of the Greek sponge divers who came to Tarpon Springs in the 1890s. "I think that's a great opportunity for children," Slattery says.
 
Commissioner Townsend Tarapani says the project "looks toward the future. Without a doubt, at the end of the day, this is something everyone is going to be proud of."

Writer: Kathy Steele
Sources: Susan Slattery, Anita Protos, David Archie, City of Tarpon Springs
 

South Tampa Boutique Hotel Opens To Guests

The long-awaited opening of the food-themed Epicurean Hotel on South Howard Avenue officially is two days after Christmas. But General Manager Tom Haines anticipates a "soft" opening with at least some rooms occupied by guests a few days sooner.
 
And gift cards are available for hotel stays, dining at the Élevage restaurant, hand-crafted cocktails at the roof-top bar EDGE, sweets at Chocolate Pi patisserie or culinary classes at the Epicurean Theatre.
 
"The response has been overwhelming," says Haines. "It seems to resonate with people."
 
The 137-room boutique hotel is in the Hyde Park historic district, across from landmark Bern's Steak House, founded more than 50 years ago by Gert and the late Bern Laxer. Their son, David Laxer, and Tampa-based Mainsail Lodging and Development of Tampa are partners in the hotel project. Marriott Hotel International, Inc., will add the Epicurean to its Autograph Collection, a select group of hotels that are operated without the Marriott name but offers guests the perks that come with the Marriott brand.
 
Among unique features at the hotel are bicycles for touring Hyde Park and Bayshore Boulevard and evening wine samplings.

The hotel also will have Chocolate Pi, a French-style patisserie, Bern's Fine Wines & Spirits, and 5,200 square-foot flexible event room suitable for weddings, honeymoons, bar and bat mitzvahs.

In February a full-service luxury spa, Evangeline, will open.
 
The hotel is taking an innovative path and tapping into the trendy "foodie" movement with culinary classes for beginners and experienced cooks. World-known chefs and sommeliers will visit the state-of-the-art Epicurean Theatre for cooking demonstrations, wine exhibitions and special events.

And the hotel will participate in the annual Bern's WineFest.

"There are so many foodies out there," Haines says. "They are hungry and thirsty for more knowledge. The theater cements that for people."

The first culinary classes will begin Jan. 20 with Mastering Wine Aromas. Other early topics are History of the Cocktail and tea blending. Haines says classes will be held "about every day of the week."

Writer: Kathy Steele
Source: Tom Haines, Epicurean Hotel

USF Health Begins Construction Of New Heart Institute

The University of South Florida made a major investment in cardiovascular research with the groundbreaking today (Dec. 17, 2013) of the USF Health Heart Institute.
 
The $50 million, five-story, 100,000-square-foot facility will be the center of the university's medical research into risk factors and new treatments for heart disease and related diseases of stroke, high blood pressure and diabetes. The research is expected to boost local investment in high-wage jobs, business partnerships, patents and technologies that could lead to spin-off businesses in and around Tampa and Hillsborough County.

“USF is working tirelessly to make heart disease less of a threat to the health and well-being of our community. Today, we take a huge step forward in our efforts as we begin work on building our new USF Health Heart Institute,” says USF President Judy Genshaft. “We’re creating the scientific infrastructure that will make Florida a world leader in combatting devastating diseases.”
 
The Heart Institute will create a synergy for "bench to bedside to bench" discoveries that aid health care patients, says Stephen Liggett, Vice Dean for Research at the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine. Liggett is co-acting director for the Institute along with Arthur Labovitz, chairman of Morsani College's Department of Cardiovascular Sciences.
 
Liggett describes the bench as the research that is translated into patient treatments at the bedside. In turn those treatments can reveal new avenues for additional productive research. The institute will focus on advanged diagnotics, clinical trials for new medicines, genetic and stem cell therapies and DNA tailored treatments based on a patient's genetic makeup.

USF Health recently began its first genomic trial in partnership with the American College of Cardiology by linking DNA analysis from blood samples to the cardiology college's heart disease database of millions of patients.

“The sharing of basic and clinical research data in both directions can lead to better outcomes,” he says.
 
Increased investment in research is intended to get to the root causes of heart disease. "Right now the pipeline for new drugs and new diagnostics is pretty dry," he says.
 
Heart disease among men and women is the leading cause of death and annually costs the United States more than $312 billion in health care costs, medicines and lost worker productivity, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Florida heart disease is second behind cancer as a cause of death.
 
The project is supported with nearly $22 million from the state and Hillsborough County. Another $30 million will be needed to complete construction. An opening date will be determined by how soon those funds are secured.
 
USF expects to invest as much as $25 million in faculty recruitment and resources for genomics-based medicine.
As the county's population ages, this type of research will become more important for the community, says Hillsborough County Commissioner Mark Sharpe. "It's an excellent investment," he says.
 
Among USF's partners at the Health Heart Institute are Florida Hospital and its Pepin Heart Institute, Florida Cardiovascular Institute and Tampa General Hospital.
 
The construction contractor is Whiting-Turner and the architect is HOK.
 
The Heart Institute will be in the center of the USF Health complex located at the northwest corner of Holly and Magnolia drives. Nearby are the Byrd Alzheimer's Institute, Moffit Cancer Center and Morsani College of Medicine. There will be an auditorium, offices, laboratories and a clinical care center.
 
Writer: Kathy Steele
Sources: Stephen Liggett, USF Health; Mark Sharpe, Hillsborough County

Tampa Solicits Bids For Hotel, Apartments In Ybor City

Infill parcels that have been vacant for nearly 30 years are being marketed to developers to build a hotel and a multifamily apartments in Ybor City.
 
Tampa City officials are seeking proposals for the hotel at 1212 Seventh Ave, and the apartments on East 12th Avenue between 16th and 17th streets, next to Interstate 4. Bids will be opened on Jan. 3.
 
"We hope it will be successful and spark new development," says Vince Pardo, president of the Ybor City Development Corporation, the city agency that oversees Ybor City's redevelopment areas. "It goes right into our vision plan for hotels for out of town visitors and more apartments for people to live here."
 
Proceeds from the land sales will be shared by the city and Hillsborough Community College based on a 1983 agreement when the college's board of trustees agreed to transfer the lots to the city through quit claim deeds. The agreement has been amended  twice, most recently in 1998.
 
Urban renewal and state highway widening projects sliced through portions of Ybor City leaving in its wake certain vacant parcels that then became the property of the city or the college. And in the case of the parcels now up for sale, there is joint ownership.

County  records show the market value of the hotel-designated property is about $173,000; the other parcel's market value is about $362,000. 

Money made on the sale must be re-invested within Ybor City's redevelopment area, says Pardo. But those revenues aren't as important as the longer-term economic and jobs benefits to Ybor from the proposed projects themselves, he says.

An unsolicited proposal from a Miami development group interested in building a hotel is what prompted the city's decision to seek bids on both properties. "The economy is getting better. People are eyeing property," says Pardo. "Why don't we go ahead with an RFP (request for proposal) on the second block?"

The hotel is proposed for a corner at Seventh Avenue and Nuccio Parkway that is at a gateway into Ybor City. A building at 1205 E. Eighth Ave also is up for sale by owner, the nonprofit Volunteers of America of Florida, and is potentially usable with the city's property. Volunteers of America paid $1.2 million for its property in 2004, according to county records.

Sociedad La Union Marti Maceo de Tampa uses the city-owned lot for parking. Pardo said the hotel is going to have to accommodate access into and out of the social club and nearby Chancey Design Partnership.

Other hotels in Ybor City are Hampton Inn and Don Vicente de Ybor Historic Inn.

The board of the YCDC is in support of the hotel and apartment projects. Once the bids are open, they will be reviewed and a recommendation submitted to the city administration and Tampa City Council.
 
"As Tampa leads Florida out of the recession, it's the right time to bring new residential and commercial opportunities to Ybor," says Mayor Bob Buckhorn. "I will do anything I can if it stimulates development and is good for the surrounding neighborhood, and we believe these projects will do just that. As we continue to foster 24 hour a day, 7 day a week environment in historic Ybor City, both projects will activate spaces that are currently vacant."
 
Recent proposal requests already are sparking redevelopment projects in Tampa Heights and downtown Tampa. The Water Works building in Tampa is being leased by Columbia Restaurant Group. Construction is under way and an opening for Ulele Restaurant and Bar is expected in 2014.
 
Hotel Partners LLC expects to open Le Meridien Hotel in the renovated Federal Courthouse building on Florida Avenue in late spring 2014. And a high-rise apartment tower and shops along the city's Riverwalk project, at Tyler and Cass streets, is being developed by Intown/Framework Group.

Writer: Kathy Steele
Sources: Vince Pardo and Bob Buckhorn, City of Tampa

Ex-Lawyer Follows Dream To Open Micro-Brewery

Small wooden kegs of beer sit inside the vast warehouse waiting to be tapped. They are filled with sample recipes for brews that owners of Coppertail Brewing Co. expect soon to be selling to local bars, restaurants and grocery stores.
 
In Kent Bailey's office, cardboard boxes are filled with coasters and T-shirts emblazoned with the message "Resist the Industrial Brewing Complex." It's a fitting challenge from a man who gave up a comfortable business law practice to follow a dream.

"I wasn't loving what I was doing anymore," says Bailey. His passion was for home-brewed beer crafted in his spare time in his Davis Islands' kitchen.

But he began to think, "How can I make this a career?"

He put together a business plan and a team to help make it work. In November he said goodbye to his law career. By March Bailey, 38, expects to open the brewing operations at Coppertail in a 34,000-square-foot warehouse at 2601 E. Second Ave., fronting Adamo Drive and sitting catty-cornered from Ikea. In past lives, the building has been home to Hellman's mayonaise, an olive oil company and a refrigeration repair shop. One month later he hopes to have a temporary tasting room open so he can offer tours. Longer range goals are to open a permanent tasting room and gift shop by summer or fall 2014. Outdoor space of about 32,000 square feet will be used for special events including beer festivals.

Right-of-way owned by the city of Tampa along Adamo Drive is slated for development as a greenway. That part of Coppertail's overall project needs additional city council approvals.

For now, offices and a front lobby are remodeled, with help from Schiller's Architectural Design and Salvage .The warehouse, building exterior and parking lot are works-in-progress. Hafner Ferlita Architects are the building's designers.
Residents in the East Ybor area are supportive. Initially there were worries that the establishment would be another bar.

"The fact that is not a 'bar-bar' is awesome," says Fran Costantino, president of the East Ybor Historic and Civic Association. "It's not going to bring in riff-raff."

Instead it will be an upscale business in an area that needs that type of new development, Costantino says.

Things are moving quickly. Approvals from Tampa City Council and the federal agency regulating brewery permits are in place. Brewing equipment from German-based Rolec is due to arrive in January.

Bailey is delighted that Rolec won the bidding contract for Coppertail's equipment. "Rolec really wants to be brewing in Florida," he says. "They don't have one here."

The award-winning company does have its equipment at several businesse in the United States including Brooklyn Brewing Company in New York and Lagunitas Brewing Company in California.

Bailey pitched his brewery idea to friend and home-brewer aficionado Robb Larson at WaZoo, a beer event at Lowry Park Zoo last year. Larson, who is a personal trainer, now is in charge of beer development and social media. The brewery's Facebook page is followed by about 1,100 people. They've also created a blog.

Coppertail's award-winning brewmaster is Casey Hughes, president of Master Brewers Association of America. Hughes moved from upstate New York at age 18 to Tampa. He worked with Key West brewing on the bottling line but worked up to a brewing job before he legally was able to drink alcohol. For many years he was head brewer at Flying Fish brewery in New Jersey before jumping at the chance to move back to Tampa and join the Coppertail brewing gang.

As a startup Coppertail's aim is to settle in with Tampa's growing micro-brewery movement. But Bailey says, "We've tried to give ourselves room here for the capacity to grow regional in 10 years or so. That's all a pipe dream now."

There is a camaraderie among local brewers much different from the corporate dog-eat-dog world of business law. "We've made a point of gettng out there and meeting as many brewers as we can," Bailey says. "Everyone has been kind and gracious."

Bailey sees craft beers as a growing trend that is benefitting from people's desires to grow and buy local food products.
 
"People are fed up with beer as an industrial product," he says. "They want it to be local, naturally flavorful again, and like it used to be. People are very focused on local and natural. Craft beer plays into that very well.''

As for the Coppertail name, Coppertail is a fantastical sea creature that lives in Tampa Bay where he protects swimmers and battles pollution.

Bailey's now 6-year-old daughter Sofia is the one who came up with the name after a talk with Bailey about the earliest explorers of Tampa and the kinds of creatures they might have seen." A lot of them reported seeing sea monsters which I thought was hilarious," says Bailey. "Coppertail is something impossible, about imagination and a lot about Tampa Bay."

Writer: Kathy Steele
Source: Kent Bailey, Coppertail

Construction Begins On New Transit Center In Pinellas Park

Bus riders will have an easier time of figuring out schedules and making connections when the new Pinellas Park Transit
Center opens in the summer of 2014.

CHTR Development, LLC, is in charge of construction after winning the contract with a low bid of $359,000. The new facility will replace the current transit center at 70th Avenue North behind the Shoppes at Park Place.

It will be manned with transit employees who can sell tickets and provide information at a customer service window. There also will be restrooms and water fountains for the hundreds of riders who get on and off the buses. It will be the first time central Pinellas has had such a fully equipped center, says Bob Lasher, spokesman for the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority.

The new transit center is an effort to modernize bus service and increase ridership.

In November 2014 voters will have a chance to vote on a referendum for a 1 percent sales tax to pay for a 30-year plan to improve transit service and potentially have light rail service connecting St. Petersburg and Clearwater.

Writer: Kathy Steele
Source: Bob Lasher, Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority

Madison Street Park Next For Channel District In Downtown Tampa

For years, Tampa City officials have envisioned a booming Channel District: one with luxury apartments, multiple shopping opportunities and even open-air parks to keep the community active. And with the City acquiring nearly nine-tenths of an acre in the northern end of the District, that vision is closer to becoming a reality. 
 
In addition to Washington Street Park at the corner of 12th Street and Pierhouse Apartments’ nautical-themed art park at what used to be 11th Street, two new pieces of land — one being purchased by the City for $1.56 million and one which will be given as a donation -- total 43,000 square feet and are expected to become Madison Street Park.
 
The donated portion of land is coming from a company controlled by developer Ken Stoltenberg of Mercury Advisors, who has city approval to build the 24-story Martin at Meridian tower next door. For now, Stoltenberg has a proposal for the now-vacant land between Twiggs and Madison streets.
 
“My vision is for an active sports park that can be highly programmed to meet the needs of the growing number of young urban professionals,” he says. “Right now, if you want to play basketball, sand volleyball or take a boot camp or CrossFit class outdoors, you need to leave downtown — and that’s a shame.”
 
Stoltenberg envisions the almost one-acre space to be divided into a basketball court, dodge ball area, two sand volleyball courts, two boot camp areas and a dog park. He says he, as well as other developers and City officials, have been told time and time again that a park is an amenity people look for when considering living in an urban environment.
 
“Residents will have access to all of the aforementioned activities and won’t have to drive anywhere,” he says. “Additionally, the restaurants in the neighborhood will benefit from increased business, thanks to evening and weekend park visitors.”
 
Soon, Stoltenberg and his team will break ground on The Martin, a mixed-use development expected to add a little more than 300 apartments and 30,000 square feet of retail space to the area; BDG Architects/Urban Studio Architects and Hardin Construction will work with Stoltenberg on the project. 
 
The Martin at Meridian will join The Place at Channelside, The Slade, Bell Channelside and the currently under-construction 356-unit, $550 million Pierhouse At Channelside apartments.
 
Source: Ken Stoltenberg, Mercury Advisors

New Frank Lloyd Wright House Stands Out At Florida Southern College

Florida Southern College has made architectural history once again with the completion of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian House. Designed by Wright in 1941, the plans for the Usonian House where locked away — until now. 
 
This construction marks the first time this particular design of a Wright home has even been built. 
 
The 1,700-square-foot Usonian House is expected to become the centerpiece of Florida Southern College’s Sharp Family Tourism and Education Center — the first stop for tens of thousands of visitors who come to Lakeland annually to see the Wright-designed campus and buildings.
 
Built by Rodda Construction, Inc. of Lakeland and with M. Jeffrey Baker of Mesick, Cohen, Wilson, Baker Architects of Albany, NY acting as supervising architect, the project showcases many of Wright’s signature architectural features, including a large open fireplace, cantilever construction, colored cast-glass blocks, floor-to-ceiling windows, minimal storage space and a floor plan that encouraged family togetherness.
 
“The Sharp Family Tourism and Education Center, with the Usonian House as its centerpiece, represents the college’s ongoing commitment to preserving and celebrating its unique architectural legacy,” says Florida Southern Director of Marketing & Communications Kathleen Farley. “With the addition of the Usonian House and the new educational resources the Sharp Center brings, we expect that our tourism numbers will rise significantly, bringing more visitors not only to our campus, but also to downtown Lakeland and other attractions in Polk County.”
 
Currently, the Florida Southern College campus welcomes more than 30,000 visitors annually and boasts the largest single-site collection of Frank Lloyd Wright architecture in the world. 
 
The West Campus of Florida Southern College represents the most fully articulated vision of Frank Lloyd Wright’s work, including the largest water feature, the only theater-in-the-round and the only planetarium ever designed by Wright. These attractions receive upwards of 100,000 visitors per year.
 
“Any fan of architecture or student of American history should make the trip to see this absolutely stunning and unique collection. I feel privileged that I get to walk among these structures every day,” Farley says. “Wright’s attention-to-design on a grand scale right down to the tiniest of details is simply mind-blowing. No aspect of these structures occurred by happenstance — every detail was carefully thought out to achieve a particular outcome and particular experience for each viewer.”
 
Usonian was Wright’s acronym for United States of North America, implying an aesthetic stemming from the blend of cultures and environments unique to the country. Wright initially conceived several Usonian-style homes to serve as faculty housing for the campus, however, none were built. This particular design has never been constructed before.
 
Funded by a number of private donations, the project received a $1 million contribution from Polk County and a donation of $500,000 from the City of Lakeland.
 
Woodwork for the project was performed by Thomas Sharrett of Demoss Cabinetry of Lakeland and cast glass fabrication by Ron Bearer, Jr. of R4 Glass Studio in Cocoa. Cast glass installation was performed by Ken Berman of Lakeland’s The Glass Onion and textile blocks were created by Ken Uracius of Stone and Lime Inc, of Brookfield, MA.
 
Source: Kathleen Farley, Florida Southern College

USFSM Ushers In Scientific Renaissance With Mote Partnership, New Science Labs, Biology Major

The STEM curriculum is a rapidly evolving organism at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee. On Oct. 17, USFSM held a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the opening of its new science labs at Mote Marine Laboratories and announced that a new undergraduate major will be offered in biology at the university starting next fall.

Willis A. Smith Construction oversaw the development of a biology lab, chemistry lab and student teaching area in a pre-existing 4,600-square-foot research facility on the Mote Marine campus. Designed by Fawley-Bryant Architects, each lab includes 26 student stations that are served by laboratory gas and fume snorkels. An additional laboratory prep area serving both the biology and chemistry labs houses high-tech research tools including autoclaves, incubators, sub-zero freezers and student safety stations.

The $1.5 million project was funded by private donors, foundations and grants that covered the cost of construction as well as the purchase of lab equipment. Construction took place between the months of March and August, 2013, when the labs welcomed its first batch of undergraduate students.

Dr. Jane Rose,  Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at USFSM, says that students will not only receive valuable hands-on access to state-of-the-art laboratory equipment, but they will also benefit from one-on-one face-time with world-class researchers and teaching scientists who partner with the university from 22 diverse research programs at Mote Marine.

"While the partnership was developed as a way for the university just to get into the sciences, it has enabled us to do so in very a special way, and to make a contribution to the whole state repertoire of science programs. Most importantly, it's a chance to really serve our students from the Sarasota, Manatee and Charlotte County region,'' says Rose.

The new state-of-the-art laboratories at Mote Marine and B.S. Biology program for undergraduate students are integral elements in USFSM’s transition into a full four-year institution of higher learning, which began in August when the university welcomed its first class of incoming freshmen.

The biology program is in its pilot year at the university. The degree program does not officially launch until Fall 2014, but current students can declare a biology major and begin to pursue pre-requisite coursework in the biology field at any time. A small group of students began attending classes in the labs when the Fall 2013 semester commenced in August.

"Florida offers many undergraduate biology degrees, but none of them will be quite like ours. In most major universities, the research faculty generally delivers the lecture section to auditoriums filled with hundreds of students, but it's graduate students who are teaching the labs. Undergrad students don't get to know the real research faculty well until they've advanced in their degree or until they're graduate students, which comes down to a class size issue. Our classes will be intentionally small so that students have close working relationships with the research faculty as early as their freshman year,'' Rose says.

"Whether it's a Mote Marine researcher or our faculty leading the students, they will not only be delivering the lecture portion of the courses, but they will also be in the labs working with those students, which will make the labs much more significant. Many people would argue that where scientists really learn is in the lab components of their courses,'' Rose adds.

Rose says that prior to the introduction of the B.S. in biology program, there was no biology degree available for public university students in the Sarasota-Manatee-Charlotte region.

"These students will be be at an advantage because they have had so much meaningful lab experience right from the beginning of their college careers. They will be competitive in entry level lab jobs in medical field and in industrial research and development with their undergraduate degrees, but more importantly, most careers in the sciences do involved graduate study. Students working in our research labs will be well-prepared for that,'' Rose says.

"Now, not only can you stay here to get a biology degree, but you can stay here to get a biology degree to be envied.''

Writer: Jessi Smith
Source: Jane Rose, USFSM

New Saunders Library To Be Built In Tampa In 2014

The old Robert W. Saunders Sr. Public Library near Ybor City will be torn down starting in December to make way for a new library at the same location. Plans call for the new library to be built in 2014 and open in 2015.

Construction on the $4.5 million, 25,000-square-foot library is expected to begin in January and will replace the nearly 45-year-old building currently located at 1505 N. Nebraska Ave. The new library construction continues the City's effort to invest in and improve neighborhoods just north of downtown Tampa.

"This will be marvelous for the community with Encore across the street with direct access to the library,'' says City Councilman Frank Reddick. "It's a project that many people have worked on for a lot of years.''

The existing library was built in the late 1960s and named for civil rights leader Robert W. Saunders Sr. Once known as The Scrub, the area was settled in the early 1900s by freed slaves after the Civil War.

The new two-story library will preserve the legacy of its namesake with a bust of Saunders in the existing library's reading area, and an African-American Research Library will become the central archive for historic documents and artifacts from notable local African American leaders and organizations. The Research Library will chronicle the history of the area and, according to Sells, will house numerous special collections.

"We're highlighting a lot of African-American history in Tampa,'' says Chief Library Renelda Sells.

Additionally, the new library will feature a bookstore, a recording room, a children's section and a 350-seat multipurpose room slated to include a portable stage for plays, concerts and banquets.

Booker T. Washington Elementary School students are expected to take advantage of these new spaces during school hours; a walkway currently connects the school building with the existing 7,300-square-foot, single-story library.

The current Robert W. Saunders Sr. Public Library will close on Sunday, December 1st, with new construction expected to see completion by anticipated by early 2015.

"We have been waiting a long time for this,'' says Fred Hearns, President of the Robert W. Saunders Foundation.

During construction, library patrons are encouraged to take advantage of the John F. Germany Public Library at 900 N. Ashley Dr., the C. Blythe Andrews Jr. Public Library at 2607 E. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. and the Seminole Heights Public Library at 4711 N. Central Ave.

Writer: Alexis Quinn Chamberlain
Sources: Frank Reddick and Renelda Sells, City of Tampa; Fred Hearns, Robert W. Saunders Foundation

WalMart Announces New Store in South St. Petersburg

Walmart plans to open a new store in the recently vacated Sweetbay grocery at the Tangerine Plaza in the Midtown neighborhood of St. Petersburg in early 2014.
 
St. Petersburg city officials and Urban Development Solutions say Walmart will be occupying the existing 39,000-square-foot store as a neighborhood market store.

Introduced in 1998, Walmart's Neighborhood Market format is one-quarter of the size of a typical Walmart Supercenter. With a floor area of about 40,000 square feet,  market stores are smaller and cater to a limited catchment area such as a neighborhood or a group of neighborhoods.

"Since Sweetbay left, the surrounding neighborhood did not have any full service grocery store within walking distance, making it extremely inconvenient for its residents,'' says Beth Herendeen, City of St. Petersburg Communications Director.

Located at 22nd St. S. and 18th Ave. S., the proposed Midtown store will attract customers from adjoining residential areas. According to Herendeen, the store will roughly serve a population of 14,750 to 35,600 within a three- to five-minute drive-time distance.

The store's small size and its location will enable residents of the surrounding neighborhoods to walk to get their groceries.

The concept of Neighborhood Market Stores was introduced by Walmart in response to changes in urban demographics and economic priorities. A small-scale store fits well in urban neighborhoods and is more convenient in heavily populated areas. Walmart Supercenters with large parking lots fit better in suburbs. A smaller store is designed to enable customers to park easily and enjoy less crowded aisles and quicker checkouts.

Since Sweetbay closed at Tangerine Plaza, the city who had earlier assembled the land at $3.1 million and started looking for potential partners, including Walmart. "Since the City is a financial stakeholder in the land, the City took an active role in bringing in Walmart,'' says Herendeen.

The neighborhood store at the Tangerine Plaza will have a full grocery, including produce and a pharmacy. It will employ 95 associates, for whom a temporary hiring center has been opened at the store. Interested applicants can also apply online.

"With Walmart's neighborhood market store, the residents will once again have access to fresh food and pharmacy, which is critical for maintaining a healthy community,'' says Herendeen.

Writer: Vinod Kadu
Source: Beth Herendeen, Communications Director, City of St.Petersburg

Sarasota's Selby Gardens Flourishes With Renovations

The Marie Selby Botanical Gardens is abloom with renovations and upgrades designed to modernize and heighten the aesthetic quality of the beloved Sarasota landmark.

The Great Room by the Bay, the organization's private event venue and meeting facility, received a "floor-to-ceiling'' cosmetic makeover this summer, thanks to financial assistance from Selby Board Trustee Sandy Rederer, as well as in-kind services provided by Fawley Bryant Architects, Tandem Construction and Milton Shenk LLC.

The 3,600-square-foot facility, which features 60-foot-high west-facing windows with stunning sunset views of Sarasota Bay, has been a popular destination for weddings, parties and other private events since its construction in the late 1980s, but Rederer and the Selby staff felt that the space was in need of a cosmetic upgrade.

"It was just really dated and really needed a face lift,'' says Sarah Colandro, Director of Interiors at Fawley Bryant. "We wanted to capitalize on the architecture already there, but to neutralize the space and take out the outdated aspects like the patterned carpet and the wood beams, doors and trim that showed the age of the building.''

Renovations to the Great Room began in July, 2013, and were completed in August. The design and construction team replaced the outdated patterned carpet with new high-performance flooring in a neutral shade of charcoal that is versatile enough to complement a variety of themed decor, while the walls and ceiling received a makeover including new light fixtures, ceiling tiles and fire sprinklers, as well as a fresh, white finish to brighten the room and accommodate any event style. Upgrades were also made to lighting and fixtures in the restroom area.

The most visually intriguing aspect of the $121,000 renovation project is the addition of floating, illuminated white fabric kites that are assembled in the ceiling alcove of the Great Room. The kites can be accented with colored spotlight lenses for drama and effect during themed weddings and parties.

"These improvements will help Selby Gardens remain competitive and successful in attracting prime wedding and event rental income,'' says Selby Gardens CEO Thomas Butcher. "The revenue from private functions provides much needed support for ongoing operations.''

In addition to the renovations in the Great Room, a second construction team took advantage of the Selby Botanical Gardens' slow summer season to work on the highly anticipated Ann Goldstein Children's Rainforest, which is scheduled to open in early November.

The Ann Goldstein Children's Garden at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens will include an educational waterfall and forest pool where all ages can learn about aquatic ecosystems and rainforest plants, a canopy walk and rope bridge, an epiphyte canyon full of rocks and the unique plants that grow on them, a research station that features field botany techniques and gadgets, as well as an amphitheatre, classroom and special exhibition spaces in the Rainforest Village.

The project is funded by donations from community foundations, including the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, the William G. and Marie Selby Foundation and other private donors, including Sarasota Philanthropist Al Goldstein, who contributed the lead naming gift to initiate the project, following his wife's death in 2011.

Hazeltine Nurseries, Tandem Construction and Milton Shenk LLC collaborated on the design and construction of the educational rainforest garden. The $5 million project began construction on March 1, 2013 and is scheduled for completion this fall. The Children's Rainforest will open to the public on November 9, 2013.

Writer: Jessi Smith
Source: Sandy Rederer and Thomas Butcher, Selby Gardens; Sarah Colandro, Fawley Bryant
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