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Nonprofit buys former restaurant for new Wimauma Opportunity Center

A former restaurant, tucked away behind trees near Walmart at State Road 674 and U.S. Highway 301, is poised to become a hub for entrepreneurs in the growing Wimauma community of Hillsborough County’s South Shore.

Enterprising Latinas Inc., a nonprofit working to empower low-income Hispanic women in Tampa Bay, acquired the building and 2.25 acres of land from Roy and Rachel Loken for $735,000, says Liz Gutierrez, ELI Founder and CEO.

The property, formerly a breakfast-and-lunch restaurant called Rachel’s Country Kitchen, will be the site of ELI’s Wimauma Opportunity Center, a place where the community can meet and train for new jobs or entrepreneurial endeavors.

The purchase was made possible by a $250,000 grant from Alleghany Franciscan Ministries, which is investing in the community through its Common Good Initiative. Alleghany is providing another $250,000 to help create an economic development infrastructure, advance economic development and provide training.

ELI also secured a $520,000 loan from the nonprofit Raza Development Fund, the largest Latino Community Development Financial Institution, Gutierrez says.

The project will involve renovating the building’s interior for community learning and shared office use, and adding outdoor signage and lighting. Later on, a complete redesign of the front is anticipated.

“It’s really going to be a hub for all things related to community economic opportunity," explains Gutierrez. “We’re very excited to have a physical place where we can bring people together to expand the work that we already started.”

ELI, which has been leasing at Beth-El Farmworker Ministry on U.S. 301, will also be housed at the facility. It began moving in last week after the Jan. 8 sale.

“All of the customers are coming in looking for Rachel,” Gutierrez says. “They lost their little place. Hopefully we will convert it into a new place they can come back to.”

Located at 5128 State Road 674, the Wimauma Opportunity Center is expected to draw students to the commercial kitchen for culinary training -- including food service management -- starting in February.

“That’s an industry that’s booming all around us,” Gutierrez explains. “When it’s not being used for training, other people can use it be able to get licensed to sell tacos or sandwiches though food trucks. ... Hopefully, it will also be a catalyst of the food micro entrepreneurs that are here in Wimauma and also the surrounding area.”

As development in Hillsborough pushes south, the community with an average income of less than $26,000 a year between 2011-15 is transitioning from farmlands into new subdivisions that look much like homes in neighboring Sun City Center. With help from the Alleghany Franciscan Ministries’ Common Good Initiative, the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay and other concerned citizens, Wimauma residents have been working to direct their own path.

The decision to purchase a facility was made because ELI couldn’t find available rental space, Gutierrez says.

ELI, which has been training childcare workers, expects to again offer that training in February. It is in the process of developing an area transportation system in cooperation with the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority.

“We’re having conversations with a number of different funders that have expressed general commitment to provide startup capital,” she says.

ELI has hired Chamain Moss-Torres, Ph.D., formerly program director at the Children’s Home Network, as its director of economic opportunity initiatives. It also is leasing space to the Wimauma CDC, which is interviewing for an executive director to further the CDC’s mission and manage its staff and programs. The executive director also will serve as its primary fundraiser and spokesperson. Applicants for the position, expected to pay between $75,000-$90,000 annually with benefits, should submit cover letters and resumes to Connectivity Community Consulting at info@connectformore.com.

Adds Gutierrez: “We’re going to be very busy. Our goal over the next year is to touch 100 women and their families,” she says.

Learn more about how the Wimauma community is transitioning for growth though Alleghany Franciscan Ministries-funded On the Ground coverage in 83 Degrees.


Luxury high-rise under construction in downtown St. Pete

Construction has begun on the $80 million Icon Central mixed-used development in downtown St. Petersburg, which will include an upscale 368-unit high-rise apartment complex and upgrade of the 1926 Union Trust Bank building.

Its 15-story luxury apartment complex at 801 Central Ave. will literally stand out amid the area’s existing mid-rises – inside and outside. It will feature amenities such as an outdoor movie lawn, a club lounge with game simulator room, and indoor Zen garden.

“We studied the market and we’ve included these top tier amenities that will appeal to both the baby boomers and the millennials," says Jessica Suarez, VP of development for the Miami-based Related Group, the project developer.

It will incorporate the arts through rotating art exhibits, local artist displays, an art and wine tasting room, plus art in the courtyard surrounding the pool, she adds.

“We’ve taken it to another level,” Suarez says. “The art element in St. Pete is significant.”

A ceremonial groundbreaking ceremony, scheduled at 2 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 10, is expected to draw local officials and team members. 

Work began in December. “We’ve cleared the site and we’re doing foundations,” she says.

The project is the latest in The Related Group’s Icon brand, known for luxury highrise rentals. It includes Icon Harbor Island apartments in Tampa, plus Icon projects in Fort Lauderdale and Atlanta.

Icon Central will include studio, one-, two- and three-bedroom units with monthly rents expected to range from $1600 to $4000; some on the top floors will have water views. Leasing is anticipated in mid-2019.

The high-rise, being built in a contemporary federal architecture style, also will include a spa with steam and sauna, a pool courtyard with a European-style heated pool, and a summer grilling kitchen.

The intimate, outdoor movie lawn will have a large screen on the side of the building, which can be used for movies or projections during outdoor classes.

Related seeks to create a community around activities for its residents. “That [Icon Central] is a community for us. We’re constantly involving them,” she says. “It’s different. You don’t see anything like that in St. Pete.”

The residential complex will be connected to the bank building with a multi-use building with retail, residential and parking space. The first two levels will be primarily cast stone, with tan stucco above. The bank is being renovated with stonework, cornices and other features reflecting the historical era.

What we envision there is more of a high-end -- boutique stores with lounge and meeting space, or a food hall,” she says.

The interior of the bank, as well as an 1980s addition, have been demolished. “As construction progresses, we will start marketing the retail,” she explains.

The retail space is expected to be completed around mid-2019.

What attracted the developer to St. Petersburg was the continued growth and development, similar to more successful areas in the Miami area that have been revitalized, she says.

Icon Central has been in the works for three years.

The Related Group is active in the Tampa market, where move-ins have begun at Icon Harbor Island, a 340-unit luxury development. Construction is continuing at River Manorwalk, an eight story, 400-unit complex being built on the site of the former Tampa Tribune downtown, with leasing and move-ins planned in mid-2019.

Related also is developing the 396-unit Town Westshore rental community and partnering with Tampa Housing Authority in its West River redevelopment involving 150 acres on the west bank of the Hillsborough River on the edges of downtown.


Market to anchor Downtown Clearwater Gateway revitalization

As plans to revitalize Clearwater’s waterfront and downtown move forward, focus has also turned toward the city’s Downtown Gateway.

In September, the Clearwater City Council approved conceptual plans for Mercado, a public market that will be developed on a triangular swath of land where Cleveland Street meets Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard. The plaza will include space where small businesses and other vendors can take root and an open area for community events, says Chuck Lane, Assistant Director, Economic Development & Housing.

“It’s going to be a space where people can interact with each other,” he says. This ranges from serving as a venue for farmer’s markets, art fairs and other public events to a space where individuals “can just sit down and read a newspaper.”

Mercado will also cater to the largely Hispanic population of the neighborhood, Lane adds. Around one-third of those living in the area are foreign born, “largely Hispanic,” he says. “Mercado is intended to embrace these individuals and be a space where people can feel comfortable in that environment.”

Gabe Parra, community redevelopment manager, says the conversation surrounding this project and property is seven-years in the making.

“We want to create a gathering space where the neighborhood can convene and feel like they belong,” he says.

The project will also build off a streetscape project designed to enhance Cleveland Street between Missouri Avenue and Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard. These improvements will transform Cleveland Street into a more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly thoroughfare as development and interest in downtown Clearwater grows.

Over the past year, the city has worked with the Project for Public Spaces to determine the best look for Mercado, Lane says. The company, which led a feasibility study on the project, created a conceptual rendering of what the plaza might look like.

In “a good faith” move, AIT Consulting, the company behind the streetscape project, took these designs a step further, he adds. The company saw the need for improvements in the Downtown Gateway and added elements to the PPS design, including structures built utilizing storage containers. AIT has not been hired by the city for the project, Lane says.

Lane is working with “key players” in the area, including a number of local businesses, to create the final design for Mercado. He expects these conversations will match much of what was said in the initial public hearings.

The streetscape project will begin by March, he says. After that, construction can move forward on Mercado and he anticipates that this time next year, the community can expect to see the first events organized in the area.

11 people, projects in Downtown Tampa recognized for urban excellence

What is the value of a new dog park to the surrounding neighborhood? 

For residents on the northern half of the Channel District in downtown Tampa, it’s immense, if only measured based on dogs-per-acre.

The Deputy Kotfila Memorial Dog Park is built underneath the Selmon Expressway, directly across from Bell Channelside and within walking distance of Grand Central and Ventana. It’s excellent thanks to a thoughtful design and dual use of space (dogs below, cars above), and the acknowledgement of a public hero: 

Hillsborough County Deputy John Robert Kotfila, Jr. lost his life to a wrong-way driver on the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway in March of last year. The Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority wanted to do something to honor his legacy. After learning about the strong bond between Kotfila and his German Shepard, Dexter, it was decided to  dedicate the Selmon Greenway dog park in his honor.

“The neighborhood loves it and is grateful to have a shaded space to use year-round, as well as separate space for small dogs,'' says Sarah McKinley, a downtown resident and worker. "They [the dogs] all seem very pleased.”

And as any dog owner knows, dog parks have a way of becoming the main gathering spot for the neighborhood. If anything will force you away from solitary Netflix binging, it’s to take Rufus for a walk.

The Downtown Partnership also recognized other projects for improving the quality of life in Tampa. Winners include The Downtowner free shuttle service (transportation), The Art of the Brick (private sector project), Second Screen Cult Cinema (arts and culture), and the I AM PRICELESS mural (social impact).

The full list of winners is available on the Tampa Downtown Partnership's website. Look for winners in categories like historic preservation, experience, collaboration, and people’s choice.

Taken in aggregate, these actors and their impacts build upon the momentum that continues to push Tampa’s urban center in more dynamic directions each year.

A special acknowledgement was also made to Christine Burdick, Tampa Downtown Partnership’s CEO for the past 15 years. She led the Partnership through what many consider Downtown Tampa’s most transformative change in modern times, but will soon retire from her work with the organization.

Burdick is credited as the driver of many successful initiatives, such as programming activities in Curtis Hixon Park, completion and management of The Tampa Riverwalk, relocation of the Tampa Museum of Art, and initiating the Coast Bike Share program.

U.S. 301 widening project begins; FDOT holds open house

Work has begun on a $49 million project to widen a 3.8-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 301 between State Road 674 and Balm Road in Hillsborough County’s South Shore.

The road will be widened to six lanes, with a raised median and paved shoulders, and a new bridge built over Big Bullfrog Creek. A sidewalk will be added on the west side and a multi-use path will be added on the east.

“The really great news for this project is road closures are not anticipated during construction – we will be working east of the existing road, building the new northbound roadway (Phase 1), then shifting traffic to it and building the southbound roadway (Phase 2),” says David Botello, Public Information Officer for the Florida Department of Transportation’s District 7. “Traffic disruptions (if any) will be minimal and at night.”

Phase 3 will involve applying the last layer of asphalt and thermoplastic striping. The project includes a new drainage system that relies upon ponds.

This widening project in south Hillsborough County will help ease congestion and accommodate the growth along the U.S. 301 corridor, as well as enhance bicycle and pedestrian safety,” Botello says.

Lower land costs have made southern Hillsborough more attractive to developers. Plans for housing developments in the U.S. 301 corridor date back to at least the 1970s and 1980s, when landowners agreed to pay for roadway improvements.

The Davie-based contractor, Astaldi Construction Corp., is expected to complete the job in late 2020.

An Open House is scheduled Tuesday, Nov. 14, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the SouthShore Regional Library, 15816 Beth Shields Way, Ruskin.

“FDOT staff will be on hand to answer any project-related questions, and project design display boards and construction plans will also be available for viewing,”
Botello adds. “We anticipate the residents of the nearby communities as well as commuters who utilize the U.S 301 corridor to be most interested in this project.”

Special accommodations are available through the Americans with Disabilities Act. Those who require assistance, or who need free translation services, should email Maricelle Venegas, Community Outreach Specialist, or call (813) 975-6204, before the event.

Information also is available from FDOT online.


A new facelift for historic Downtown Tampa landmark

Downtown Tampa’s only “elaborate movie palace” is undergoing a much-anticipated upgrade: wider, cushier seats and a more modern concessions stand for attendees to enjoy, as well as significant infrastructural improvements to protect the 1926 building from extreme weather.

The $6 million Phase 1 scope of work at Tampa Theatre addresses both the integrity of the building and the superior audience experience; seating has long been a gripe of even the venue’s biggest fans. The 1970s-era lobby concession counter is inefficient for rapid service and out of step with the original Mediterranean design. Both will be addressed with work starting today.

Authenticity is key in this process, and so even the new paint will be forensically matched to what was used 91 years ago.

While the mainstream model for cinema is changing thanks to streaming services and dinner-bar-theater hybrids, the Tampa Theatre’s charm is its ambiance and urban setting, surrounded by bars, restaurants and modern residential highrises.

Attendees enjoy a regular lineup of unique independent films and documentaries, seasonal classics (horror around Halloween, holiday from now until the new year -- to be shown outside during Winter Village at Curtis Hixon Park, and participation in film festivals like TIGLFF and GIFF.

Tampa City Council member Guido Maniscalco recalled a friend telling him, ahead of this morning’s media briefing: “I proposed to my wife there!”

When you attend a movie screening at The Tampa Theatre, you get one of the rare glimpses into prewar life in Tampa -- a distant past of gilded opulence. A time when streetcars ran up and down Franklin Street and ushers showed dressed-up moviegoers to their assigned seats before a film.

In 1976, the Tampa Theatre was saved from demolition through a coalition of impassioned community and civic leaders, including former Tampa Mayor Bill Poe, Sr. In 1978, it was selected to be part of the National Register of Historic Places, making it eligible for federal preservation tax credits and incentives.

Today, individual donations, sponsorships and partnerships, and philanthropic businesses support its continued operation and improvement. This morning, realty brokerage Smith & Associates’ CEO Bob Glaser presented Tampa Theatre CEO John Bell with a check for $250,000, generosity that will help speed the restoration work.

So where are all those old seats going? Head to Schiller’s Architectural and Design Salvage in North Hyde Park to purchase a piece of the theatre’s history.

Renovation work will wrap up by the end of December in time for a film screening on the 22nd and New Years Eve party to ring in 2018! Exact date of completion is T-B-A.


From blank to swank: Gin Joint opens in Downtown Tampa

Perhaps the most exciting changes to our urban fabric come in the form of newly-established uses in brand new spaces, a.k.a. placemaking. Rather than swapping one bar for another in a given strip, it’s actual growth in our range of options -- for eating, drinking and entertaining each other. 

In Tampa, good examples of placemaking include Ulele, Fresh Kitchen and Le Meridien Hotel, among many others. All are now counted as focal points for our daily lives, in spots where there was minimal activity before.

CW’s Gin Joint joins that exclusive list by opening in the ground floor of The Franklin Exchange Building (633 North Franklin Street) in Downtown Tampa. Already it’s hopping, thanks to a retro/chic interior overhaul, significant list of craft cocktails, and impressive French-inspired menu, including an early favorite: portobello mushroom fries. 

Live piano performances 

“CW” is Carolyn Wilson, owner of The Wilson Company, a property management and development firm with 30 years of history in the region, including headline projects like The New York Yankees’ Legends Field.

And while contracts like managing the USF CAMLS building keep the business running, Wilson has bigger ideas for how to improve the urban landscape of Tampa, like turning The Vault into more than just a historic bank building.

As owner of most of the 600 block of Franklin Street, including The Vault, she is in the rare position to make decisions like curating events that attract activity, even if they’re not wildly profitable.

Every month, Second Screen Cult Cinema hosts its pop-up film series in The Vault, thanks in part to a sponsorship by The Wilson Company. For example, it was standing room only for a recent showing of Wes Anderson’s Rushmore (1998).

Every Halloween season, The Vault of Souls opens to guests with the promise of “an elegant evening of fear,” though all bookings are finished for 2017.

CW’s Gin Joint is just the latest effort to enhance a sense of place (activity, life, engagement) where five or 10 years ago, little went on past 5 o’clock in downtown.

The quality and attention to detail inside is striking, and the drinks are delicious. After a movie at The Tampa Theatre or concert in Curtis Hixon Park, stop by for a classy cocktail and tip your hat to CW and her team for bringing something so charming and authentic to Downtown Tampa.

Florida CDC gives local nonprofits a chance to make funding pitches

The CDC of Tampa will make a pitch for funding for an economic opportunity center to provide services to at-risk individuals. The University Area CDC will attempt to garner support for a fee-based visual and performing arts/interactive learning/social engagement project for underserved youth and families. And the nonprofit Enterprising Latinas will seek money for an innovative transportation system to serve the Wimauma community in Hillsborough County’s SouthShore.

These are among the 11 creative nonprofit organizations that will seek help from potential investors Oct. 30 through Nov. 1 in an event patterned after the popular TV show Shark Tank.

“The whole concept behind this Expo was to put nonprofit projects in front of people that might be interested in funding them,” says Terry Chelikowsky, Executive Director of the Florida Alliance of Community Development Corporations, a Jacksonville group working to help communities in Florida prosper.

“We’ve tried to invite people that might really be interested in learning about these projects,” she adds, “but there are no guarantees.”

The Expo is expected to attract a diverse group from around the state that includes representatives from financial institutions, local businesses, community development finance institutions, and community and family foundations -- as well as social venture capitalists, local government officials, and the general public.

In addition to pitches by creators, the Expo will include a training track to educate people about communities and economic development by nonprofits. Training will include information on why communities are inequitable and how to make them more equitable, the economic benefits of the nonprofit sector, and community development and the arts.

The event has been in the works for three years after the idea was sparked by a similar event held in Jacksonville. “We are hoping to be able to repeat this every couple of years,” she says.

Creator presentations kick off at 11 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 31. While 10-minute pitches will be made to a room full of people, they’ll be graded on a 50-point system by two or three volunteers. A question-and-answer session will include comments from professionals on the viability of the projects.

First place winners will be recognized in each of three categories: economic development, housing development, and programs that empower people. The real prize is receiving a followup call from one or more investors – and ultimately, funding for their projects.

The Expo will be held at Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay at 2900 Bayport Dr., Tampa. It costs $199 for the first alliance member and $149 for additional members. Non-members pay $269, with additional individuals from an organization paying $219.

Online registration is available through the organization’s website by clicking on 2017 Expo Hub. Walk-ins are welcome. The event starts at noon on October 30 and includes lunch, a general session on equitable communities, a creators’ exhibit display and reception. The event concludes with Best Project Awards at 11:30 a.m. Nov. 1.


Public transit moves toward more on-demand services

Some public transit riders in Hillsborough County will need to find alternative transportation starting Sunday, Oct. 8, when 14 routes are eliminated to save some $6 million annually.

Other Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART) bus riders will have better and more frequent service in the route redesign.

“There are winners and there frankly, unfortunately, are losers,” says Steve Feigenbaum, HART’s Director of Service Development. “There are going to be people who aren’t going to be positively affected. We’re trying to keep it to a minimum.”

HART attempts to streamline services making them more efficient, relying upon more innovative on-demand services to replace lower ridership circular routes. Its goals are in line with a survey revealing the public favors more frequent service, even if it takes longer to reach the bus stop.

“We’re trying to do this whole thing, based on the data, where we can get the best bang for our buck,” he explains. “The budget is not adequate to really serve the full needs.”

HART is beefing up transportation to Tampa International Airport, increasing it from one to three routes. It also is increasing the frequency of Route 34 to every 20 minutes on weekdays. Bus frequency also is increasing on Routes 1, 14 and Metro Rapid.

New routes make it easier to commute from Tampa International Airport to Brandon Mall, or from Downtown Tampa to MacDill Air Force Base.

Buses 2,4, 10, 18, 21LX, 22X, 27LX, 28X, 41, 47LX, 53LX, 57, 61LX and 200X are being cut.

HART will be relying on and expanding where possible its Hyperlink services, the country’s first transit-operated rideshare service providing door-to-door service, connecting riders with existing bus lines on demand. HARTPlus will continue to serve the handicapped within three quarters of a mile from the old routes.

The transit authority is in the midst of a massive public awareness campaign to reach riders along all affected routes. Orange bags were being placed at affected stops, notices were being posted in bus shelters, and HARTline personnel were riding the buses to inform riders about alternatives.

In general, public transit riders may want to consider vanpools, carpools, Hyperlink /(in the University, Temple Terrace and/or Brandon areas), HARTFlex, private on-demand services like Uber or Lyft, taxis or private rides to get to a bus route or their destination. Hillsborough County’s Sunshine Line offers door-to-door service and bus passes to elderly, low-income and disabled individuals without transportation, and is especially useful for medical appointments, aging services and food programs.

“A lot of people that have been on express routes have shifted to vanpool,” he says.

Additionally, some shelters will be moved to replace outmoded shelters in other locations.

The route changes can be found at HART’s website under the label Mission MAX, short for Modernizing and Aligning for Excellence. An interactive tool is provided through Google Maps.

On September 25, HART approved its long-range plan which maps out its efforts to improve services in the next decade. It includes expansion of the Hyperlink service to the SouthShore in 2020, to Palmetto Beach in 2021, to Riverview in 2023, to West Park and Big Bend in 2025, in Town ’n County and South Tampa in 2026, and to East Brandon, Citrus Park and Seffner/Mango in 2027.  

“It’s a higher frequency grid in the core area and more of the on-demand type service for lower densities on the perimeter,” Feigenbaum explains.

It combines both funded improvements where monies are expected through property taxes with a sort of wish list of enhancements that may be implemented if funds become available.

Feigenbaum says HART may possibly implement ridesharing services similar to an Uber or Lyft service to help get riders to the existing routes. It may begin with a pilot program that has not yet been developed. He’s hoping it will be available in 2018.

In Pinellas County

A similar program already is under use by the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority. Its Direct Connect program uses Uber, United Taxi and apps to connect riders to its service grid. Handicapped riders can use Wheelchair Transportation Service (WTS).

Modern technology and innovative technology led PSTA to form what was the “first public-private partnership” to get people to the bus stop, PSTA officials say. Other transit systems have since taken a greater interest in emerging technology and alternative services.

Direct Connect began in two zones in 2016, then expanded in January to the current eight zones countywide. Plans call for expanding it further potentially in February of 2018, says PSTA Transit Planner Bonnie Epstein.

“The purpose of the program is to provide convenient first and last mile service to our core and frequent local routes,” explains Heather Sobush, PSTA Planning Manager. 

Another goal is to increase ridership on its 41 routes. “We just don’t have the funding to keep it at the frequency level that we’d like,” Epstein says. “So they run once an hour.”

Direct Connect can transport riders to the core system, where more frequent service is available, cutting transit time. Because of a $5 PSTA subsidy, riders pay no more than $1.

“Right now the county is divided into eight zones. Within your zone you can only travel to and from the Direct Connect in your zone,” Epstein says.

In February, they hope to remove the zones and allow more flexibility. “We expect a lot more growth,” Sobush says.

“We still want to provide that shared ride service,” she says. “We’re looking at ways to also have these innovative projects to be shared ride services as well.”


Popular Clearwater Beach restaurant sports new look, new name

Iconic eatery Crabby’s Dockside, formerly Crabby Bill’s, now boasts a new name -- Bill’s was dropped after a partner left the group -- and a fresh look that matches the slate of modern hotels that have popped up along Clearwater Beach over the last two years.

The original restaurant, which stood at 37 Causeway Blvd. for 17 years, was demolished after spring break 2016 to make way for the new three-story structure that now includes a first-floor outside bar and sidewalk seating, and an open-air rooftop seating area.

The most “stunning” features of the new restaurant are the unobstructed, panoramic views, says Greg Powers, CEO and co-Founder. “You have a 360-degree view of Clearwater Beach from the rooftop.” Floor-to-ceiling second-floor windows also provide “gorgeous views” to indoor diners.

About two years ago, Clearwater officials decided that the restaurant, which sits on city-owned property next to Clearwater Beach Marina, needed an upgrade. The city put out a request for proposals and Crabby’s Dockside won the bid, paving the way for the $4.4 million project.
 
Powers says he worked closely with Klar and Klar Architects and city staff to create “a new vision for the restaurant that was part our style, and part based on what the city is looking for and what the beach is becoming.”

The design of Crabby’s Dockside “is representative of a new beach,” says Principal Architect Steve Klar. “It’s modern. It’s contemporary.”

He predicts that other shops and restaurants along the beach will slowly adopt a similar look. 

“Clearwater Beach is not trying to be some small, little, sleepy area,” he says. “We’re not trying to replicate or recreate an Old Key West. This new look is different and contemporary. We like the trend and we like where it’s going. Modern architecture stands the test of time.”

Sea Drift Ales & Lagers joins local brew scene

Five years after opening Largo’s Barley Mow Brewing Company, founders Jay and Colleen Dingman have launched a new beer brand -- Sea Drift Ales & Lagers.

“We are looking at a fresh start on the distribution end of things,” Jay Dingman says.

While Barley Mow and the company’s restaurant, The Raven, which also features a brewery, will continue to exist, Sea Drift is “basically a complete rebrand,” he adds.

The intention of Sea Drift is to distribute to a bigger market, he says. Though Barley Mow beers have been well-received, “the darker theme didn’t always translate well in the market.”

Sea Drift embodies the “Florida nautical lifestyle,” Dingman says. “They’re more water focused, beachy, and kind of light.” Initially it will offer three beers: Sea Drift Pills, All Hands IPA and Dark Harbor Mocha Stout.

“It’s much lower alcohol content, more approachable stuff than we’ve done in the past,” he says.

Dingman says they consider Sea Drift “kind of a do-over.” 

Barley Mow beers sold well throughout the county, but “the further away from home, the harder it is to sell beer.” He hopes Sea Drift will have a greater draw throughout Pinellas County, and eventually, beyond.

Since before Sea Drift Ales & Lagers launched, the companies have ceased brewing Barley Mow beers for distribution. But Barley Mow can still be purchased on draft at The Raven and the brewery in Largo. Because a developer bought that property last year, however, the brewery will be moving from its current location in April 2018, Dingman says. That’s when Barley Mow’s lease ends with no possibility for renewal.

Though, he’s uncertain where Barley Mow might go, the lease ending is a blessing in disguise. “We outgrew that property on West Bay three years ago,” he says. “A lot of people are worried that we might close. But that’s not the case. We’re definitely going to go somewhere else. Where we’re going? We don’t know.”

In the meantime, the focus is on Sea Drift. Dingman says the company will open a tasting room for its newest beers at its Largo production facility by the fourth quarter of this year.

“This is a new chapter for us,” he says. “It’s definitely been an adventure the last couple of years.”

Work begins on USF building to anchor Water Street Tampa

Construction has begun on the University of South Florida’s $152.6 million Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute at Water Street in downtown Tampa. The facility, which will anchor the $3 billion Strategic Property Partners' development, will bring students to live, work and study closer to their primary teaching school, Tampa General Hospital.

Though the building isn’t expected to open until late 2019, USF is already experiencing a number of positive benefits.

Since the move from the university’s main campus in North Tampa was announced in 2014, applications to the USF medical school have risen 40 percent, meaning more than 30 applicants are competing for every seat. USF has become the most selective medical school in the state, with MCAT scores in the top 20 percent of medical schools in 2016.

“We’re full in a lot of ways and have to hold off recruiting," says Dr. Edmund Funai, Chief Operating Officer for USF Health and Senior Vice President for Strategic Development for the USF System. "It’s exceeded our wildest expectations,”

The 11-story building is expected to bring more than 2,200 students, faculty and staff to the 53-acre Water Street Tampa. Its close proximity to its primary teaching hospital -- just a short water taxi ride away -- is expected to boost federal funding for research to fight heart disease.

The economic impact to Tampa Bay is considerable: the Heart Institute alone is expected to have an impact of $75 million annually.

USF leaders, friends and supporters gathered September 20 for a Dig This! event, viewing the development site from the upper floors of Amalie Arena. The group included USF System President Judy Genshaft, Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, Florida Senator Dana Young, R-Tampa, and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

Funai says being on the waterfront downtown enables USF to better showcase Tampa Bay area. “It’s a little harder to do from the main campus,” he points out. “It does a lot for people’s attitudes to to see the water and the sun and to be part of something that’s going to be a game changer for the city of Tampa and the Tampa Bay region.”

Funded by $112 million state university dollars, as well as private donations, the building’s modern design facilitates collaboration with more open spaces instead of the traditional classrooms of 20 years ago.

“It’s being designed to be as open as possible, to be adaptive to changes in curriculum,” he says.

The building will feature “next generation library service” through a donation from the insurance provider Florida Blue, he says. “It’s going to be on the cutting edge of information technology,” he asserts, “moving beyond the old book.”

Funai expects the facility, which is near USF’s Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation (CAMLS), to be at the forefront of research through its high-resolution magnetic resonance imaging and state-of-art clinical trial unit.

The SPP development is meant to compliment what already is in the vicinity, highlighting the waterfront and incorporating lots of greenery.

“We’re building the safest building that we possible can,” he adds. “It’s built to deal with what Mother Nature may throw at you over 100 years.”

Vinik is a part owner in SPP, which is developing Water Street Tampa over a 10-year period. He and his wife Penny were recognized by USF September 26 when the university named its dual-degree Sports and Entertainment Management program after them. The Viniks helped launch, and provided more than $5 million of support, for the program run by USF’s Muma College of Business.

The program features business fundamentals MBA management, finance, marketing, information systems and accounting classes. Other courses involve the sport and entertainment industry.


Upscale Hyatt brand arrives in downtown St. Pete

The first upscale Hyatt hotel will be coming to the downtown St. Petersburg waterfront.

The 15-story, 175-room Hyatt Place St. Petersburg Downtown officially cuts the ribbon on Tuesday, Sept. 26.  

The hotel will be located in the same block as the 41-story luxury high-rise condo ONE and across the street from the James Wildlife and Western Art Museum, which is expected to open in early 2018.

Director of Sales Ryan Tarrant hopes the hotel will become the “connector” between St. Petersburg’s Beach Drive waterfront arts district with restaurants and museums, and the more eclectic Central Avenue shops, galleries and cafes.

Tarrant is a co-Executive Director for the Suncoast Film Festival and a former St. Petersburg Area Chamber Member of the Year. He and his wife Heather also own Cinema Squatch, a cinema event company known for its free outdoor movies at the Museum of Fine Arts, Williams Park and similar venues.

Tarrant says he hopes to develop the Hyatt Place to be “very St. Petersburg-centric with a focus on everything that makes the city unique, especially local artisans and entrepreneurs.”  The hotel will be partnering with St. Petersburg Distillery and local craft brewers, as well as Black Crow Coffee Co.

He is also working with local artist Ya La’ford to create a custom mural to add to the city’s growing collection of urban art murals on downtown buildings. In addition, The Body Electric http://thebodyelectricyoga.com/ will be offering yoga at the hotel’s rooftop pool, which will feature limited engagements open to the public, including the possibility of “dive-in” movies, says Tarrant.

The hotel is being developed and managed by Kolter Hospitality and will feature a 5,000-square-foot restaurant and sidewalk café; and 4,500 square feet of event space, including a 2,700-square-foot ballroom and three conference rooms. There are also two full-service bars on the first floor and a 5,500-square-foot rooftop pool deck and bar. Tarrant hopes to offer live entertainment two or three nights a week.

The hotel will be part of the World of Hyatt loyalty program, in which members earn points and exchange them for rewards when they stay at one of the Hyatt hotels worldwide. 

“There will finally be a Hyatt product in St. Petersburg, which is something World of Hyatt Rewards travelers have been waiting for, for quite some time,” said General Manager David Cuadra in a news release.

Local restaurants Rococo Steak, Urban Comfort and Orange Blossom Catering, will provide catering services for special events and weddings.

Vision Zero Hillsborough Walk of Silence will honor Tampa teen killed crossing Busch Boulevard

When the first Vision Zero Hillsborough workshop convened last November, the emotional impact of 17-year-old Alexis Miranda's death, just one year prior on Busch Boulevard in Tampa, was palpable. The Chamberlain High School student -- remembered for her vibrant personality and commitment to her future -- was struck by a vehicle while crossing the roadway on her way to school on the morning of Oct. 6, 2015. Here is a link to a story about her death that appeared in the Tampa Bay Times.

At the core of the Vision Zero mission -- which envisions and demands a future with zero traffic fatalities on Hillsborough County streets -- is the conviction that every pedestrian traffic death is wholly preventable. The coalition focuses on improving design practices, strengthening awareness and education, and promoting mindful traffic behaviors so that all road users will have the chance that Miranda never got: to make it to their destination alive.

On the two-year anniversary of Miranda's death, Vision Zero Hillsborough will honor her memory with A Walk of Silence, the first organized event since the completion of the coalition's multi-track Action Plan this summer. A Walk of Silence attendees will gather on October 6 at 7 a.m. for welcoming comments at 822 W. Linebaugh Ave., in the parking lot of the Tampa First Seventh Day Adventist church. The walk will commence at 7:30 a.m., passing Chamberlain High School in a one-mile total loop along North Boulevard and Busch Boulevard.

No speaking is permitted during the walk, but posters will be provided for participants. If possible, attendees are encouraged to wear white shoes. 

Alexis Miranda is one among far too many pedestrian lives lost on Hillsborough County's busiest arterials. Two high school students who have not been forgotten, Shenika Davis and Norma Velasquez-Cabrera -- both 15 years old and attending Middleton High School -- were killed crossing Hillsborough Avenue in 2011 and 2014. Currently, Hillsborough County ranks #7 on Smart Growth America's Dangerous by Design report of the nation's most deadly roadways for pedestrians.

You can join the Vision Zero coalition and the Hillsborough MPO in memorializing Alexis Miranda and others lost to traffic violence on Oct. 6 as Hillsborough County takes its first actionable steps toward a future of fatality-free roadways. 

Saving lives on Hillsborough streets: How you can get involved with Vision Zero

Following a year-long public engagement process centered on data mapping, crash analysis and public workshops to conceptualize solutions to the Tampa Bay region's alarming pedestrian and cyclist fatality stats, the Vision Zero Hillsborough coalition is busy pursuing an Action Plan designed to encourage you to get engaged to make a difference.

Striking throughout the Action Plan are the victims of traffic violence. Several shared their stories at an August 22 workshop at Tampa Theatre.
 
But most striking is the diversity of the faces who prompted by tragedy have become advocates for Vision Zero. Faces like that of Valerie Jones, whose 17-year-old daughter, Alexis, was killed crossing Busch Boulevard on her way to Chamberlain High School in 2015. Faces like Michael Schwaid, who nearly lost his life to a drunk driver while biking to work last year, and his wife, Barbara, who cannot erase the memory of her husband's screams echoing outside the hospital room where she found him a few hours after he failed to check in from his morning commute.

As Vision Zero moves forward, it does so with a stark reminder: The victims of traffic violence are children and their parents who survive them; they are our neighbors, friends and grandparents. When the lives of loved ones are on the line, every citizen is a stakeholder in the mission to achieve zero traffic deaths in Hillsborough County.

Here are ways you can get involved today with Vision Zero, broken into each of the coalition's four Action Tracks.

Paint Saves Lives

Implementing low-cost treatments to improve the safety of the roadway, particularly for vulnerable users.
  • Organize a neighborhood event: Know of a spot in your neighborhood where a splash of color and creativity would encourage drivers to slow down and look twice for kids and pedestrians? South Seminole Heights became the first neighborhood in Tampa to participate in the city's Paint the Intersection pilot program this summer. Team up with your neighbors, and contact the Transportation and Stormwater Services Department at 813-274-8333 to paint an intersection in your neighborhood.
  • Look for opportunities for low-cost, high impact improvements: Ken Sides, senior engineer with Sam Schwartz Tampa and leader in the PSL committee, notes that PSL solutions often rely on creativity and community brainstorming -- no traffic engineering expertise required. Have an idea? Join the Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee and share your ideas with the Hillsborough MPO.
One Message, Many Voices

Increase awareness of Vision Zero to influence safer behaviors on roadways.
 
  • Talk to your family: In-person outreach is central to the Vision Zero mission. Talk to your family about traffic violence and how they can change their behavior -- both behind the wheel and on foot and bike -- to reach every destination safely. Visit Families for Safe Streets to learn how families who have lost loved ones to traffic violence channel their grief into advocacy as part of the Vision Zero NYC movement. 
  • Get engaged on social media: Like and follow Vision Zero Hillsborough on Facebook and use the #VisionZero813 hashtag to track the coalition and spread the word.
  • Take the Vision Zero Pledge online and share your own story.
  • Join the Speakers Bureau: Central to the One Message, Many Voices Action Plan is a newly developed Speakers Bureau, a platform for victims of traffic violence and roadway safety advocates. Email MPO Executive Planner Gena Torres for more info.
  • Attend the Walk of Silence: Join Vision Zero's Oct. 6 Walk of Silence on Busch Blvd in remembrance of lives lost.
Consistent and Fair

Leverage capabilities and existing resources for equitable, "consistent and fair" enforcement for all road users.
 
  • Provide comments about safety issues along high-crash corridors: Scroll to find a map on the Vision Zero webpage where you can pinpoint safety concerns and provide your comments.
  • Spread the word about why traffic enforcement is critical to Vision Zero: Be vocal about the dangers of texting and driving (responsible for at least 19 percent of fatal crashes nationwide), speeding (reported in Vision Zero data as the fundamental factor in severe crashes), and impaired driving (responsible for 23 percent of traffic fatalities in Hillsborough County).
  • Start a Walking School Bus in your neighborhood: Influencing good driving behavior begins long before teens take the wheel. Get a head start by organizing a Walking School Bus in your neighborhood to keep kids safe on their way to school and encourage mindful traffic behavior.
The Future Will Not Be Like the Past

Integrate context-sensitive design practices for safe communities and roadways.
 
  • Check out the new FDOT Design Manual: In 2014 the FDOT adopted a Complete Streets Policy for improved multimodal design strategies on state roadways. The draft for the FDOT Design Manual (2018) will influence practice in designing more context-sensitive state highways, and is a valuable resource to comprehending Complete Streets design principles as they apply to all roadways.
  • Join the Hillsborough MPO Livable Roadways Committee: Want to stay informed and have a voice in Hillsborough County road design, transportation policy, pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, and land use? Join the Livable Roadways Committee to be involved in influencing context-sensitive design practices in your community. 
View the full Vision Zero Action Plan here.

Architectural design center opens in Ybor City

The historic San Souchi building in Ybor City, a two-story yellow brick building dating back to 1906, is now home to Center for Architecture and Design, a place where architectural organizations and the community can collaborate.

The center houses the American Institute of Architects Tampa Bay and its related organization, the Tampa Bay Foundation for Architecture and Design. It already is hosting exhibits on the fourth Friday of the month.

AIA Tampa Bay has scheduled a ribbon cutting, which is open to the public, at 10 a.m. September 7 at 1315 E. 7th Ave., Ste. 105, on the building’s first floor.

The offices, formerly located at 200 N. Tampa Street, Suite 100, are now larger and more visible. “We see a lot of foot traffic on the sidewalk,” says Philip Trezza Jr., Past President of AIA Tampa Bay. “We wanted to have that physical presence and visibility in downtown Tampa and Ybor.”

The facility will be used for meetings, art galleries and architectural displays, presentations, and continuing education for its members. An event calendar is available on the association’s website.

The gallery will showcase traveling exhibits, student projects, local artists and design contest winners.

The center also will be available to rent for meetings and special events.

“We may have an option in the future to buy it [the center space]. Right now we’re leaving our options open,” Trezza says.

A $50,000 upgrade to the property, located in the Ybor City Historic District, a U.S. National Historic Landmark District near downtown Tampa, has been underway after they moved in last year.

Improvements include pine flooring made with salvaged pine from rivers and drop-in ceilings, new cabinets and kitchen, a new air conditioning system, a new electrical system, energy-efficient lighting, and countertops with poured concrete in the kitchen area. Glass panels from University of South Florida St. Petersburg’s College of Business were recycled for a table.

A retail shop, planned next year at the front of the offices, will sell art and architecturally related items.

The 2,000-square-foot center’s design was donated by
the St. Petersburg-based Harvard Jolly Architecture, where Trezza is Senior VP and a Principal.

The San Souci building won a Community Design Award given by the Hillsborough's City-County Planning Commission in 2010. The 22,000-square-foot building, which served as a retail anchor on the west end of 7th Avenue, has housed a penny arcade, barber shop, telegraph office, the San Souci theater, a Maas Brothers department store and Babcock furniture store.

AIA Tampa Bay is the regional chapter of the American Institute of Architects. It is the professional association of some 625 architects and architecture-related workers in a seven-county area including Hillsborough, Pinellas, Polk, Hernando, Citrus, Sumter and Pasco counties.

The nonprofit TBFAD offers education on design to the public, and seeks to inspire the exploration and appreciation of architecture. It now will spearhead Tampa Bay Design Week, a public festival AIA Tampa Bay started in 2014.


CDC of Tampa plans townhomes in the Fish Bowl

Housing shouldn’t cost half of your household income. But for some 47,387 households in Hillsborough County, it costs more than that, a needs assessment shows. Nearly 1,500 single-family households lack full plumbing and a kitchen. More than 3,000 live in overcrowded conditions.

In an attempt to help provide affordable housing, the CDC of Tampa is planning a $5 million rental community on E. Diana Street near N. 43rd Street in an area known as the Fish Bowl. Called Gardens at Diana Point, the two-story, four-building complex features 24 three-bedroom, two bathroom units with an attached garage. One unit in each building will be handicapped accessible, and span only one floor.

Designed for low- to moderate-income families, rents are expected to range from $567 to $1,232 after utility allowances.

47,387 households in the county are what are considered rent burdened or cost burdened,” says Frank Cornier, VP of Real Estate Development for CDC of Tampa.

Their goal is to reduce housing costs to 30 percent of income, he says.

See the 5-year consolidated plan for 2016-2020 here.    

A ceremonial groundbreaking for Gardens at Diana Point was held at the property August 31, although bids are still out on the project designed by BDG of Tampa. Construction is expected to begin in October, with leasing applications accepted in spring 2018 and move-in anticipated in June.

The homes will have a little porch on the front, which a lot of people are not even building anymore. It’s a good way of having conversations,” Cornier says.

All units face an interior courtyard featuring a children’s play area. The county, which owns an adjacent retention pond, will be investing $1 million to improve the area east of the property with a boardwalk and fishing pier for the neighborhood.

The development is located next door to Robles Elementary. “I’m sure we’ll get families that have children that go to that school, or want to go to that school, that will apply,” Cornier adds.

To be eligible, a family of four cannot make more than $48,000, he says.

Lower rents are made possible by a $3.5 million investment by the county for development. Some of the funding is derived from a state housing initiative earmarked for rentals.

Rents vary based upon household incomes, with two units set aside for very-low-income residents.

Beacon Homes

Meanwhile an open house is scheduled at 10 a.m. September 28 at the $2.5- to $2.8-million Beacon Homes, a 13-unit housing development at North 34th Street and East 28th Avenue. The three-bedroom, two-bath homes are expected to sell for at least $165,000. Two closings already have taken place and two more are planned in September. An additional three homes are under construction.

“It’s been a catalyst. Other people are also building around Beacon Homes and improving their property,” Cornier says.

The homes include attached garages, plenty of closet and storage space, and energy-efficient appliances. Assistance is available with closing costs for eligible parties. Seven of the homes have income restrictions of $47,850 per family of four, which allows them to buy with $3,000 out of pocket. Those with higher incomes are able to purchase one of the six other homes.

The CDC also is planning four more affordable homes on available lots in the E. Columbus Drive area between 22nd and 34th streets. The three-bedroom, two-bath homes with attached garages are expected to sell for an estimated $165,000 to $180,000. Construction on two is slated to begin next quarter, with the other two following.

Wrecking crews already have begun tearing down the city’s oldest public housing complex, North Boulevard Homes, which will be replaced by a 150-acre redevelopment project called West River. That project, to include some 840 affordable apartments, is intended to help transform the downtown area into an urban hub that may include 2,200 residential units, 90,000 square feet of retail and 70,000 square feet of office.

Construction on the first two buildings is anticipated in a year, but the full build-out may take a decade to complete.


Better cafe, new rooftop experiences coming to Clearwater Main Library

A feasibility study is underway to determine the future of Clearwater Main Library’s first-floor café and rooftop terrace.

Library Director Jennifer Obermaier says the upgrades will be part of Phase I of Imagine Clearwater, a $55 million revitalization project the city hopes will reactivate its downtown waterfront and bluff, and spur economic development. The Clearwater City Council approved the study, which will cost just under $100,000, at its July 31 meeting.

The Main Library, the largest of the city’s five branches at 90,000 square feet, was built 15 years ago. “Back then, libraries were very different. They were very traditional,” Obermaier says. “The trend is, right now, and that’s the national trend, is to make things more interactive and move things around.”

For a little over a year, the library has focused on its four-floor Maker Studios. A different studio is featured on each floor -- Creation Studio for Arts & Design, Discovery Studio of Creative Learning, Innovation Studio of Technology & Business, and Heritage Studio of Community Memory. The purpose of the maker spaces is to provide library patrons with opportunities for hands-on learning and the use of advanced technology, including 3-D printers, green screens and video cameras, sewing machines, a laser engraver, scanners and more. The fourth-floor Heritage Studio is still under construction.

Now the café and rooftop terrace are the next areas “ready to be reactivated,” Obermaier says. Last November, city residents passed a referendum to permit modifications to the library. “Everything on the bluff or certain parts of the bluff has to go to referendum,” she adds. “Now we have the opportunity to rethink different areas of the library that aren’t well established.”

When the library was initially built, the rooftop served as a special events space for not only library events, but wedding receptions, banquets, fundraisers for various organizations and outside groups. There was even an event coordinator position designed for booking and managing that rooftop space. “But during the recession, that was one of the positions that was eliminated,” Obermaier says.

Since then, the rooftop terrace has been locked off from the public and only occasionally used for library programming, from Sunset on the Roof to various astronomy events.

“We’re using the space, but we’d like to use it in different ways and more often,” she says.

As for the café space downstairs, there are difficulties surrounding “restraints because they can only open when [the library is] open and there’s no external entrance,” Obermaier says.

She adds, “We had four vendors open in that space and they just couldn’t make a profit.”

For the past five years, the space has been utilized through a partnership with Pinellas County Schools. The school district uses the café as part of its on-the-job-training program for special needs students. “They’re very successful and they’re here during the school day as part of their school work,” she says.

Clearwater Library staff is working with architects Williamson Dacar Associates, Inc. on the study, which should be completed by December. 

The city council will ultimately decide on which option is best for these spaces, once the study is completed and the library presents possibilities to them.

“We’re hoping the architects will look at these spaces and say here’s one possibility, or another, or they’ll just suggest modifying a space for more programmatic activities or a lounging area to sit and read,” Obermaier says. “There are so many possibilities. I’m excited to see what they propose.”

World Market’s first Tampa Bay Area store opens in Clearwater

Cost Plus World Market is welcoming shoppers to its newest store at U.S. 19  and Sunset Point Road in Clearwater. 

The 10,000-square-feet shop took over the space of a former Publix supermarket in Sunset Point 19 plaza and features a variety of eclectic housewares, furniture, home décor and food from around the globe.

This is the chain’s first store in the Tampa Bay area. The company currently plans to open a second location in Wesley Chapel, says Kathy Sweet, store supervisor. It’s also one of the first new big box retailers to enter the Tampa market since the 2008 recession, she adds.

Currently, the Cost Plus World Market chain operates around 350 stores throughout the country, 12 of them in Florida, Sweet says. The flagship store is located in San Francisco, CA.

The Clearwater store held its grand opening ribbon cutting ceremony with local officials and Clearwater Chamber of Commerce members on August 3. Sweet says they were “slammed” those first few days, as well as the following weekend, when the store welcomed Nicole Curtis, blogger, author and host of HGTV’s Rehab Addict

“It was super busy. There were hundreds of people in line to see her. When I came in at 12:30 the line went all the way down to CVS,” Sweet says. “[Curtis] uses a lot of our items in her home design blog and on her show. So she’s a real World Market advocate.”

City Manager Michael Delk says the store “is a nice addition to the plaza.” 

He adds, “They’re a really good tenant. They’re new to the market and have a certain cache.”

Other tenants in the plaza include Barnes & Noble, Old Navy and Bed, Bath & Beyond. Sweet says a Hobby Lobby is moving into the shopping center down the road, as well as a Spirit Halloween shop this fall.
This bodes well for the plaza, which has seen tenants leave and a drop in shoppers in recent years, Delk says.

“If Hobby Lobby is coming in, that’s a really nice mix,” he says. “I’d consider that a shopping center landing on its feet. Those are Class A tenants.”

Sweet adds, “We’re getting a lot of thank yous from our neighbors for bringing in business.”

Enterprising Latinas to graduate first class of childcare workers

Little Angels Wimauma, an early learning family childcare home that will accommodate 10 children in a South Shore community with few childcare options, is expected to open its doors August 30.

The home is the first of at least seven new childcare facilities in the area “that will create a critical mass of opportunity for children in the community to access quality early childhood education in the community where they live,” says Liz Gutierrez, Founder and CEO of Enterprising Latinas, a nonprofit organization working to empower low-income Hispanic woman in the Tampa Bay Area.

“We’re going to change the landscape of the community. We’re going to create opportunities for women,” she asserts. “We’re going to address a major challenge in the community, which is the lack of school readiness among children.”

Little Angels Wimauma’s owner, Jackie Brown, was part of a childcare class offered by Enterprising Latinas, which through its Opportunity Center is working to help the community by activating women. Brown’s staff will include a couple of part-time substitutes from her training class.

“I am doing my part as best I can to help families to realize dreams and goals,” says Brown, a Wimauma CDC member who grew up in the community. “It means everything to me because I live here. I work here. I’m advocating on the part of Wimauma every day.”

A ribbon cutting ceremony, which is open to the public, is slated for 4 p.m. on August 29th, at 5803 North St., Wimauma. It is followed by a 5 p.m. graduation and reception for the class of 30 that completed the Wimauma Cares training program. The graduation and reception will be at the Opportunity Center at 18240 U.S. Highway 301 S., Wimauma. Space is limited, so interested parties are asked to RSVP by emailing Sara Arias or calling 813-699-5811.

The celebration culminates a year-long endeavor enabled by financial support from Allegany Franciscan Ministries, the Children’s Board of Hillsborough County and Hillsborough County.

“They took a chance,” she says. “We are very grateful. Without this, we couldn’t have done this.”

While the class may appear to be a simple task to English-speaking individuals, it seemed to be an insurmountable challenge to some of the women who endured. “If English is not your first language, passing this course is no easy feat,” Gutierrez explains.

“They’ve been able to prove to themselves that they could do this,” she says.

Plans already are underway to open more childcare facilities, one of them at Peniel Baptist Church near Wimauma Elementary School. “We are working with them right now, so they can get the work done on the property,” Gutierrez says.

Development in the South Shore area of Hillsborough County is expected to increase the need for community-based childcare.

A waiting list of 70 for the next childcare class in South Shore is a testimony of the popularity of the class. Another 12 are waiting for a Tampa class. “They [the people from Tampa] heard about this and they’re working in lousy jobs and they want the training. They want us to do a Saturday course,” Gutierrez explains. “There’s a lot of interest. We’re going to do it.”


Manor Riverwalk rising along Hillsborough River’s west bank, downtown Tampa

A group of approximately 80, including local dignitaries, stakeholders and neighbors, are expected to gather at 10 a.m. August 23 for the official groundbreaking of Manor Riverwalk, an eight-story apartment complex that will replace the building that once housed The Tampa Tribune on the city skyline.

The ground has been leveled and construction has “gone vertical” at 202 South Parker Street on the Hillsborough River’s west side downtown, according to Arturo Peña, VP of Development for Miami’s Related Group, the project’s developer.

We have our financing in place. We are underway,” Peña says. “We think that’s a huge iconic addition to the Tampa skyline.”

Cranes are on the site of the project, where rents will average $2,700 a month in 400 units, and the first floor of columns are in view.

Manor Riverwalk is expected to include a 400+ feet river trail to connect with similar paths on the west side of the Hillsborough River downtown. “The RiverWalk is a technical term that the city uses on the east side,” Peña says. “We’re continuing the river walk on our riverfront [on the west].”

Related has granted an easement to the city of Tampa so that all citizens can enjoy the pathway, which will be routed around a night-time roost for birds on the southeast portion of the property.

“The birds come in at night to sleep,” he says. “They’re out by morning.”

Leasing is scheduled in the last quarter of 2018, with apartments ready for occupancy during the first quarter of 2019. The average size is 1,030 feet, a bit larger than originally planned, because the company has opted for some units.

“We wanted to beef up the ones on the end and really take advantage of what we think are great views,” he explains.

Related Group is investing some $350 million in four Greater Tampa area projects. “We’re very bullish on Tampa’s growth,” he says. “We love the leadership of Mayor [Bob] Buckhorn. ... They really help you want to do business in Tampa.”

In August, Related secured a $52 million construction loan to develop the 396-unit Town Westshore rental community, which already has broken ground. It is preparing for move-ins at its 340-unit Icon Harbour Island luxury development. Related also is partnering with the Tampa Housing Authority on the150-acre redevelopment project on the west bank of the Hillsborough River, West River, that will further efforts to rebuild the neighborhoods on the edges of downtown Tampa.


Inkwood Books gets ready to move to Tampa Heights, Tampa

Thanks to its new neighbor, Tampa Heights’ storied history just added another chapter -- endless chapters, actually. Inkwood Books, Tampa’s only independent book store for new books, is moving in to 1809 N. Tampa Street after more than 20 years at the corner of Armenia and Platt. It will be across the street from the Hall on Franklin, a restaurant collective set to open soon.

“We have loved our home, and we have gotten a lot of love here from the community,” says owner Stefani Beddingfield, who bought Inkwood in 2013. “But I think we are moving to a place where there is a passion for local things, where the love of local seems to be a little more viable and important to the people.”

Inkwood isn’t moving its inventory until January but will be holding events at the new site starting as early as September, when the store hosts author Leigh Bardugo, the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of Six Crows, Crooked Kingdom and the Grisha Trilogy. 

With a bigger, more open space and a location in the heart of reinvigorated urban area, Inkwood is hoping to attract many more intriguing authors to Tampa, building the city’s literary reputation in the publishing world as a sought-after destination. Lindsay Pingel, the store’s recently designated Events Coordinator, will be in charge of enhancing Inkwood’s national standing, but won’t be ignoring the surrounding area, working to foster relationships within the city limits as well as outside of them.

“Lindsey wants to reach out to the community to establish better connections here, locally, taking authors into the schools for example,” Beddingfield says. 

As the store makes its physical transition, Inkwood will be revamping its online presence too, offering a new website and outputting its newsletter on Tuesdays and Fridays in a modified format. In fact, the store just released its first edition under Shelf Awareness with the title: “Change is good, Inkreaders.”

Related Group secures $52M loan for new luxury apartments in Westshore, Tampa

Related Development LLC, the Miami firm redeveloping the former Tampa Tribune site, secured a $52 million construction loan Thursday to build a luxury rental community in the Westshore area.

SunTrust Bank provided the funding that will allow Related to build the 396-unit Town Westshore rental community, which recently broke ground at 5001 Bridge St. just south of Gandy Boulevard and about five blocks west of Westshore Boulevard. 

“We see tremendous growth in the I-4 corridor, and developments like Town Westshore are positioned to take advantage of the continued job and population growth in the region,” says Rebecca Cox, VP at SunTrust Commercial Real Estate, in a news release.

The property is one of four Related projects in the greater Tampa area, including the Manor, now underway on the former Tribune site, just off Kennedy Boulevard along the Hillsborough River in downtown Tampa. 

“Related has a track record of not only identifying underserved markets, but also delivering compelling residential properties tailored to the specific submarket,” says Steve Patterson, President and CEO of Related Development, in a news release. “Town Westshore is no different. We’ve done our homework and are confident the property and its central location will resonate with Tampa and St. Pete’s growing base of renters.”

The four-story, luxury mid-rise apartment development includes 396 units on just over 8 acres. Amenities will include fitness and yoga studios, saunas, massage treatment rooms, E-lounges, executive dining rooms and concierge services. On the drawing board: shopping, dining and a marina within walking distance.

Town Westshore is one of several blockbuster projects Related has planned or in the works in Tampa. The company, founded by Chairman and CEO Jorge Perez, is partnering with the Tampa Housing Authority on the West River project, the redevelopment and re-imagining of 150 acres on the west bank of the Hillsborough River near downtown.

The massive mixed-use project, which one city official called a “holistic approach to building a neighborhood,” is a legacy project for Mayor Bob Buckhorn. The mayor has committed $35.5 million in public money to transform Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park as a destination recreation and artistic site in the heart of the revitalized neighborhood.

Related is also preparing for move-ins at the 340-unit Icon Harbour Island luxury development. The 21-story, Parisian-style tower includes studio, one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments. Residents can enjoy hotel-style amenities, including a deluxe lounge, movie room, business center, game room with bar, fitness center, spa and massage room, poolside cabanas and gazebos, bike storage and storage lockers. Tenants can park in the garage of the neighboring Two Harbour Place building and use a skywalk to move between the tower and the garage.

Vision Zero: How to make local streets safer for everyone? Join the conversation August 22

Are you passionate about making streets throughout the Tampa Bay region safer for drivers, passengers and vulnerable road users like cyclists and pedestrians?

Team up with the Hillsborough MPO's Vision Zero coalition at the Tampa Theatre on August 22 for the fourth in a series of public workshops geared toward creating a more bike-friendly culture and improved safety measures for all users of the streets of Hillsborough County -- which is currently recognized as one of the most deadly places in the United States to be a pedestrian. 

Following 10 months of research and data collection, brainstorming, outlining plans, gathering community input, revising plans and hammering out details: the four Vision Zero "Action Tracks'' will present their one-, two- and five-year action plans to make Hillsborough County streets safer for all users at the August workshop.

The four Vision Zero Action Tracks are as follows: 
  • Paint Saves Lives: low-cost, high-impact engineering strategies for safer streets
  • One Message, Many Voices: public education and awareness strategies
  • Consistent and Fair: community-oriented law enforcement
  • The Future Will Not Be Like the Past: context-sensitive design for walkable communities

Like previous Vision Zero community workshops held in 2017, the workshop at Tampa Theatre will focus thematically on one of the campaign's four core Action Tracks -- in this instance, ''One Message, Many Voices.''

Vision Zero Hillsborough aims to put a human face on the impact of traffic violence through the power of storytelling, with a series of short films and speakers from the Tampa Bay area whose lives have been affected directly by tragedy.

The message is a sobering one: Too many lives are lost on Tampa area streets to tragic and preventable traffic accidents. 

Speakers at the upcoming workshop will include Valerie Jones, whose daughter, Alexis Miranda, a 17-year-old Chamberlain High School student, was killed attempting to cross Busch Boulevard on her way to school in 2015. 

"We are encouraging people to attend that have been victims of some sort, and who could give a testimonial on their experience," says Hillsborough MPO Executive Planner Gena Torres. ??"We also welcome anyone in the audience [to speak]. You'd be surprised by how many people have someone they love who was hurt or killed in traffic accidents," Torres adds. 

The "Vision Zero" resolution of reducing traffic fatalities and injuries to zero was adopted in 2017 by the Hillsborough County Commission, the Tampa City Council, Temple Terrace City Council, Plant City Commission and the School Board of Hillsborough County. 

Join the Vision Zero coalition for its fourth workshop of 2017 on August 22 from 9 to 11 a.m. at the Tampa Theatre, 7111 N. Franklin St.

Learn more about Vision Zero and join the movement at the Plan Hillsborough website.

Read more stories about Vision Zero in 83 Degrees.

FDOT paves way for protected cycle track on Jackson Street in downtown Tampa

Working from the belief that Tampa's streets should be safe for every user on the road, the FDOT will expand upon a pavement resurfacing project in 2018 with the installation of the first protected bicycle track on a state highway.

The cycle track -- also known as an "urban shared-use path" -- will run along the north side of Jackson Street (State Road 60) from Ashley Drive to Nebraska Avenue. At 10 feet wide, the cycle track provides designated roadway space for bicyclists traveling in both directions, and will be buffered by a 4-foot-wide raised island that separates cyclists from motor vehicle traffic. Special green pavement markings at side-street intersections and driveways will alert motorists to the presence of cyclists in areas where the cycle track intersects with motor vehicle traffic. 

Stephen Benson, Government Liaison Administrator for the FDOT District 7 Office in Tampa, notes that the protected cycle track originated in DOT plans for routine road maintenance, including resurfacing and restriping State Road 60. 

"The initial purpose of the project was to resurface the road because the pavement is in poor condition … Before we resurface a road, it is FDOT policy to look for ways to make it better instead of just putting everything back exactly the way it was," Benson says.

"We came up with the idea for the cycle track as a result of input from the City of Tampa, the Metropolitan Planning Organization, the Tampa Downtown Partnership and many community meetings. There are a lot of cyclists that use this corridor to access and pass through downtown -- so the cycle track will provide a designated place for them to ride that is physically separated from motorized traffic."

Benson says the Jackson Street cycle track will provide connections to adjacent trails such as the Tampa Riverwalk via MacDill Park and the Selmon Greenway and Meridian Trail, as well as existing bike paths on Tampa Street, Florida Avenue and Nebraska Avenue. 

"There isn't really another east-west bike lane in that part of town. The plans laid out pretty well logically connecting the Riverwalk on one side to the Channel District on other," says Benson.

In addition to the Jackson Street resurfacing and cycle track, Benson says the approximately $6.8 million FDOT project will include additional resurfacing work on parts of Nebraska Avenue and Kennedy Boulevard, as well as context-sensitive pedestrian upgrades including curb extensions, new crosswalks, increased sidewalk space and landscaping. 

"This is the densest, most urban area that we have in the region. It deserves a better balance for pedestrians and cyclists," Benson says. "We think this is going to be safe -- better than it is now -- and we think people are going to enjoy using it." 

Construction contracts are in place for the project to break ground this November. Completion is scheduled for early summer 2018.

Wimauma church gets major loan, donations to buy domed sanctuary

After what he describes as a "$1 million dollar miracle,'' a Wimauma pastor has purchased the church he was renting month-to-month, sparing it from being torn down to build custom homes.

“We didn’t know where to go, and God continued showing his mercy and his grace every step of the way,” says Lead Pastor Carlos Irizarry, of Wholesome Church. “We saw God move.”

Wholesome is in the path of development along U.S. Highway 301 between Big Bend Road and State Road 674 in South Hillsborough County, where fields are giving way to subdivisions. The church had been renting for about five years from River of Life Christian Center in Riverview, which was looking to sell it.

Although Pastor Carlos wanted to buy it, he lacked funds, even with a substantial discount. Things came to a head after River of Life received a developer’s offer to buy the property valued at $1.5 million.

In response, Pastor Carlos appealed to the public in March for $235,000, launching a fundraising drive on Go Fund Me. Twice they were told to vacate. Even after a May 17 loan agreement, the church needed a 15-day extension to fulfill the lender’s requirements for a land survey and environmental inspection.

When news about the church hit television, a neighbor at Valencia Lakes called wanting to know more about what the church was doing. His son donated the remaining $11,000 required. And now the neighbor is planning to work with volunteers to assist in the church as the ministry continues.

The church secured a loan, raised some $21,000 in cash, and received another $20,000+ in donated work. Interest in the church’s work continues.

With the July 14 closing behind them, the church is now focusing on plans to improve the property and open its preschool early next year. “Because we took the building as is, we do have some repairs to do,” he says.

Remodeling will add more rooms for the preschool, which is expected to have a capacity of some 50 to 75 students aged 2 to 4. Pricing will be affordable, on a sliding scale based on income.

“Definitely our mission is to help families in Wimauma, but we know there is such a big demand. Families will want to apply to be there,” he says. “I can’t tell you all families will be from Wimauma.”

Early childhood education is a long-recognized need in the Wimauma community, where some are hindered by their lack of English language skills. A coalition of people concerned about the future of the community, which includes Allegany Franciscan Ministries, the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay, the Wimauma CDC, and others are working together to expand educational opportunities.

In addition to the preschool, Wholesome plans health and youth centers, a kitchen hall, a multipurpose building and thrift shop on the 10-acre property featuring a domed sanctuary.


New James Museum transforms 100 block of Central Ave., Downtown St. Pete

A 105-ton stone mesa will frame the entrance to the Tom & Mary James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art Museum, St. Petersburg’s newest addition to its growing collection of arts and cultural organizations.  

Located at the corner of 100 Central Avenue and First Avenue South in the heart of downtown, the James Museum represents the vision of Tom James, chairman emeritus of Raymond James Financial, and his wife Mary.

The James’ have donated $50 million to build the museum, which is expected to be completed by the end of 2017 with a grand opening in early 2018.

The museum will display a portion of the James’ vast collection of more than 3,000 pieces of western and wildlife art and sculpture, as well as Native American jewelry.  The couple began collecting western and wildlife art in the late 1950s and now have one of the largest private collections in Florida.

“When my wife Mary and I decided to share the best of our collection through the establishment of a museum, it made perfect sense to build that museum in the city that has been our home for over 50 years and so much a part of our family’s success,” says James. 

“Anchored by the Dali Museum, St. Petersburg already has such a strong arts presence in downtown,” says James. “We wanted to augment the array of cultural attractions and further establish the city as a cultural destination, while providing educational and entertainment opportunities for the community.” 

The final steel beam that will support the 219-foot foot tall stone mesa was lowered into place at the end of June during a “topping off” ceremony.  The event marked slightly more than the halfway point for construction of the 84,000-square foot museum, which when completed will be larger than The Dali Museum.

From parking garage to museum

The  location of the new James Museum will be a first for the city. Rather than taking shape as a free-standing entity,  the museum is being built within the bottom two floors of the SouthCore Parking Garage, a distinctive pink landmark in the 100 block of Central Avenue.  The new ONE 41-story luxury condo tower is under construction across the street. 

Last year, St. Petersburg City Council approved a 50-year lease between the city and the museum. Parking for the museum and the public will continue to be available in the remainder of the eight-story public parking garage.

In a prepared statement, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman says he is enthusiastic about the city’s partnership with the museum, which will bring another significant landmark to the downtown core.

The Beck Group is overseeing construction of the museum, which will include a 30,000-square-feet gallery space, 6,000-square feet event space, 120-seat theater, indoor sculpture court, commercial catering kitchen, café and museum store.

St. Pete Design Group, a joint venture between Harvard Jolly Architecture, Architect Yann Weymouth and Wanemacher Jensen Architects, are designing the exterior and interior.  

Weymouth designed The Dali Museum, now a major draw for visitors internationally to the city. The design for the new James Museum is expected to be just as distinctive architecturally. In addition to the 105-ton stone mesa on the front of the building, interior features include a two-story stone arroyo and waterfall.

Driving economic development

The museum’s construction presents significant development opportunities for the 100 block of Central Avenue.  

Besides transforming a 30-year-old city parking garage into a museum, the team will be creating 35,000-square-feet of retail space on the east and west side of the garage -- prime street level property that is expected to transform this corner of downtown.  

The Sembler Company is leasing ground floor retail units and Echelon Real Estate Services is leasing the Class A Office space located on the second floor.

“When we selected the museum’s location, we had in mind that we should help build and beautify that part of downtown, encourage development of hotels and other amenities for residents and visitors and make the area more attractive and pedestrian friendly,”  Tom James said at an event last year announcing the launch of the new museum. “We could have given our collection to other museums or have sold it, but we thought what better opportunity to continue the development of our city.”

Venture House moves forward on affordable housing

In South St. Petersburg, Venture House is taking the first steps toward creating affordable housing for artists, entrepreneurs, social innovators and small business owners.

In May, the nonprofit community development organization finalized architectural plans and began interior demolition on a home in the Lake Maggiore Shores neighborhood.  In June, three more properties in the Bartlett Park neighborhood were added to the list.

“It is really exciting to see us move from a great idea into taking action,” says Frank Wells, President and CEO of Venture House. “Three years ago we began just as a seed of an idea -- a winning pitch at a social enterprise contest. It’s amazing to see how much has grown out of this little seed.”

As reported in the July 2014 article in 83 Degrees Media, Venture House is working in partnership with Bright Community Trust, a Clearwater-based community land trust with a goal of “creating healthy and sustainable communities across Florida.”

Both Bright Community Trust, formerly known as the Pinellas Community Housing Foundation, and Venture House are focused on buying run-down, boarded-up homes in “blighted” neighborhoods and turning them into attractive, affordable housing.  

The goal is not only to create quality housing but also in a much bigger sense to revitalize struggling communities plagued by poverty. “Social enterprise is a big part of our mission -- how to use housing as a tool to improve and build community,” says Wells.

It’s also about giving a boost to local residents by helping increase their property values and offering a helping hand to entrepreneurs who can then create local jobs.

Southside CRA designation

Lake Maggiore Shores and Bartlett Park are neighborhoods located within the city’s Southside CRA or Community Redevelopment Area. Some 4,700 acres in South St. Petersburg and more than 20 neighborhood and business associations are included in this designation.  

It’s all part of a long-term plan to bring economic development and revitalization to South St. Petersburg through several initiatives, including improving and rehabbing the housing market to “expand opportunities for entrepreneurs, minority, women and disadvantaged business enterprises and small businesses.” 

The City of St. Petersburg is working with Venture House to identify suitable housing to rehab. The Bartlett Park homes will be new construction built on three vacant lots -- lots that the City of St. Petersburg agreed to give Venture House to fulfill the organization’s community land trust mission.

“It matches the city’s goal of in-filling new construction to make the whole block nicer for local residents,” he says.

Wells expects a bid to go out in the near future to identify a local builder to work with Venture House on the construction. Funding is coming from a combination of private donation and both federal and local funds. 

Showcase demonstration home 

The Lake Maggiore Shores’ home has a slightly different vision.  It will become a showcase demonstration home for Venture House, says Wells.

A “call” has gone out for artists to submit ideas for a proposed art project that will become a permanent fixture in the home.  

“We hope to have an event in the fall where we’ll present all the different artist ideas and have the audience vote on them. Then we’ll crowd-fund those projects that are the favorites,” says Wells.

So far, FunktionHouse, a St. Petersburg artisan furniture  maker who uses locally sourced recycled local trees, will be donating a recycled wood bar top, and the Morean Arts Center, will be creating a glass wall piece, says Wells.

In addition, community volunteers and groups like the Home Builders Institute, a career training organization for the construction industry, have been helping begun demolishing the current structure to get ready for renovation.

The Maggiore Shores showcase home is expected to be finished by early next year.  But the other three homes in the Bartlett Park neighborhood are expected to be ready for occupancy much sooner.

“Our goal is to get those houses built and people moved into them,” says Wells.

Individuals eligible to live in a Venture House-sponsored property aren’t limited to just artists and entrepreneurs in the traditional sense. 

“We’re looking at the arts in a very broad sense. Not just painters and sculptors, but also opera singers, hip hop DJ’s, spoken word artists and poets,” says Wells.

The same scenario applies to entrepreneurs. “It’s not just the next new graduate writing a phone App, but someone launching a catering or restaurant business, landscaping, braiding hair, or even an activist doing great community work,” says Wells.  

“It was Watson Haynes (president and CEO of the Pinellas County Urban League) who opened up my eyes to this idea,” says Wells. “Entrepreneurship can be a path to developing wealth that changes the outcome for the homeowner and the community, especially for people who find there aren’t a lot of job opportunities open to them. Entrepreneurship can be a transformative tool for South St. Petersburg and many other communities.”

University Area CDC seeks resident input on community needs

If you are at least 18 years old and live in the 33612 or 33613 zip codes in Tampa, the University Area CDC wants to hear from you. It’s doing a survey to help pinpoint needs in the community surrounding the University of South Florida.

“This is what we are going to use to build our strategic plan,” explains Sarah Combs, the CDC’s Executive Director and CEO.

The CDC is working on improving the University Area and the lifestyles of its residents by focusing on housing, health education programs, transportation, youth programs, community safety and workforce/employment issues.

The 2017 University Area Community Survey is confidential and does not require names, emails or phone numbers. However, those who complete the survey and supply their names and contact information can participate in a drawing for prizes, including a TV, park tickets, movie passes, bicycles, a $100 gift card, and more. Additional prizes are available when the survey is turned in personally.

It takes about 20 to 25 minutes to answer the 54 questions, which involve the types of programs their children prefer, challenges to home ownership, personal safety and the effectiveness of law enforcement.

The survey is available here. Completed forms should be returned to the individual or organization who provided them, or to 14013 North 22nd St., Tampa.

The last time the survey was done was in 2015, when results were used in the creation of sports and fitness classes and a community garden to increase access to healthy foods as well as to improve Workforce Training through a Free IT Certification Course.

Combs expects the survey to reveal a small decline in the “transient nature” of the community, she says.

“This information allows us to figure out who’s our community. When we started we were primarily African-American. Now we’re primarily Hispanic,” she adds.

Originally set to close out in June, the survey will remain open through July 28 to involve more respondents.

In June the nonprofit closed on its sixth parcel near its 7-acre Harvest Hope Park. The parcels will be used to develop affordable, single-family housing. “We’re hoping that funding is going to come very soon, within the next three months,” she says.

The residences will allow owners to be “urban pioneers,” and have a place they can call home rather than a place where they stay, she says.

“What’s going to be really cool about these houses, they’re modular houses,” Combs adds.

Meanwhile the concrete has been poured on an 8-foot tall statue of a family depicting diversity and respect in the community. It will be placed in Hope Park, bordered by 19th and 20th streets and 137th and 138th avenues,

It’s created from the residents,” she says, adding it might take a month to complete. “I’m really excited to see that.”


Locals rejoice over Channel District dog park that honors fallen sheriff’s deputy

A new dog park in Channelside memorializes the life of a deputy who was killed in the line of duty in March of last year.

Deputy John Kotfila, Jr. was hit and killed by a wrong-way driver on the Selmon Expressway. Kotfila intentionally swerved into the path of the wrong-way vehicle to protect another car from being struck. 

The Deputy Kotfila Memorial Dog Park was dedicated on Saturday, June 24, to honor Kotfila’s close relationship with his German Shepherd, Dexter. 

“His dog was his life. He loved his family and all that, but the dog was a big part of his life, and everyone who knew him knew that he would show up here and there -- Home Depot, Chick-fil-A - and he would have the dog with him. Everywhere, Dexter went,” says John Kotfila, Sr. 

Around 300 residents attended the opening with their furry friends.

“It’s comforting to have a new memory that will bring lots of joy to other people and other dogs,” says Theresa Kotfila, Deputy Kotfila’s mother.

Local pet boutique owners Ben and Lisa Prakobkit were in attendance passing out free dog treats from their store The Modern Paws, located in Duckweed Grocery in Channelside. 

“The dog park is a nice way to commemorate the deputy who lost his life,” says Ben Prakobkit. “I always remember [Tampa] Mayor Bob Buckhorn saying that we can gauge how much a city is growing by the number of people out walking their pets. This makes the community a much more dog friendly place.”

Channelside gym owner Brad Stevens of Viking Fitness was also in attendance with his four-legged companion. 

“This memorial is a great addition to the area, and a nice way for residents to stay active with their pets,” says Stevens. “It’s great to see the great turnout from the community today.”

The dog park is located under the shade of the Selmon Expressway at 705 Raymond St., Tampa, FL 33606, just behind Bell Channelside Apartments. When Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority (THEA) heard about the death of Deputy Kotfila, they knew they wanted to do something to honor his legacy. After months of planning, the new park is completed, complete with canine turf that is safe for dog paws and requires little maintenance, and a memorial monument at the entrance commemorating the deputy.

Homebuilder buys land in Westshore Marina District

Premier homebuilder WCI Communities has purchased 2.35 acres for $2.5 million as part of a $14.5 million, two-phase land deal in the Westshore Marina District, a walkable planned community off Westshore Boulevard south of Gandy Boulevard.

The developer, Fort Lauderdale-based BTI Partners, announced the land deal with WCI, which plans to build 35 three-story townhouses in the 52-acre master planned community. WCI also has agreed to purchase a second, 9.5 acre waterfront site, with a closing anticipated by early 2018, BTI Partners announced.

WCI declined to provide details.

It [Westshore Marina District] is adjacent to some of the best housing and residential areas of Tampa,” says Beck Daniel, BTI Partners' Executive VP of Development.

Although land in the area has historically been industrial, it’s not regarded as such now. “We haven’t really looked at it as an industrial area. We’ve just looked at it as ripe for redevelopment,” Daniel says.

Earlier plans to develop the property didn’t materialize because of the economic downturn. 

BTI Partners addresses neighborhood issues like lack of usable waterfront, walkability, and traffic in its development plan, Daniel says.

The community, designed to transform the waterfront, may include up to 1,750 residential units, a 200-room hotel, retail, restaurants and office space, 185 to 240 marina slips and a 1.5 mile-waterfront park. The 14-acre marina basin will be the largest in the area.

We like the Tampa market,” says Daniel.“We’re all over the state. We try and stick to the big metros.”

Earlier this year, BTI Partners sold eight acres in the development to Miami-based Related Group, which also is building an eight-story apartment complex on the site of the former Tampa Tribune building at 202 S. Parker St.

Twenty acres in the Westshore Marina District remain unspoken for. “We try not to talk too much about the future phases until we get there,” Daniel says. “We’re hoping to announce some retail parcels soon.”

BTI Partners is proceeding with the infrastructure.“By the end of this year, we’ll have an entry road coming into the project,” he asserts. “We’re excited because everything seems to be moving forward without a hitch.


7 potential routes identified for Tampa's streetcar expansion

After looking to the public for input at a series of open meetings, city officials have determined seven potential routes for addition to the Tampa Historic Streetcar System.

The study has identified the following potential expansions:

  • North/South Franklin – Eight stations along 2.67 miles of new track running north up Franklin Street to Palm Avenue in Tampa Heights, where it circles around Water Works Park and heads back down Franklin.
  • North/South Tampa-Florida Couplet – 2.6 miles of new track with eight stations turning Florida Avenue and Tampa Street into a north-south extension.
  • East/West River-Ybor – 4.66 miles and 13 stations extending west from Ybor City along the north part of downtown, crossing the Cass Street bridge and running north to Blake High School.
  • East/West North Hyde Park-Channel District – 4.93 miles of new track with 13 stations running through the middle of downtown, across the Cass Street Bridge and into Hyde Park.
  • East/West North Hyde Park-Convention Center Couplet – Nine stations along 3.27 miles of new track that brings the streetcar across the Brorein Street Bridge from the convention center to Hyde Park.
  • Loop Downtown-Channel District – 2.46 miles and eight station running north on Franklin Street then east on Zack and Twiggs streets to the Channel District, creating a downtown loop.
  • Loop Downtown-Ybor – 4.12 miles with 12 stations creates a loop going north on Franklin Street then east on Seventh Avenue to Ybor City.

According to a poll of attendees at the May 2 meeting, the most popular routes are North/South Franklin, North/South Tampa-Florida Couplet and Loop Downtown-Ybor.

The planning effort has a budget of $1.6 million and is funded largely by $1 million contribution from the Florida Department of Transportation. The city has dedicated $677,390 to the effort. Lead consultant on the project is HDR Engineering.

Consultants for the city are continuing to figure out costs over the next month and are still interested in public comment. To learn more about the streetcar extension and provide feedback visit the project’s website.


What's next for downtown Clearwater? Craft breweries, winery, beer fest

As the City of Clearwater anticipates a waterfront revival thanks to the recent City Council approval of the Imagine Clearwater redevelopment project, Jay Polglaze, executive director of the Clearwater Downtown Partnership and former city councilor, says the downtown area could get an additional boost from an unexpected source: local craft brewers.

Over the past 15 years, the Tampa Bay Area has enjoyed the economic benefits of “the microbrewery craze,” he says. This movement has largely bypassed Clearwater, however, because of laws on the books that prohibited the manufacture and distribution of craft beer downtown. These laws were finally modified last year, when Polglaze was still on council, to pave the way for breweries to operate downtown.

Though he lost his re-election bid in March 2016, he immediately began working for the Clearwater Downtown Partnership, where he focuses on the economic vibrancy of the city’s downtown area. One of the major missing components that would help create a thriving downtown is craft beer, he says.

“My best advisors are my 27-year-old son and my 24-year-old daughter,” Polglaze says. “When I ask them what’s missing, they’re pretty specific: 'craft beer'.”

He recently attended an “inspiring” presentation on “craft urbanism” that featured Tampa Bay-area brewers, including Joey Redner, founder of Tampa’s Cigar City Brewing, and Mike Harding, founder of 3 Daughters Brewing in St. Petersburg.

“You can get this urban core reignited by creating this community of microbreweries,” Polglaze says.

He adds, “It works. Look at Dunedin, St. Petersburg, Tampa, all across the country. It’s a huge movement right now.”

This is why the Clearwater Downtown Partnership has partnered with the city of Clearwater’s Community Redevelopment Agency to launch the first annual Downtown Clearwater Craft Beer and Music Fest Saturday, May 20, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., on Cleveland Street between Fort Harrison and East Avenues.

The free event will feature more than 50 brewers from throughout the state, including 3 Daughters, Cigar City, Cycle Brewing, Big Storm Brewing Co., Hidden Springs Aleworks, MIA Brewing Company, and House of Beer Brewing, which is one of the co-producers of the event.

Eight musical acts will perform on two stages throughout the day. There will also be a variety of arts and crafts vendors, food trucks, and an activity area for children.

Polglaze says he expects the event to draw between 8,000 and 10,000 people. He also hopes that it will show visiting brewers the potential of downtown Clearwater. The city is actively “courting” local brewers, including the Dunedin-based House of Beer.
 
“We’re really close to being able to announce our first couple of breweries,” he says. He anticipates having contracts signed with local brewers and also a local winery by the end of June.

Looking north, Dunedin already has nine breweries within city limits, he says. “So the next logical expansion is Clearwater.”
He hopes to have an anchor brewery open on Cleveland Street with other brewers setting up shop on side streets.

The impending downtown renaissance, especially if it features local brewers, will build on what is already a popular tourist destination, he adds.

Polglaze says, “We want to create a great companion downtown to America’s number one beach. There’s a lot of great things going on in Clearwater. We’re getting a lot of movement right now. I really believe the beverage and food industry will be the spark plug that gets this thing going.”

Tampa Bay Lightning Owner Jeff Vinik partners with Dreamit to promote urban tech in Tampa

Tampa could be poised to attract urban technology firms from around the globe as a result of a recent partnership between Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and the New York-based startup accelerator Dreamit.

The partnership will take advantage of the ongoing development efforts by Vinik's Strategic Property Partners to attract and incubate companies with technology solutions in the areas of real estate, infrastructure and urban living.

With SPP’s plans to invest $3 billion into the development of nine to 10 million square feet across nearly 55 acres in the next 10 years, the Tampa Bay area has a head start when it comes to becoming an urban tech magnet, Dreamit CEO and Managing Partner Avi Savar says.

 “That natural resource becomes kind of the chum in the water to attract startups from around the world that are investing their time, energy and attention to solving the challenges that are facing cities across the world,” he says.

According to a news release from Dreamit, record growth is occurring across the state and in the Tampa Bay area. Just last year, over 60,000 residents moved to the region -- emphasizing the need for urban technology when creating modern cities.

"As our city develops and prepares for a bright future, I am pleased to partner with Dreamit in this UrbanTech initiative," said Jeff Vinik in a news release. "I am confident we will identify and create avenues of success for startups dedicated to building and enriching cities."

As a business accelerator, Dreamit looks for companies with ideas that have already begun to be proven and are ready to progress beyond the startup phase. For its Tampa endeavor, Dreamit will be searching for businesses offering “anything that will help accelerate and innovate the city tomorrow,” Savar says.

The partnership with Vinik in Tampa creates a rare opportunity to build a totally new city with an emphasis on the latest technology in urban development.

“There are very few places in the world where you get to come in on the ground floor and help build a city,” Savar says.


Tampa Downtowner shows success in first 6 months

After celebrating the first six months of a partnership with Downtowner in April, the Tampa Downtown Partnership is confident in the ride service’s continued success.

“It has certainly met and exceeded what our performance expectations were,” says TDP spokeswoman Kelsy Van Camp. “Getting it started we knew it was going to fill a need, but we didn’t know quite how large that need was.”

The free ride service was launched toward the end of 2016 with the goal of enhancing first-mile/last-mile transportation for residents, workers and tourists in the downtown area. TDP entered into a two-year agreement with Downtowner to bring the idea to market and show off its potential in hopes of prompting further investment down the line.

According to TDP, by mid-April the Downtowner had served 86,146 passengers with 101,192 miles logged. The vehicles in Downtowner’s fleet are also 100 percent electric, meaning that the thousands of miles driven equates to 41 tons of carbon dioxide kept out of Tampa’s air.  

Van Camp says the two most popular pick-up and drop-off locations are the University of Tampa and the Marion Transit Center. The activity at UT goes to show that college-aged individuals are quick to take advantage of the convenience of these types of “on-demand” services,” she says.

Aside from TDP, key partners in the public-private funding of the service include Downtown Community Redevelopment Area, Channel District Community Redevelopment Area and the Florida Department of Transportation.

With the initial success witnessed in the first six months of service, Van Camp says she is confident the Downtowner will be able to attract additional funding in the future and continue to help meet first-mile/last-mile transportation needs.

“We’re hoping we can potentially expand the fleet first and then start looking to grow the service area,” she says.

For more information or to learn how to request a ride, visit Downtowner online.


ULI Summit slated for end of May in Tampa

At the 2017 Urban Land Institute Florida Summit, individuals connected to the state’s real estate and development fields will gather to discuss trends, network and learn from the experiences of colleagues.

The event, which runs from May 25 to 26 at the Tampa Marriot Waterside Hotel, is expected to bring together over 700 ULI members and non-members ranging from attorneys and architects to land use planners and public officials.

“All of whom come together to share thoughts, ideas and research with respect to creating better land use in the future,” says Jim Cloar, chair of ULI’s Tampa Bay District Council.

The summit begins with open registration and a networking reception on the evening of May 24 and will continue with a diverse range of programing throughout the day on May 25 and 26. Programming includes four general sessions, ten simultaneous sessions and optional offsite mobile tours.

Cloar says the sessions primarily cover topics that can be applied across the state, but one of the general sessions will specifically focus on the rapidly changing landscape of Tampa Bay through several key projects. Speakers on that panel, which takes place at 1:30 p.m. on May 25, include CEO of Strategic Property Partners James Nozar, CEO of Lakewood Ranch Rex Jensen and CEO of Wiregrass Ranch J.D. Porter.

“We try to make sure we have a variety of speakers,” Cloar says.

With no shortage of material to cover, the summit offers those in the real estate industry a way learn more about the latest trends and opportunities in one jam-packed weekend. One of the main advantages attendees have is the opportunity to learn from the completed projects of their associates.

“One of the things ULI has always emphasized is sharing your experiences with projects,” Cloar says. “ULI members have always been very good about sharing those lessons learned with their colleagues.”

It is also a great chance to meet new acquaintances and reconnect with old ones – maybe even do some business.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if there are some deals done,” Cloar says.

For more information on the event or to register, visit ULI online.


CDC, lenders team up to open new affordable homes in East Tampa

The first three of 13 homes being constructed by the Corporation to Develop Communities of Tampa with affordable housing opportunities in mind are just weeks away from completion.

Frank Cornier, the CDC’s VP of real estate development, says the Beacon Homes project falls in line with his organization’s goal of supporting communities throughout Hillsborough County and improving quality of life for residents in East Tampa.

“Being able to create those affordable homeownership opportunities is key to what we do,” he says.

So far, CDC has seen no shortage of interest in the homes. One home is currently under contract while about six potential buyers are hoping to qualify for the other two, which are expected to be complete in the next two weeks.

Cornier says seven of the 13 homes, which are located along North 34th Street at East 28th Avenue, are for families who take home $47,350 or below annually – 80 percent of the area median income for a family of four. The next six will be for families who earn 120 percent of the area median income with $71,040 annual pay for the same-size family.

The first group of homes will sell for $165,000 but the cost of the second group might see an increase. Eligible buyers can receive up to just under $30,000 in down payment and closing cost assistance.

“That enables someone to be able to purchase a home with about $3,000 out of their pocket,” says Cornier, noting how important that assistance is in furthering this project’s goal.

The total budget for the project, which is a joint effort with the city of Tampa and the Tampa Housing Authority, is between $2.5 and $2.8 million. Financing comes from the city and the Florida Minority Impact Housing Fund, designed to revitalize marginalized communities across the state.

For more information or if you are interested in purchasing a home, visit CDC online.


First retail shops coming to ENCORE! in downtown Tampa

The first retail location in ENCORE Tampa!, a downtown Tampa mixed-use development, is under construction and expected to be operational within the next 90 days.

Encore, a $425 million redevelopment of the former Central Park Village public housing area, will give a home to local foodie Michelle Faedo’s Tampanian Cuisine as the first of three retail operations in the project’s immediate future.

“We’re really happy,” says Leroy Moore of the Tampa Housing Authority. “It’s a major milestone for this site because Encore is all residential now and we have space on the ground floor of all those buildings for retail.”

The residential facilities at Encore now have a strong enough population to support development of retail facilities, Moore says. In addition to Faedo’s eatery, a barbershop and new Westshore Pizza location are under contract.

“It certainly brings conveniences to the site,” Moore says. “Encore has always been envisioned as a live, work, play location.”

Located in downtown Tampa near Interstate 4 and Interstate 275, the 28-acre development has plenty of room for additional growth, including a grocery, offices, a museum and more options. Moore says he is encouraged by the present interest and envisions Encore becoming a destination for workers exiting downtown.

The first three retail locations are being installed in the bottom floor of Ella, a senior living facility located within the redevelopment.

Now that the seven-story building is full of residents, the retail market has enough onsite support to get started. As Encore continues to grow, Moore is optimistic that more retailers will be interested in setting up shop, which in turn draws in more consumers.

“When the rest of the retail comes to this site, beyond the three we already have under contract, we think this could eventually be a destination location,” he says.


New studio space coming to St. Pete Warehouse Arts District

New studio space is coming to St. Petersburg’s Warehouse Arts District and the community is invited to come take a peek at the progress on Thursday, April 27th.

At a “Hard Hat Celebration” and fundraiser, the St. Pete Warehouse Art District Association will showcase the ArtsxChange, a project that converts 50,000 square feet of space into affordable art studios as part of the association’s commitment to the local art community.

“It’s a chance to get people up to date on the project, which has been in the works for several years, let our sponsors and donors see where their money has gone and to really invite artists into the area to bear witness to our commitment to provide affordable space for them to create,” WADA Executive Director Mary Jane Park says.

The event begins at 4:30 p.m. and includes art by incoming ArtsXchange artists, live music, food and drinks, remarks from St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman and more. The new studios, located at 515 22nd St. S, are currently under construction and attendees will have the opportunity to view progress. A $20 donation to WADA is suggested but the event is free to attend.

WADA has branded the ArtsxChange as a resource for the city, local artists and the community by creating “sustainable and affordable art studios and educational space.” The first phase of development began in March and is expected to conclude in mid-summer. It includes a 1,500-square-foot community space for art exhibitions and educational programing as well as 28 studios.

Smith and Associates CEO Bob Glaser says his business is sponsoring the ArtsxChange because it improves the community and adds opportunity for residents.

“It’s going to bring a lot of positive change to the market place,” he says.

For more information on the event, to register and to view a list of ArtsXchange sponsors visit WADA online.

Cross-Bay Ferry initial run exceeds expectations, likely to return in fall

As a sixth-month test period comes to a close, the Cross-Bay Ferry is scheduled to stop making runs on April 30.

But action taken by the Hillsborough County Commission indicates it will likely be back.

The commissioners directed county staff to find funds in the 2018 budget that could be invested in a seasonal ferry linking the downtowns of Tampa and St. Petersburg. Last year, Hillsborough allocated $350,000 to the pilot program, along with Pinellas County, Tampa and St. Petersburg.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman says the county received somewhere between $40,000 and $50,000 back on its initial investment and the ferry project is headed in the right direction.

“We’re knee deep in transportation issues right now and we’ve build a great case for a successful project,” she says.

Proponents of the ferry say it performed beyond expectations during the trial run, proving itself as a viable transportation option.

“It’s had good revenues, strong ridership and very strong corporate sponsorship,” says Ed Turanchik, project adviser.
According to Turanchik, ridership for April is on track to reach 10,000 people. In total, more than 36,000 passengers have boarded the ferry for a trip across the bay.

The 149-seat catamaran runs from downtown St. Pete’s waterfront to downtown Tampa near the convention center seven days a week with the heaviest ridership on weekends. The pilot program served as a demonstration of the non-commuter market, which accounts for the majority of travel.

“This really shows us there’s a strong market for non-work-based transit,” Turanchik says.

Now that it has some momentum, Turanchick is looking at the next phase for the ferry.

“Now it’s not a question of a pilot,” he says. “It’s using seasonal service to transition into permanent service and build the market.”

With public-private partnerships to fund the initial investment and operating costs of the new transportation system in the works, big things are possible ferries in the future of Tampa Bay. Champions include Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman.

“I can readily envision there being a dozen to 16 ferries operating in the bay area when all these things finally are deployed,” Turanchik says. “There’s a market for this and it’s only going to grow.”

University Area CDC buys land for future affordable housing

The University Area Community Development Corporation is in the process of acquiring land for development of affordable housing.

The nonprofit organization has purchased five parcels of land surrounding its 7-acre Harvest Hope Park, which is bordered by 19th and 20th streets and 137th and 138th avenues, and is negotiations for three more.

UACDC Executive director and CEO Sarah Combs says the empty lots will be used for affordable housing to help further her organization’s goal of improving the university area community. Plans for housing include single family homes, multi-family and mixed use. In combination with the park, Combs says the development will be a catalyst for change in the community.

“It’s creating something where you can start to grow from,” she says.

In the past eight months, UACDC has purchased three parcels on 138th Avenue and two on 137th Avenue and spent about $150,000 of its $500,000 budget for land acquisition. It is currently in talks to purchase two additional lots on 138th Avenue and a third on 20th street.

Combs says the type of housing developed depends on what land UACDC can obtain and the needs of the community.
 
“Before determining that, we have to ask the community,” she says.

If the nonprofit is successful in its land acquisition, there is potential for at least seven single-family homes and a 120-unit multi-family complex.

“We’re aggressive,” Combs says. “We’re going after it as fast as we can because there is a lot changing with this community and I want to make sure our residents get to stay residents.”

The residences would be offered to those who earn below the area median income and rents will likely fall between $600 and $800 a month. For the single-family homes, UACDC has the goal of a $700 monthly mortgage to encourage community members to purchase the homes. Combs says the individuals buying the homes would be people who are already involved in UACDC’s other programs and are dedicated to improving the area.

“If they join arms and walk together, we can really start to push change in a positive direction,” she says.

Paint Bullard Parkway bridge with Vision Zero leaders in Temple Terrace

Do you like to spray paint?

You can join the Hillsborough MPO's Vision Zero coalition in Temple Terrace on Tuesday, April 25th, to paint a pop-up green lane for cyclists along the Bullard Parkway Bridge in the first of a series of actionable efforts in the ''Paint Saves Lives'' action track that is central to the Vision Zero initiative.

The April 25 workshop is the third in a series of public workshops being held by the Hillsborough MPO Policy Committee as part of the Vision Zero initiative to reduce traffic injuries and fatalities on Tampa area streets to zero. By design, Vision Zero focuses on a framework of data-driven efforts to educate motorists, cyclists and pedestrians about sharing roadways safely; encourage community engagement with local policy-makers to create connected and walkable neighborhoods; enforce equitable laws for safe motorist and pedestrian behavior, and implement multimodal design policies for pedestrian and bicycle-friendly roadways. 

The first two Vision Zero workshops brought together team strategizers for each ''Action Track'' outlined by the program.

Action Track teams are comprised of county commissioners, city council members, law enforcement officials, traffic engineers, members of the MPO Policy Committee, and bicycle and pedestrian safety advocates who address concerns and brainstorm possible solutions for Hillsborough area streets -- currently ranked the 7th deadliest in the nation for pedestrians. 

The four Vision Zero Action Tracks are as follows: 
  • Paint Saves Lives: low-cost, high-impact engineering strategies for safer streets
  • One Message, Many Voices: public education and awareness strategies
  • Consistent and Fair: community-oriented law enforcement
  • The Future Will Not Be Like the Past: context-sensitive design for walkable communities

On Tuesday morning starting at 8:30 a.m. the Vision Zero team will meet at The Temple Terrace Presbyterian Church at 420 Bullard Parkway to unpack a series of outlines that include specific actions and initiatives, timeline estimates, implementation resources and accountability for Vision Zero solutions for each Action Track. 

The Vision Zero task force will demonstrate its first actionable effort at the Bullard Parkway Bridge, where volunteers will paint 4½-foot-wide green bicycle lanes to demonstrate how such low-cost, 'pop-up' engineering efforts can improve motorist awareness and safety for cyclists -- a directly applicable example of the 'Paint Saves Lives' action track. 

Hillsborough MPO Executive Planner, Gena Torres, notes that the Bullard Parkway bridge is currently a "choke point" for traffic that leaves unbuffered cyclists vulnerable to injury. "The city manager of Temple Terrace is interested in making it safer for cyclists, pedestrians and people traveling on the road to go over bridge. ... At a city council meeting, the idea of painting a bike lane was suggested for this purpose. We thought it would be a great idea to combine the effort with the latest Vision Zero workshop," Torres says.

Torres says Vision Zero welcomes appropriately dressed volunteers to join the (water-soluble) painting efforts on Tuesday morning (paint will be provided, just show up), as well as the workshop to follow, during which Vision Zero Action Tracks will outline their program plans for 2017.

"It's a short bridge when you're driving it, but pretty long when you're painting it. We'd love to spread the work among volunteers," Torres says. 

The Vision Zero team will meet at the Temple Terrace Presbyterian Church at 8:30 a.m. for a coffee social and will begin the painting project at 9 a.m., followed by Action Track reviews and feedback during the workshop session from 10 to 11 a.m.

To RSVP, email Gena Torres.

Developer proposes micro apartments in downtown Tampa

A Tampa-based development firm is looking to bring an innovative type of living space to downtown Tampa.

Urban Core Holdings, LLC is currently under contract to purchase a 12-story downtown office facility with plans to create micro apartments – 300 to 400-square-foot living quarters that are designed to appeal to those who live and work in the area.

Starting at $850 a month and maxing out at $1,100 the apartments, located at 220 E. Madison St., will provide an alternative that is far cheaper than other downtown Tampa complexes, says Omar Garcia of Urban Core Holdings.

Among people under age 35, especially young professionals, Garcia notes there is substantial appeal for this type of living space, which facilitates proximity to high-paying jobs in the downtown area.

“We think there’s a solid six- to seven-thousand people who would be interested in this project,” he says.

One of the proposed complex’s main advantages is the opportunity for younger occupants to be able to acquire wealth in light of the lower rents and reduced living costs.

“It’s a wealth creation idea” Garcia says, noting that the residents would ideally be living near their workplace and would bypass the expense of owning a car as a result.

According to a news release from Urban Core Holdings, a study from AAA Shows that owning a car can cost upwards of $725 per month when all costs are factored.

And the 120 potential residents at 220 Madison will likely be required to not own a car.

Urban Core is currently negotiating with the city of Tampa to avoid a $3 million fee for not adding additional parking once the space is converted from mixed-use to multi-family residential.

Garcia says having to pay the fee would translate to higher rents, which doesn’t fall in line with the goal of the building.

“We’re willing to require our residents not to own a vehicle and therefore there is no parking impact,” he says.

Tampa Bay History Center grows up and out, stays on track with $11M expansion

The Tampa Bay History Center is experiencing smooth sailing so far on an expansion project that will bring the area’s pirate lore to life.

“Knocking on wood, everything is going well,” says C.J. Roberts, History Center President and CEO.

Roberts says construction crews are slightly ahead of schedule on the building expansion that will house the new “Treasure Seekers: Conquistadors, Pirates & Shipwrecks” gallery -- an addition that includes a 60-foot replica of a sailing vessel as its centerpiece and will focus on the stories of Florida’s early explorers.

As construction continues, the Pinellas Park-based Creative Arts is working to design the exhibits and a theatre company out of Boston is writing an “immersive pirate theatre experience” to complement the new gallery, which should be complete before the end of the year.

The expansion is just one part of an $11 million capital campaign, which Roberts says he is hopeful will be completed successfully in another year or so.

The goal of the capital campaign is to raise $5 million for the new gallery and maintenance on the existing structure, $5 million for the center’s endowment -- which funds about 25 percent of operating costs annually -- and $1 million for the new Florida Center for Cartography, a joint effort with the University of South Florida.

“We’ve raised $7.5 million dollars to date,” says Roberts.“We’ve got good wind in our sails, and I am optimistic that we’re going to be successful in completing this campaign.”

The full-size ship included in the gallery aims to provide an immersive experience that will help dispel some myths or misconceptions about pirates while providing a unique chance to learn about navigation, engineering and mathematics.

“These stories of early navigation and maritime exploration really lend themselves very well to pulling out those kinds of educational opportunities,” Roberts says.

Roberts hopes this expansion will broaden the center’s reach by telling stories that go beyond our backyard in the Bay Area.

“This is not a Tampa or Hillsborough story, as many of our other exhibits are,” he says. “This really is a Florida story.”

The Tampa Bay History Center’s expansion project is just one part of a period of exciting growth for the downtown area and Roberts is eager for the next chapter in Tampa’s story.

“We’re excited about the contribution this will make to an already growing downtown,” he says. “I think that we’re in a good place, and the future for both downtown Tampa and the history center looks pretty bright.”

City of Tampa invites public input on streetcar route extension

The City of Tampa is looking for input from residents as it continues the first phase of a project that aims to update and extend the Tampa Historic Streetcar System.

At a series of public meetings, city officials have discussed the project while surveying attendees. The most recent “brainstorm session” took place on April 4 and focused on evaluating corridor options for potential additions to the streetcar line.

City Director of Transportation and Stormwater Services Jean Duncan began the meeting by saying that the decisions made in updating the streetcar system must reflect the ongoing development of downtown and surrounding neighborhoods.

“We want to make sure that our transportation decisions are supporting those near-term and long-term land development plans,” she says.

So far, the city has received about 800 comments during phase one of the two-phase InVision: Tampa Streetcar project and Duncan says it is looking forward to receiving more.

“That is valuable information for us to take into consideration,” she says.

According to the city’s website, the planning effort is being funding largely by a $1 million contribution from the Florida Department of Transportation. The city has dedicated $677,390 to the effort.

The first phase of the project will establish options for extensions of the line and seek to open the door to federal funding before proceeding with a more detailed second phase. Lead consultant on the project is HDR Engineering.

At the April 4 meeting, Steve Schukraft of HDR said right now his team is looking for feedback on what areas are best suited for potential extensions.

“We’re trying to understand different corridors downtown and in surrounding neighborhoods that have the characteristics that might support transit,” he says.

An important factor in determining if a corridor is viable is whether or not it can generate enough ridership to justify an investment, Schukraft adds.

The final public meeting will focus on results gathered at the previous two sessions and is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on May 2 at the Hillsborough Community College Ybor City Campus.

For more information or to submit a comment on the project, visit the city’s website.

What's new in Westshore? Find out at upcoming development forum

Looking for an update on Tampa’s Westshore District? Be sure to attend this year’s 15th Annual Westshore Development Forum on April 11.

The event, hosted by the Westshore Alliance, brings together representatives from all of the district’s industries to discuss ongoing developments and market trends that are rapidly transforming the area.

“We’ll have different speakers from each industry,” says Heather Mackin, Westshore Alliance spokeswoman. “They’re there to give the scoop on what’s new and what’s happening in the Westshore District.”

According to Mackin, the Westshore District -- which starts at Tampa Bay, including parts of Rocky Point, runs east to Himes Avenue and is bordered to the north and south by Hillsborough Avenue and Kennedy Boulevard – has 12 million square feet of office space.

“Westshore has always been and still is the largest office submarket in the state of Florida,” she says.

But in recent years, the district has evolved into a “true live, work, play community,” boasting 15,000 residents, dining options, two retail shopping malls, entertainment venues and more.

“It’s really a place where you can enjoy it all,” Mackin says.

The forum’s presenters will discuss development highlights and trends in offices, retail locations, hotels, multifamily residential housing and Tampa International Airport. Transportation infrastructure and transit will also be covered.

Presenters include:
  • Mary Clare Codd, Managing Director of Office & Industrial Services, Colliers International
  • Patrick Berman; Senior Director Retail Leasing, Cushman & Wakefield of Florida
  • Lou Plasencia; Chief Executive Officer, The Plasencia Group
  • Casey Babb, First VP Investments, National Multi Housing Group Director, Marcus & Millichap
  • Randy Forister, Commercial Real Estate Director, Tampa International Airport
“Our presenters will be discussing what’s currently under construction, recently delivered and what’s to come in the district,” says Mackin, adding that having a panel of diverse industry representatives in the same room is a great way to tie different areas of development together.

The event runs from 8:30 a.m. to noon on April 11 and will take place at AMC Westshore 14, 210 Westshore Plaza.

Presentations will be given on the big screen and, yes, there will be popcorn.

Registration, which closes on April 7, costs $50 for members of the Westshore Alliance and $75 for nonmembers. For more information or to register visit Westshore Alliance’s website.

Beyond sustainability: Tiny homes, electric cars and more at HCC expo

As sustainable and environmentally conscious lifestyles become increasingly popular, new, creative and sometimes tiny trends are taking hold.

Tiny houses, along with other unconventional domiciles, are the theme at this year’s Beyond Sustainability Expo sponsored by Hillsborough Community College’s Sustainability Council.

At the expo, attendees can check out tiny houses, buses converted into homes and gypsy wagons while learning how downsizing their living space can have a positive impact on quality of life, communities and the environment.

HCC spokeswoman Angela Walters says the trend has really emerged nationally in the last couple of years with popular TV shows about “alternative living structures” and “living tiny.” Recently, the idea has started to catch on in the Tampa Bay area and offers several unique benefits.

“As opposed to acquiring tangible things and materials, if you scale down you’re experiencing life and you’re creating more experiences,” says Walters.

Tiny homes are usually mobile, giving owners the opportunity to travel and experience multiple communities. They also may help heighten environmental awareness.

“If you have a tiny structure, you’re being more cognizant of the waste you produce,” says Walters. “You’re not buying as many material things because you don’t have as much space to store them.”

The United Tiny House Association will join HCC at the event to display tiny houses and help demonstrate the perks of downsizing. Electric cars, a maggot composting system, interactive exhibits, panel discussions and more will also be featured.

To the students at HCC, the environmental awareness promoted by the Beyond Sustainability Expo is an important part of protecting their future.

“We see directly that this is something they are passionate about and that they adamantly want these activities within the college,” says Walters.

The expo will take place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on April 8 at HCC’s Dale Mabry Campus near Raymond James Stadium. There is no charge for attendance but donations will be accepted.

For more information visit HCC’s website.

If you attend:

What: Hillsborough Community College’s 2017 Beyond Sustainability Expo - Sustainable Lifestyles: Living Tiny and Leaving a Tiny Footprint 
When: April 8 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Where: 4001 W. Tampa Bay Blvd., Tampa, Florida 33614

Time to get outdoors to play: Springtime spawns local art festivals

As part of its efforts to revive Station Square Park, the city of Clearwater is holding the first in a series of paint parties/art bazaars at the Cleveland Street Park. Painting in the Park - Art Bazaar at Station Square Park kicks off from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday, April 1, and continues on the first and third Saturdays through June.

“It’s going to be a real active event with lots of art and live music, an open-air painting class,” says Jennie Pearl, the event coordinator, an artist who will teach the $35 painting class. “It’s going to grow. So far we’ve had such a wonderful response.”

The free event sponsored by the city of Clearwater’s Community Redevelopment Agency and Parks and Recreation Department, also features live music by Sal Belloise (known as Guitar Sal), art by Kelly Strong, beer and wine tasting, body/face painting and unique vendors offering items like Hawaiian Island soaps and wearable-art clothing.

A muralist, Pearl still is recruiting for the upcoming events. “I’m looking for comedians, jugglers, hoola hoopers, massage therapists,” says Pearl, who won the 2016 Clearwater’s Downtown Gateway Art Project. “It’s all the arts."

Plans developed after visitors were polled at a grand reopening of the park in February. “They wanted art, they wanted music and entertainment,” says Laura Canary, Community Redevelopment Coordinator. “They also wanted … some type of adult component, some kind of nightlife in the park as well.”

Meanwhile in Tampa, the 6th Annual International Cuban Sandwich Art and Food Festival is underway from noon until 6 p.m. Saturday, April 1, at Hillsborough Community College in Ybor City. Saturday’s agenda? Trying to make the largest Cuban sandwich. The event continues from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday, with competitors worldwide competing for awards.

The Safety Harbor Songfest is taking place April 1 and 2 at Safety Harbor Music and Art Center and Waterfront Park, featuring the Wood Brothers, Rising Appalachia, and more. It supports the nonprofit art center’s events; music begins at 11 a.m. both days.

The Tampa Bay Blues Festival is coming to Vinoy Park in St. Petersburg April 7, 8, and 9.  The event kicks off with Dennis Gruenling at 12:30 p.m. Friday, and includes The Rides with Stephen Stills, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, and Barry Goldberg Saturday at 8:30 p.m.

Organizers of the free, two-day Mainsail Art Festival April 22 and 23, who are expecting to draw some 100,000, also are gearing up for the juried art competition at Vinoy Park. Some $60,000 will be awarded to prize winners at the festival, which began in 1976 when the city’s Bicentennial Committee, the St, Petersburg Recreation Department and St. Petersburg Arts Commission collaborated on a sidewalk arts and colonial crafts festival.

“It wasn’t a juried show. Now it’s one of the top in the country,” says Lisa Wells, who chairs the all-volunteer planning committee. “The prize money’s grown, everything’s grown. ... The quality has gotten better.”

The event, sponsored by the city, Junior League of St. Petersburg, and Tampa Bay Times, was among the top 20 best shows by Wisconsin-based Sunshine Artist magazine in 2016.

The festival, which draws more than 250 exhibiting artists, runs from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. April 22 and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 23. The lineup includes Jah Movement Reggae Band at noon April 22,  Souliz at 4:30 p.m. April 22, and singer-songwriter-instrumenalist Damon Fowler at 3:45 p.m. April 23.

The city is seeking volunteers, who can signup online.

Here are some other art-related events planned in the Tampa Bay area during April.

Broad Comedy, a benefit for Planned Parenthood, is slated from 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. April 6 at Ybor’s CL Space, 1911 N. 13th St. It features standup comics Robin Savage and Becca Childs, along with writers Lori Shannon and Cathy Salustri.

• Coffee lovers can check out the Tampa Bay Coffee and Art Festival from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. April 8 at The Noise Box, 1310 John Moore Road, Brandon. The festival features craft coffee roasters from Florida and local artists, food trucks and desserts.

• The Latin Music Festival is slated April 8 at 5730 Shore Blvd. S., Gulfport. The concert, on Boca Ciega Bay from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m., will include recording artists Orchestra Fuego, The Latin Jazz Knights, Freddy Montez, Victor J. Moreno with Esther Suarez, and Eddie Garrido. It is the first of a series of annual Latin Music Festivals. Admission is $15; children under 10 are free.

• Gulfport’s annual Springfest Garden Art and Faerie Festival is slated from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. April 14 and 15 at Clymer Park at 5501 27th Ave. S. Renaissance-era characters will roam at the event featuring a Good Friday Fish Fry, May Pole dances, a costume contest, and live music. Admission is free; complimentary parking is offered. More information is available at Springfest's Facebook page or 727-322-5217.

The SunLit Festival kicks off with a party from 7 to 9 p.m. April 6 at the Chihuly Collection in St. Petersburg. The third annual event runs April 10 through 25, bringing together literary organizations and others.

• The Florida Antiquarian Book Fair, in its 36th year, is slated April 21 to April 23 at St. Petersburg Coliseum. The fair is a mecca for book lovers, offering books on just about any topic.


Biotech company Amgen to open Tampa center

The biotechnology company Amgen plans to open a Capability Center in Tampa next October, creating 450 new jobs and investing $25 million by the end of 2018. The Thousand Oaks, CA-based Amgen, a global pioneer in the fight against serious illnesses, will operate its 136,000-square foot center out of four floors at Corporate Center One in Westshore.

“Tampa was selected mainly on the availability of skilled talent there,” says spokeswoman Kristen Davis, as well as for its "proximity to our global sites around the world.”

She notes Tampa’s “high quality” and “affordable” standard of living, plus the company’s potential to grow in the area.

The Capability Center is to deliver “business-enabling services,” including analytics, staff and business support, human resources, and financial assistance, she says.

Amgen will be hiring for a variety of positions in the information systems, human resources and finance fields. Interested persons should visit Amgen’s Career Center online for specific information on open positions, she says.

Tampa was chosen as the site of Amgen’s new state-of-the-art Capability Center after an exhaustive search that included visits to the finalist communities.

One of the world’s leading independent biotechnology companies, Amgen operates in about 100 countries worldwide. It provides medicines for serious diseases where the treatment options are limited, or where it can provide a viable alternative to existing treatment. Committed to unlocking the potential of biology for patients, it works to develop, manufacture and deliver innovative human therapeutics.

Amgen focuses on oncology/hematology, cardiovascular disease, inflammation, bone health, nephrology and neuroscience.

Florida is home to some of the country’s most highly regarded research centers, including more than 1,100 biotech, pharmaceutical and medical device companies and more than 46,000 healthcare establishments.

Amgen joins the life science companies Bristol-Myers Squibb  and Johnson & Johnson in the Tampa area.


$130M Belleair development ramps up on site of historic Belleview Biltmore Hotel

Once the winter playground for wealthy northerners escaping the cold, the Belleview Biltmore Hotel first opened to the public in 1897. Thomas Edison, Babe Ruth, the Duke of Windsor, many U.S. presidents, and even singer Bob Dylan were among guests of the Clearwater hotel that enjoyed a reputation as the “White Queen of the Gulf [of Mexico].”

Built by railroad magnet Henry Plant, the hotel sat on the bluff overlooking Clearwater Harbor and had distinctive Victorian-era architecture with an iconic New England-style white wood exterior and green-sloped roof, Tiffany-era leaded glass and beautiful oak tongue and groove heart pine flooring.

According to JMC Communities, Plant built the hotel to increase tourist traffic to the area and promote future Florida real estate development, in which he had invested. The site not only had clear views of Clearwater’s harbor, but there was a freshwater spring nearby.

The original hotel had 145 rooms, each with a view of the Gulf, and was constructed with native Florida pine. A second building housed hotel employees during the “four month season.” The hotel was not occupied during the summer until the 1950s when air conditioning was added. Like many similar luxury hotels in the Tampa Bay region, it was occupied by troops during World War II.

After more than a century of activity, the hotel closed in 2009, and began a steady decline toward disrepair, due to age, lack of maintenance and neglect. Its future was uncertain and controversial, with many area residents fighting to see the building preserved and various developers considering its demolition.

In 2015, JMC Communities, led by CEO Mike Cheezem, bought the hotel and 20-acre property for $6.2 million with the vision of creating an upscale residential development of condos and townhomes.

In what Cheezem calls a “win-win” for the hotel’s legacy, JMC Communities invested another $13 million to rescue, relocate and renovate a 38,000-square-foot section of the hotel that included the lobby and 35 guest rooms.  

“The portion we decided to save was the most architecturally striking and had been there the longest and was the best built,” says Cheezem.

Today, the historic structure is part of the Belleview Inn, a new boutique hotel and amenity center that serves as the centerpiece of Belleview Place, JMC Communities new residential community built on the former Belleview Biltmore Hotel site.

“It was just so evident how important it was to preserve all the memories associated with the hotel,” says Cheezem.  This was a popular place for weddings, graduation parties and reunions, and it was certainly a landmark structure that stood out not only for the region but also the whole state of Florida.  

“Back in 1897 this area was just a wilderness and the hotel really was a catalyst for developing the west coast of Florida,” says Cheezem. “People were coming down in their own private railroad cars and staying for the season.”

Plans call for Belleview Place to have a total of 131 residences, a combination of 104 mid-rise condominiums and 28 two-story carriage homes/townhomes. Cheezem estimates the projected value of the new community to be around $130 million at completion.

The first of four condo buildings, the Allamanda, is now under construction and fully sold out, says Cheezem. Sales for the second building, Brightwater, started in March.  

The first residents are expected to move in by early 2018. Residents will have access to all of the amenities in the new development and to the adjacent Belleair Country Club, which features two championship golf courses, a marina, fitness center and resort pool, as well as restaurant and bar.

In addition to JMC Design & Development, key professionals involved in the community’s development include architects BSB Design; civil engineers Florida Design Consultants; and Phil Graham Landscape Architecture.  

Additional professionals include the Tamara Peacock Company, the designer and conceptual architect for the Belleview Inn; Decker Ross Interiors, interior design for the Belleview Place Carriage Homes; Kay Green Design, interior design for the condominiums; and Sims Patrick Studio, interior design for the Belleview Inn.

In a news release about the community, Cheezem says: “No other community in Florida boasts such a fascinating and treasured history and such a unique combination of amenities: a fabulous location on a Clearwater bluff, two championship golf courses and a restored, boutique inn that continues the legacy and elegance of the Belleview Biltmore Hotel.”

New historic marker honors Temple Terrace orange grove history

Even many Temple Terrace residents may not know that their charming little city surrounded by Tampa was named after an orange.

A 5,000-acre temple orange grove planted in the 1920s gave birth to the city named Temple Terrace. The grove, which included land now occupied by Busch Gardens, the University of South Florida and parts of Temple Terrace, was proclaimed the largest orange grove in the world.

Now city leaders and historical preservationists are honoring the orange grove with an historical marker at the corner of Gillette Avenue and East 113th Ave., next to the Greco Middle School track. A ceremony in early February also celebrated a “mini-grove” of temple oranges planted by Greco students.

Elisabeth Leib, a board member of the Temple Terrace Preservation Society, is also involved with Greco’s Farm 2 School program and helped initiate the mini-grove project.

“We had this large orange grove and our mission is to advocate for local history,” says Tim Lancaster, President of the preservation society. “So, at the same time we dedicate this marker, we’re kind of reliving that history by putting these new orange trees in the ground.”

This will be the fifth marker the preservation society has placed around the city of 22,000.

Temples are regarded by many orange enthusiasts as the tastiest variety around. The orange has a soft and spongy exterior with a shiny, pocked peeling that’s easily removed. The segmented fruit is loaded with juice and has a slightly tart taste that explodes on the palate.
 
A variety of a tangor -- a cross between the mandarin orange and the sweet orange -- the Temple is believed to have come to Florida from the West Indies early in the 20th century, according to an article in the New York Times. The orange was named for William Chase Temple, a prominent grower and owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Lancaster says D. Collin Gillette, one of the original developers of Temple Terrace and its first mayor, was heavily involved in the citrus industry in the 20s. To attract investors, the mayor’s company allowed people who bought property in the city to buy shares in the orange grove.

“You could use proceeds from the orange grove to pay of your real estate investment,” Lancaster says.

The World’s Largest Orange Grove marker is Temple Terrace’s 5th. Others include Spanish Exploration of Temple Terrace at Riverhills Park, Bertha Palmer at Woodmont Clubhouse, Billy Graham at Billy Graham Park, and Sutton Hall (original clubhouse of Temple Terrace Country Club) at Florida College.

Slow down! City of Tampa plans safer bike lanes, traffic calming on Bayshore Boulevard

A more pedestrian-friendly and bikeable Bayshore Boulevard could be on the horizon, as the City of Tampa outlines plans for road design and traffic flow improvements along the south Tampa bayside thoroughfare. 

Although the 4.5 mile waterfront boulevard is known as a destination for recreation and exercise, many people who live along Bayshore Boulevard in South Tampa cite unsafe motorist speeds as a deterrent to enjoying the space as pedestrians and bicyclists. 

"There was a thread of complaints that motorist speeds are not being enforced--and a lot of residents are really frustrated by that," says Christine Acosta, Executive Director of the citizen's advocacy group, Walk Bike Tampa. 

The City aims to address residents' concerns with a traffic calming plan, which includes a road diet that decreases the width of traffic lanes to 10 feet and allows for the addition of a two-foot buffer to existing bike lanes, as well as the installation of Rapid Reflective Flashing Beacon (RRFB) crosswalks at three Bayshore Boulevard locations and a reduction of the posted speed limit. 

"It's fantastic that the city has a need for maintenance that goes about incorporating walk and bike improvements. The primary objective is to reduce the speed on Bayshore so that it is more user-friendly for all the users--and therefore plays to the city's goal of becoming a more multimodal place to live, work and play," says Acosta. The City of Tampa Transportation and Stormwater Services Department held the latest public information session at the Kate Jackson Community Center on February 23, allowing citizens to view and comment on plans for traffic calming and pedestrian safety projects along Bayshore Boulevard.

The proposal for improvements is summarized as follows: 
  • Removal of faded striping along Rome Avenue and Platt Street, and the installation of new striping with black contrast to provide better lane visibility for motorists and cyclists,
  • Provision of buffered bike lanes from Rome Avenue to south of Howard Avenue,
  • Addition of a two-foot buffer to existing bike lanes,
  • Installation of RRFB devices at South Dakota Avenue, South Delaware Avenue, and midway between South Brevard Avenue and W. Swann Ave.; and,
  • Reduction of posted speed limit from 40 to 35 miles per hour. 

"All those elements together, it is hoped, will result in lower speeds--so that it will feel appropriate to drive slower," says Acosta. 

The Bayshore Boulevard traffic calming project, currently in the design phase, is funded by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT). The design process is expected to continue through May, with construction dates to be determined. 

Acosta says that Walk Bike Tampa embraces the proposed improvements along Bayshore. 

"This is a positive step in the right direction for which we are very grateful," says Acosta. "We look forward to more safety measures, like protected space for cyclists, throughout Tampa Bay."

Grab your food and stay to play concept coming to Seminole Heights, Tampa

Shuffleboard, a game that traces its lineage to 15th century England, was once associated mostly with aged retirees pushing oversized hockey pucks on harshly lit courts in Pinellas County.

Bocce ball conjures up its own images, thanks to movies like “Moonstruck,” in which middle-aged and older men of Italian descent roll a hard ball down an alley somewhere in Brooklyn or Queens.

These two casual sports, though centuries-old, are enjoying a revival of sorts, so much so that three Tampa entrepreneurs think they can cash in on their appeal at a new walk-up food and beer stand in Southeast Seminole Heights.

Ferrell Alvarez, Ty Rodriguez and Chon Nguyen plan to revamp the old Nebraska Mini-Mart, a former drive-through, quick-service store on Nebraska Avenue, just north of Osborne Avenue. Alvarez said the restaurant will feature fast, casual food along with craft beers and wine.

“The concept is fast-casual food where you walk up to get the food,” says Alvarez, who is partners with Rodriguez at the Rooster & the Till restaurant down the road.

“It will be the same quality as Rooster & the Till: sourced locally, doing everything fresh,” Alvarez says. “It will be global street food with emphasis on a great beer and wine selection.”

But the partners want customers to grab their food and stay. That’s where the shuffleboard and bocce ball come in.

Alvarez envisions leagues playing tournaments on nights and weekends. The 1.5-acre property will also have room for covered dining and a dog park. Special events like a July 4 pig roast will give consumers more reason to hang out. 

“It’s going to be a multiuse beer garden on steroids,” he says.

The owners are keeping the old Mini-Mart name because of its connection to the history of the surrounding neighborhood. The building will retain its mid-century architecture but with a steel roll-down door facing south. The west wall will be covered with reclaimed wood.

Alvarez says he had his eye on the corner for some time as a great spot for casual, walk-up fare. He had a loose design in mind that he firmed up with help from Junto Design Studio.

“They took our vision and ran with it and made it much better than I envisioned,” he says.

Other local businesses involved in the project include the Pep Rally Inc. creative studio and Trimar Construction.

The partners got the necessary zoning approval from Tampa City Council in December. They are now working with the city on permitting. Residents of the closely-knit neighborhood are eagerly anticipating the opening.

“What an improvement for this blighted area!” wrote Stan Lasater, President of the Southeast Seminole Heights Civic Association, in a neighborhood blog posting.

New apartments, shops coming to Skyway Marina District in St. Pete

The first new mixed-used retail and residential project for St. Petersburg’s Skyway Marina District will break ground in the next six to nine months.  

Phillips Development and Realty, a Tampa-based firm, closed on the $70 million proposed development this month. Plans call for the developer to build a 300-unit multi-family apartment complex, along with retail shops and restaurants.

"The Skyway Marina District is a stone's throw from Gulf beaches and downtown St. Pete -- two areas that so many love to experience,” says Donald Phillips, managing director of Phillips Development and Realty. “The project will allow people to live where they play and be able to afford it all."

The nine-acre site at 34th Street South and 30th Avenue South, is across the street from Ceridian, a global human resource management company. The land was previously owned by The Home Depot, but has sat vacant for a number of years.  Phillips purchased the land from The Home Depot for $4.2 million, according to company spokesperson Parker Homans.

More than 13,000-square-feet of retail and residential are proposed, along with 100,000-square-feet of climate controlled storage space. The company is currently in negations with several local and regional businesses, says Homans.

In a press release announcing the project, Phillips says the Skyway Marina District is “screaming for retail, luxury living and involvement from the St. Petersburg art scene.”  

In recognition of St. Petersburg’s vibrant collection of more than 30 urban mural arts, the company is planning to create its own mural, which will be located at the entry to the Skyway Marina District.

Also planned is an entertainment area with a lazy river, sand volleyball court and beach-style dining. The lazy river will be open to restaurant patrons and apartment residents and their guests. 

“We envision people dining outside and taking a spin on the river,” says Homans. “We want people to feel like they are on vacation when visiting the property.”

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman calls the Skyway Marina District, “the Southern Gateway to St. Petersburg and Pinellas County.”  

The city adopted a Skyway Marina District Plan in 2015, with the goal of adding affordable housing and retail to the site, which is considered to have prime redevelopment opportunity.  

Both the mayor and city council members have voiced strong support for the new Phillip’s mixed-use development, saying it “compliments the city’s vision” for the Skyway Marina District.

The city had already committed to $1.6 million for public improvements to the district for signage, landscaping, pedestrian lighting, banners and bus shelters. Now, in recognition of Phillip’s project as the first major new development in the area, the city is planning another $1 million in improvements to the site adjacent to the new complex, including a proposed extension of the Skyway Trail, a pedestrian and bike linear greenway trail that connects with Maximo Park and the Pinellas Trail.

This is the company’s first venture in St. Petersburg, although the firm has extensive residential and commercial projects in North Carolina and completed Visconti at International Plaza, an upscale apartment complex in Tampa’s Westshore District, several years ago. 

BTI Partners to build new walkable community near Westshore, Gandy in South Tampa

Fort Lauderdale-based development firm BTI Partners will soon unveil Westshore Marina District, a new walkable planned community off Westshore Boulevard south of Gandy Boulevard in South Tampa.

The community is designed to offer an eclectic mix of residential, retail and restaurants in a marina setting on 51 acres. 

“This area [of South Tampa] has historically been industrial, so we knew we couldn’t just throw in new properties there,” says BTI Executive VP of Development Beck Daniel. “We’re adding new roadways, landscaping, utilities, and other infrastructure to create this new community and provide a sense of place.” 

The community will also include public park space and a recreational path that will eventually connect with the Tampa Friendship Trail. 

The 14-acre marina basin will anchor the new development. 

“The community will have the largest marina basin in the Tampa area,” Daniel says. “It will help establish the development as a boating community.”

The development is designed to include 1,750 residential units, 156,250 square feet of retail area, 83,750 square feet of office space, 200 hotel rooms, 185 to 240 marina slips, and a 1.5-mile waterfront park for public recreational enjoyment. 

Luxuries such as a convenient marina are certain to appeal to many new residents in the community, which will boast 396 rentals and special amenities on an 8.5-acre site along a waterfront park. 

The waterfront luxury rentals will be developed by Related Group, a Miami real estate development firm known to many in the Tampa area for its waterfront residential project on the site of the former Tampa Tribune headquarters. Daniel says an unnamed “Top-10 national builder” is also coming onboard to construct the community. Pricing for the residential units is yet to be determined. 

Daniel expects brisk development efforts on the Westshore Marina District.

“You’ll be surprised how quickly this moves,” he says. “We don’t have 1,750 of the same residential units -- we’re mixing it up to have townhomes, condo towers, retail and restaurants, so there will be demand for what we’re building.”

BTI Partners closed on the land deal in early February 2017 and expects to begin construction on the marina community soon. 

“People will be able to drive into the community and see landscaping within eight months,” Daniel says. “Construction begins on luxury rental units in early to mid 2018.” A build-out date is not specified, but Daniels says the community will be constructed in phases and is expected to reach completion quickly. 

“We’re hoping the growth expands into the surrounding area,” Daniel says. “We want this to be the first thing people see as they drive into Tampa along the Gandy Bridge from Pinellas County.” 

Tampa is a prime community with a fantastic waterfront, he says, but currently lacks abundant waterfront access. 

“It’s surprising given how much water surrounds the Tampa area and yet there aren’t as many places to enjoy it as you might expect,” he remarks. Daniel says Westshore Marina District will help provide more opportunities for locals to live, shop and play near the area’s beautiful bay shoreline. 

“We like Tampa very much,” he says, referring to BTI’s recent emergence in the Tampa Bay area. “We’re here to stay.” 

Pop-up project focuses on North Marina street improvements in Clearwater

Just north of Clearwater’s downtown, the North Marina area has long boasted its own distinct identity separate from the nearby urban hub, says Lawrence Young, Jr., the city’s neighborhoods coordinator.

Clearwater Bay borders the area to the west, while the Pinellas Trail runs along its eastern edge. Cedar and Eldridge Streets serve as North Marina’s northern and southern anchors, respectively. The neighborhood also includes several city landmarks: the Seminole Boat Launch, the Francis Wilson Playhouse and North Ward Elementary School.

The North Marina area has so much potential that the city has eyed the neighborhood for improvements over the past several years. At the end of 2015, it finalized and approved a North Marina Master Plan, which covers about 64 acres, to rejuvenate the area.

So last summer, when the city’s Planning and Development Department launched a separate program, a new pop-up event series, targeting neighborhoods in need of streetscape upgrades, North Marina was an obvious first choice. “We’re able to test recommendations from that [master] plan,” Young says. 

Through temporary installations and enhancements made to existing streets within the North Marina neighborhood, Pop-up North Marina: A Community Streets Experiment offers city staff a way to study how to improve the overall experience for pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers in the area before making permanent changes.

Implemented with the help of community residents, impermanent roadway enhancements made to North Marina streets include painted pavement and sidewalk art, sidewalk extensions, on-street parking, improved landscaping, and community benches. For instance, Young says, they temporarily reduced lanes on Ft. Harrison Avenue and dedicated the extra space to pedestrians.
Volunteers extended the sidewalk on that roadway and installed planters designed by children at the North Greenwood Recreation Center.

“The area already has an identity,” Young says. “They need something to activate and bring it all together to attract more businesses and residents to the area. This project could really bring it to life.”

Though the community gathered to celebrate the temporary changes at a Jan. 28 festival, the installation will remain in place for two months. This will give residents and city officials alike the chance to test them out. Some of these temporary enhancements could become permanent in the future, says Young.

This “unique” event is the first of its kind in Clearwater, he adds, and hopefully won’t be the last, given the success of the pop-up event so far. Though the city hasn’t named the next neighborhood to receive similar treatment, they’ll base their decision on comments received from residents throughout the city. Young encourages residents to reach out to him via email.

In the meantime, Young is excited about the possibilities in North Marina. The timing of the pop-up event is perfect, he adds, since the city held its first meeting to discuss the implementation of Phase One of the North Marina Master Plan Jan. 25. “We’re excited about everything and seeing it come to life,” Young says. “We can’t wait to activate this space.”

Coast Bike Share rolls out 20 new hubs with 200 rentable bicycles in downtown St. Pete

Hopping on two wheels for bike ride through the 'burg just became easier than ever: Coast Bike Share celebrated its official launch in St. Pete on Feb. 4 with a community ride, led by Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin, through the downtown streets and along the waterfront. 

Approximately 100 riders participated in the launch, including members of Shift St. Pete, the St. Pete Bike Co-op, and Hillsborough and Pinellas bicycle and pedestrian advisory committees. The launch party culminated in a "ride-through" style ribbon-cutting at the fourth annual Localtopia celebration.

"The city is so ready for it," says Eric Trull, Regional Director of Coast Bike Share and St. Petersburg resident.

"With the culture here -- between the arts community, the food, and the breweries -- the demographic here is all about the bikes. The biggest question we received during the launch was not 'What is the bike share?' but 'Why did it take so long to get one here?'" says Trull. 

The official Coast Bike Share launch brings a total of 20 new bike share stations with 200 new bicycles to downtown St. Pete this month. Coast Bike Share introduced a demo bike share system to St. Pete in November to coincide with the Cross-Bay Ferry launch -- celebrating a growing culture of diverse multimodal transportation options in Tampa and St. Petersburg.

The November demo-release rolled out 100 bikes at 10 bicycle hubs around downtown St. Pete, offering a variety of bike rental rates: pay-as-you-go for $8 per hour, $15 for a monthly membership that includes 60 minutes of daily ride time, or $79 for an annual membership ($59 for students) with 60 minute of daily ride time. For a limited time, St. Pete residents can also sign up for the 'Founding Plan' -- a $99 annual membership that offers 90 minutes of daily ride time. Riders can reserve a bike on location by signing up online and using the bike hub keypad to enter their own unique pin code, or by using the Social Bicycles smartphone app.

The St. Pete bike fleet is the second Coast Bike Share program in the region. It joins the Tampa fleet, which launched in 2014 with 300 rentable bicycles at 30 hubs throughout downtown, the Channel District, Hyde Park, Davis Island, Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, the Tampa Riverwalk and Ybor City.

Trull says that Coast Bike Share aims to improve access to downtown St. Pete and its surrounding districts by strategically placing bike share hubs throughout the region. Coast Bike Share St. Pete hubs are located in the Grand Central District, Old Northeast and the waterfront, the Edge District, the Innovation District, and the emerging Deuces Live District.

"We're trying to make sure we hit as many neighborhoods as we can to connect everybody to downtown," Trull says.

Coast Bike Share cycles are relatively lightweight three-speed cruisers -- weighing in at just under 40 lbs, and come equipped with a basket and a GPS-enabled lock that enables riders to rent-and-ride -- and conveniently drop bikes off at the nearest available bike share station. The bikes also calculate the distance traveled and calories burned by riders.

Trull says Coast Bike Share system was proud to reach its cumulative 300,000 mile mark during the St. Pete pilot -- with 4% of the program's total mileage clocked in St. Pete during the pilot period alone. 

In its first 90 days, Coast Bike Share reports that St. Pete pedalers biked over 12,000 miles in 4,400 trips -- meaning that those who chose to ride rather than drive burned a combined 480,000 calories and contributed to a 10,560 lb reduction in carbon waste. 

Learn more about cruising around Tampa and St. Petersburg on two wheels by visiting the Coast Bikes website

For Good: Duke Energy grant to boost services for South St. Pete families, students

A $1 million grant from the Duke Energy Foundation will allow the United Way Suncoast to expand an innovative program for families in the Campbell Park community and nearby neighborhoods in South St. Petersburg.

“We hope that our financial investment will continue to help address this community’s vital needs,” says Harry Sideris, president, Duke Energy Florida. 

The grant aligns with Duke Energy Foundation’s ongoing giving priorities, which include kindergarten to career educational and workforce development, environmental issues and social programs that positively impact communities.

Since 2011, United Way Suncoast has operated a neighborhood program at Campbell Park Elementary School that offers a variety of social services and support for parents and students. The program is focused primarily on education, including attendance and tardiness, as well as financial stability programs for the adults in the community. 

Last year, the agency took that program to the next level with the launch of a dedicated community resource center at Cross and Anvil Human Services Center, a nonprofit organization run by Mt. Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church in partnership with the Pinellas County Urban League and other organizations.

The Cross and Anvil Human Services Center currently provides academic support services, such as GED assistance, FCAT and college preparation, mental health counseling, parental engagement programs and veterans services.

Duke Energy funding will allow the United Way Suncoast to add new services at the center that target workforce development, including job coaching, resume’ writing and similar skills training, as well as financial coaching, legal advice and other social support services. The goal is to help address variety of community needs, including empowering individuals and families to work toward long-term stability.

In addition to investing in the community through the grant, Duke Energy employees are contributing to the new social services program through the Duke Energy in Action corporate volunteer program. Employees recently participating in painting and landscaping the Cross and Anvil Human Services Center. 

“We live here, work here and are committed to our communities year-round,” says Sideris.

The United Way Suncoast serves Pinellas, Hillsborough, Sarasota and Desoto counties and works with partner agencies to provide programs promoting literacy, workforce development and financial counseling, temporary emergency services during natural disasters and neighborhood community services.

“Duke Energy’s generosity and commitment to the Campbell Park neighborhood is as incredible as the tremendous potential that exists in the residents of this community,” says Suzanne McCormick, president and CEO of United Way Suncoast, in a statement announcing the new partnership. “We are excited for the opportunities this gift brings and proud to be working with so many wonderful business and nonprofit partners.” 

New Sulphur Springs Museum honors local history

Tampa history buffs will have a new place to explore when the Sulphur Springs Museum and Heritage Center opens on February 4. The new landmark, located at Mann-Wagnon Park in Sulphur Springs, will serve as a community hub for the re-emerging Central Tampa neighborhood. 

According to Norma Robinson, a co-founder of the Sulphur Springs Museum and Heritage Center, the grand opening of the new facility is slated for noon on the first Saturday of February. “We hope to have the ribbon cutting at 12,” she says. “We’ll have different activities throughout the day, including guided tours.” 

When the Sulphur Springs Museum and Heritage Center opens its doors, guests will find an array of things to see and do there. One of the headlining attractions is “Sulphur Springs: An Enduring Legacy.” The permanent exhibit profiles the history of the Sulphur Springs neighborhood, which traces its roots back to the 1880s. The area flourished as a tourist destination in the early 20th century when developer Josiah Richardson oversaw the creation of a resort around the area’s springs, which were believed by many to have healing properties. The Sulphur Springs Arcade, the neighborhood’s iconic 214-foot-tall water tower, and Sulphur Springs Pool are just some of the historic landmarks honored at the museum. 

“Many students from the University of South Florida [http://www.usf.edu/ ](USF) did research,” Robinson says of the museum’s historical elements. Several images and other artifacts derive from the USF Tampa Library Special and Digital Collections and the Florida State Archive collection. 

The Sulphur Springs Museum also opens with “Water | Ways,” a Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibit that will be open from February 4 through March 18, 2017. “We’re one of six cities in Florida chosen for the exhibit, which shows the different ways water affects our lives,” explains Robinson. “Water | Ways” explores the impact of water environmentally, culturally, and historically. 

The museum will also host Our Florida, Our History lecture series, which includes an array of slated speakers for February such as USF history professor Gary Mormino, Hillsborough Community College Dean of Associate of Arts Jim Wysong, and African American diaspora expert Anthony E. Dixon. The series continues into March with appearances by climate science author Dr. Mark R. Hafen and Florida culture author Craig Pittman. 

The Sulphur Springs Museum and Heritage Center is the culmination of many years of tireless effort by Norma Robinson and her husband, Joseph. When the couple moved from New York to Tampa in 1997, they chose Sulphur Springs as their new home. They have worked tirelessly for two decades to improve the community, which for years was known as one of Tampa’s most poverty-stricken neighborhoods. The Robinsons were honored by the Tampa Bay Lightning as Community Heroes in 2015, when they received a $50,000 donation from the Lightning Foundation. Much of those funds were invested into building the Sulphur Springs Museum and Heritage Center, which was a dream first envisioned more than a decade ago. 

Admission to the Sulphur Springs Museum and Heritage Center is free, Robinson says, “but donations are strongly encouraged and welcomed!”

When and where 

What: Sulphur Springs Museum and Heritage Center Grand Opening
When: February 4, 2017, noon to 4 p.m.
Things To Do: Sulphur Springs: An Enduring Legacy history exhibit, Water | Ways Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibit, guided tours, food, drinks
Address: 1101 E. River Cove Street, Tampa, Florida 33604

Junior Achievement expands financial literacy training for teens

Junior Achievement of Tampa Bay has been teaching fifth graders about potential careers since 2005 through its JA BizTown program. Now, it’s making plans to expand its curriculum and teach eighth graders finances at a new facility slated to break ground in late February.
 
“JA Finance Park gives 8th grade students the rare opportunity to experience their personal financial futures firsthand,” says Richard George, President of JA Tampa Bay. “We’re going through permitting now. We’re hoping to be open probably in November [2017].”
 
While JA Biztown gives fifth graders a chance to work in a mock economy, JA Finance Park lets them explore personal finances. They’ll have to make spending choices based on their income and family needs. A Career Depot will help them understand the connection between careers, salaries, and the money they make.
 
“We’re exploring Tampa Bay opportunities, from trades to professional jobs, what it takes to get those positions and what it pays,” George says. “It’s going to be pretty innovative.”
 
The facility is officially named JA Finance Park presented by SunTrust Foundation, in recognition of SunTrust’s $1.7 million grant, which kicked off fundraising. The $4.6 miillion,18,000-square-foot building will be on Hillsborough County Public School property on North 22nd Street. JA still is attempting to raise $5 million to operate the facility for 10 years.
 
Construction is by EWI Construction, with architecture by FleischmanGarcia Architects, both of Tampa.
 
The ultimate goal of the park is to help students become leaders in their household and community, George says.
 
“JA Finance Park creates a real-life model which encourages students to focus on their life goals and complete their education,” he adds.
 
The new facility is expected to serve 180 students a day. Throughout the Tampa Bay region, Junior Achievement of Tampa Bay reached 98,662 students last year.
 
“JA Biztown has done pretty well,” he adds. “It’s been operating in the black since Day One.”
 
JA is supported by businesses represented in its facilities, including Publix, MacDonald’s and Kane’s Furniture, as well as donors like Pam and Les Muma and the Bill Poe family.

A peak inside: Safety Harbor Art & Music Center opens in northern Pinellas County

The Safety Harbor home of artists Todd Ramquist and Kiaralinda is hard to miss.

Some know the brightly painted and tiled cottage surrounded by yard sculptures as Whimzeyland. Others affectionately refer to it as “the bowling ball house” because of the rows of decorated bowling balls that adorn the home’s yard. For many, it’s a local landmark, and listed on numerous “roadside attraction” websites.

The couple also used their home to bring the arts to their community in other ways, hosting house concerts and local artists. As this grew, Kiaralinda realized they’d eventually need a bigger venue. “When you have 170 people in your gazebo and in your front yard listening to music, it’s kind of time to move it somewhere else,” she says.

Now, after five years of planning, raising funds and construction, their new venue, the Safety Harbor Art & Music Center (SHAM), has opened in the city’s downtown, at 706 Second St. N. The artistic hub for northern Pinellas County opened its doors over Thanksgiving weekend with a three-day celebration, SHAMsgiving. They followed this up with a 12 Days of Christmas holiday event. 

“It’s pretty much a dream come true,” Kiaralinda says. The new venue is a larger-scale version of their home. “There’s art everywhere.”

SHAMc, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, became a possibility for the couple when they won a $50,000 Pepsi Refresh Grant in 2011. Since the initial Pepsi grant, the project has been funded by a mix of donations, fundraisers and grants from the city. The plan was to create a center dedicated to all facets of the arts -- visual arts, music, literature, performing arts -- which is exactly what the venue is, Kiaralinda says. “We’re filling the calendar faster than we ever imagined we would, ever since we opened the doors,” she adds. 

Laura Kepner, founder of the Safety Harbor Writers & Poets, which now hosts its monthly open mics at SHAMc, says the local arts scene wouldn’t be what it is without Kiaralinda and Ramquist. 

“They support me with the open mic,” she says. “The really cool thing about [them] is if you want to do something with your art, whatever your art is, they’re probably going to cheer you on and say, how can we work together?”

The SHAM project transformed the Rigsby House, “a woodsy building” on the property when they purchased it, Kiaralinda says. “The old house was saved and resurrected. We did what we could to keep that alive.”

The original home is now called the ARTery, a space for workshops and to showcase local artwork. They also built a new two-story building called the ODDitorium, where the larger performances and events will take place.

Now, the folks behind SHAMc are planning their annual Safety Harbor SongFest, which is set for April 1 at Waterfront Park. The two-day music festival, which will feature artists including Magic Giant, Rising Appalachia, Charlie Mars and Joe Craven this year, will serve as a fundraiser for the new arts center.

Kiaralinda says SHAMc has a deep volunteer base of about 300 or so. “It’s been a really, really good ride, and we’ve had a lot of support,” she says, despite delays in funding and construction.

Though she and Ramquist have long been a staple of the Safety Harbor arts scene, she’s amazed by the response she’s received since SHAMc opened. “It’s crazy how many people walk through here and want to do things,” she says.

Join Hillsborough MPO in Vision Zero Community Workshop on January 31

Tampa Bay area bicycle and pedestrian safety advocates will hit the streets for a field review of Hillsborough Avenue during the second of four Vision Zero Workshops, taking place on Jan. 31 from 9 a.m. - 11 a.m. at the Town 'N Country Regional Library, 7606 Paula Drive.

Workshop attendees will have the opportunity to join the MPO, Hillsborough County Sheriff's office staff, and students and seniors from the neighboring middle school and senior center on a walking audit of Hillsborough Avenue and Hanley Road, where they will observe traveler behavior and road design to determine whether pedestrian access and safety are taken into account at nearby destinations, and what improvements might be made.  

Following the field review, the Vision Zero committee will break into four Action Track teams to begin developing each group's action plans for 2017. The Vision Zero Action tracks are as follows: 
  • Paint Saves Lives: low-cost, high-impact engineering strategies for safer streets
  • One Message, Many Voices: public education and awareness strategies
  • Consistent and Fair: community-oriented law enforcement
  • The Future Will Not Be Like the Past: context-sensitive design for walkable communities
Currently, the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater region ranks seventh in the nation for pedestrian fatalities, with 821 pedestrians killed over a 10-year period through 2014, according to the biennial Dangerous by Design report released by Smart Growth America on Jan. 10. Though still listed in the top ten most dangerous places, the Tampa region did make a shift away from its 2nd place position, which was reflected in the previous report in 2014. 

By the end of 2017, the Vision Zero Action Plan aims to outline steps that will move Hillsborough County to its goal of zero traffic deaths. 

The public is welcome and encouraged to attend all Vision Zero workshops, and to join Vision Zero Action Tracks to brainstorm solutions for safer streets. 

Can't make it to the Jan. 31 workshop? Get involved any time by adding your voice to the Vision Zero Interactive Map of Hillsborough County and sharing site-specific traffic concerns with the MPO. Scroll down the Vision Zero Action Plan page to find the map, select "Pinpoint Safety Concerns" and click "Points" to place your comments and safety concerns on the map. 

Want to learn more about the Hillsborough MPO's revolutionary Vision Zero initiative and to get connected for future upcoming workshops and events? Follow the new Vision Zero Hillsborough Facebook page.

Read more stories about Vision Zero in 83 Degrees.

St. Petersburg’s Station House undergoes next phase in urban development

Station House, downtown St. Petersburg’s unique co-working space, restaurant and event venue, is undergoing the next phase in development with plans to update the main facility and expand the concept to an additional location, says Founder and Proprietor Steve Gianfilippo.

“It’s part of a planned phased-in upgrade,” says Gianfilippo. “I like to let our customers give us feedback about where we can make improvements. We’ve been listening and now we’re ready to move forward. It’s an evolving process.”

Station House opened in 2014 after extension renovations to its historic 100-year-old location that once housed a fire station, then hotel and train station. The five-story venue now includes a first-floor restaurant and bar; communal and co-working space for lease anywhere from a day to long-term; small private office suites; event meeting rooms and a rooftop garden. Memberships at various levels are offered.

Construction begins this month (January 2017) on a number of planned upgrades to the venue. First on the list is a shaded pergola and landscaping for the rooftop garden.

“We needed to provide some protection from the elements and a little shade to make it more comfortable, especially in the summer,” says Gianfilippo. The rooftop space can accommodate private parties, community events and fitness activities like the popular yoga classes that are held there.

The restaurant and co-working spaces, as well as the building’s front entrance, will also be enhanced.

While the restaurant will remain in the same location, the entry will move to the front of the building to make it more visible and to improve traffic flow, as well as giving it a higher profile, Gianfilippo says. The restaurant’s interior will have an overhaul in concept, layout and design.  

“It’s all part of a plan to raise the profile of the restaurant, improve entry to the building and create better synergy between the various elements we offer at Station House,” says Gianfilippo. “It’s preliminary right now, but some of the plans under consideration include extensive landscaping and a mural at the front entrance with some sort of 3D mapping experience.”

The popular communal co-working space, which features a striking black-and-white tile floor, high-top tables and meeting rooms set up as living rooms, will also have a few added “fun” elements like a ping pong table and virtual gaming.

Station House will also be expanding into the Central Arts District. Last August, Gianfilippo purchased another historic property -- the Green-Richman Arcade, located at 689 Central Avenue. The 1920-era building is on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.

Station House members will be able to use the new venue, which is currently being branded as the Station House Arcade.  Gianfilippo says he expects renovations on the arcade to be complete by the end of January.  

The historic façade of the building will remain but a renovation of the interior is planned with offices, common areas, conference rooms, and possibly an interior garden. The property, which is near the Morean Arts Center, Chihuly Collection and Central Avenue boutiques and galleries, will reflect the eclectic creative arts culture in that part of downtown, says Gianfilippo.  

“This is a growing area and we got in just in the nick of time,” he says. “It’s a cool, hip area that is quickly developing.”

Construction on the restaurant at the main facility is projected to be completed by spring or summer of 2017.

UNION72 opens in Wesley Chapel, plans second location a month later

Just four weeks after opening their barbecue restaurant, UNION72 in Wesley Chapel, owners Jeff Martin and Bharat Chhabria are already planning their second location.
 
"We are fortunate and blessed in that our business is already exceeding our expectations," Chhabria says. "We thank our loyal customers for that. We've had customers travel up to see us from as far south as Sarasota, so the thought of a second location came up rather quickly."
 
Martin, who also founded The Brass Tap, and Chhabria, a fellow restauranteur, opened UNION72 in mid-November at The Shops at Wiregrass in a 2,000-square-foot space located at 2000 Piazza Avenue, Suite 150. It's between Cantina Laredo and The Brass Tap.
 
The idea behind the restaurant is to create "an elevated barbecue experience," combining traditional barbecue techniques with modern culinary innovations. The menu emphasizes unique ingredients and fusions.
 
"The response has been extremely encouraging, and we have been very well received," Chhabria says. "A quick look at our Facebook reviews and Yelp reviews will show that 5-star reviews are the most common. Great feedback on both the food quality and service levels. Couldn't ask for more."
 
Yelp reviewer Sarah D., for example, says customers who try the restaurant won't be disappointed.
 
"If there is one thing that is hard to find in Tampa, it's great barbecue," she writes. "This new spot in wiregrass mall is just what the area needed. I love their long table with the site of their open kitchen. I think it's always great to see the staff of restaurants interact in the kitchen. While there we ordered the chopped brisket and pork and it was delish!!"
 
Prior to opening, Chhabria says the owners used social media -- Facebook and Instagram  -- to spread awareness of the restaurant. Now, word of mouth seems to be the strongest marketing tool.
 
"We've even spoken to customers at dinner that said they are here because their friends came in earlier in the day for lunch and loved the place. The same day," Chhabria says.
 
Although Chhabria says the pair can't disclose the exact locations they're looking at for their second restaurant because of ongoing negotiations, he explains that they've narrowed their sites to a couple of places in the greater Tampa Bay area.
 
" … we can say that these locations are based in strong communities like Wesley Chapel, which will allow us to participate as a local neighbor," he says, adding they'd like to be up and running with the second restaurant in 4-6 months and that it will be similar to the first location.
 
"We have something here that works, and our customers love it," he says. "We would like to keep our operating model the same -- high quality but different/innovative barbecue with superlative standards of service. We may learn a couple of things in the next few months that we can incorporate in the next location, but largely speaking, why fix something that's not broken?"

Florida DOT, Tampa celebrate new streetscape through Ybor City

Twenty-four years ago on Dec. 9, Richard Gonzmart was mourning the loss of his father. This year, though, that memory was likely softened with a happier one.

State and city officials came together in Ybor City that day to celebrate the completion of the 21st and 22nd Streets Urban Corridor Modification Project, as well as the banning of truck traffic on both streets.
 
"This is a dream that my father had back in the 80s," said Gonzmart, President of the Columbia Restaurant Group, at the celebration. "He envisioned the day there would be no trucks, and this would be the gateway, the entrance, to this historic, beautiful area."
 
When Interstate-4 was built in the early 1960s, 21st and 22nd streets became the main routes to the Port of Tampa. As the port grew, truck traffic in Ybor City increased. So, the Florida Department of Transportation and the City of Tampa collaborated to find solutions to the problem.
 
The first step was to build the Interstate-4/Lee Roy Selmon Expressway Connector to provide a safer, more-efficient route for truck traffic between the Port of Tampa and I-4. The $426 million connector has exclusive truck lanes for direct access to the port. 
 
The second part, which took nearly two years to complete and was celebrated Dec. 9, was the reconstruction of 21st and 22nd streets. It provides pedestrian and bike connectivity on 21st and 22nd streets between Adamo Drive and Hillsborough Avenue. Other major features include wider and scored sidewalks, on-street parking, granite curbs, brick crosswalks, outdoor street furniture, landscaping, iconic five-globe lampposts, a new water main, and repairs to the stormwater and sewer system. The city paid $2.5 million toward the total cost of $9.5 million.
 
During the Dec. 9 ceremony, an official sign honoring the partnership between FDOT and the City of Tampa, and announcing "no through truck traffic," was unveiled.
 
"With the completion of this project, trucks are now restricted from traveling through this section, which will allow this area to grow again," Paul Steinman, secretary of FDOT's District 7, said during the ceremony. "This project is an outstanding example of when the federal government, state and local governments work together with our community to find a balance between the growth of the state of Florida and our economy, and how we make our communities a better place to work, live and play."
 
Gonzmart said the day was a milestone because it represented a rebirth of Ybor City, and the beginning of the realization of his father's vision.
 
"You're going to see expansion to the east, to the south, to the north, creating job opportunities; for those that live and those that visit here, a place to call home once again like it was back in the early 1900s," he said during the celebration. "Our family has been so excited that we have five projects that will be announced over the next three months, all within 200 yards of what is the Columbia Restaurant because we know, we realize, the commitment the state of Florida, the City of Tampa have made, is going to make Ybor City and make Tampa a better place because of it."

Ava plans second restaurant location at The Heights Public Market

Joshua Hernandez, executive chef at Ava, is about to get a lot busier.
 
In early 2017, Ava will open its second location at The Heights Public Market, which is being developed by Tampa-based SoHo Capital. The market will be located inside the redeveloped Armature Works building, a 70,000-square-foot structure that once served as a storage and maintenance facility for Tampa’s streetcars.
 
Among the group of Ava investors behind the expansion are Michael Stewart, who runs the successful restaurants 717 in Tampa and The Lure in St. Petersburg, and Joe Maddon, manager of the world champion Chicago Cubs.
 
"We're super excited," Hernandez says. "When I found out that Chas (Bruck, a principle of the development company) and the folks at Soho Capital were interested in being a part, I was really pumped. I think it's a great opportunity to expand our business."
 
The menu at the new 440-square-foot Ava location will be a bit different from the original restaurant, which has been open for two years in South Tampa.
 
"The focus is going to be on pizza," Hernandez explains. "So, we'll have some of the favorites from Ava, and then there's going to be some pizzas that are only going to be available at The Heights location."
 
There will also be paninis that are exclusive to The Heights Public Market, as well as salads.
 
Hernandez says customers trying out the new restaurant for the first time should definitely order one of the new pizzas, although he's still working out the details of the pies that will be available and jokes that he's keeping people "in suspense for now."
 
"There might be pesto involved," he quips, "I'm not sure."
 
The ovens at both locations are made by Acunto, which Hernandez says is the most respected oven producer in Naples, Italy. But the oven at The Heights will have a 140-centimeter floor, which is 10 centimeters larger than the oven floor at the original location and can accommodate more pizzas.
 
"I'm excited to make an offering to people who might not have been to Ava before," Hernandez says. "And I'm also hoping that having some exclusivity at The Heights will bring some of our loyal customers out to the market."
 
Hernandez says the new Ava location and The Heights Public Market are important for the Tampa Bay community.
 
"I think the whole, sort of, rejuvenation with the Riverwalk is really exciting just kind of watching that part of town liven up," he explains. "Between Ulele and the new coffee shop is over there -- The Foundation -- and the brewery (Hidden Springs Ale Works), it's kind of cool watching the neighborhood and community get going."

"I think it's very important not to rest on your laurels," he adds. "Ava's doing very well in SoHo. From our perspective, that's all the more reason to test the waters in another area."
 
And if Ava's second location proves to be a success, there could be future locations in the works.
 
"We are going to take it one step at a time," Hernandez says. "The talk is there if it goes well, if it's a model that's feasible, we definitely have our heads in that game."
 
"From my end, I'm kind of using it as a pilot to see how the pizzeria concept goes."
 
Other partners that have been announced at The Heights Public Market include: Ichicoro Ramen, a mod casual authentic Ramen restaurant, serving soulful, delicious food and beverages; Union by Commune + Co, a local coffee company that has a fleet of trikes sharing the company’s flagship iced coffee product, Pressure Brew, at area events; Tailored Twig, a floral boutique that specializes in one-of-a-kind pieces for distinctive events; Chocolate Pi, a bakery focusing on pastries and cakes made in the European tradition with American creativity; Fine and Dandy, a cocktail emporium focusing on package sales, craft cocktail kits and classes; and Steelbach Ranch, a boutique butcher with charcuterie and artisan cheeses.
 
Two other restaurants will be located at The Heights Public Market, including Steelbach, a modern eatery that uses the best meats from the in-house butcher in the market, and Atlantic Beer & Oyster, an outdoor eatery that will showcase a rotation of East Coast, West Coast and Gulf Coast oysters, as well as fresh shrimp, smoked fish dip, its signature grouper sandwich, and local breweries.

The market will also feature an interactive kitchen, called Show + Tell, that will host educational cooking classes, corporate team-building activities and pop-up dinners in collaboration with market tenants. 

The market has space for three more tenants and plans to announce them soon.

Bryan Glazer Family Jewish Community Center now open in Tampa

On Dec. 8, 1941, the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Fort Homer W. Hesterly Armory was inaugurated at 522 N. Howard Ave. in Tampa.
 
Exactly 75 years later, the building was re-opened as the Bryan Glazer Family Jewish Community Center with more than 100,000 square feet of community space.
 
"My heart is racing," says Jack Ross, Executive Director, on Wednesday, Dec. 7, the eve of the ribbon cutting and grand opening ceremony.
 
For him, the state-of-the-art facility represents "five years of intense collaboration with some of the best creative, intellectual and professional people," he's ever worked with. It's named for Bryan Glazer, co-chairman of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who pledged $4 million to the project. The Florida Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott put in more than $7 million. Hillsborough County contributed $1.3 million. The entire project cost a total of $30 million.
 
Over the last three-quarters of a century, the property has served as a camp site of the Rough Riders (the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry Regiment raised in 1898 for the Spanish-American War); the site of an Elvis Presley performance; speeches by Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy; and one of the original venues for professional wrestling, Ross says.
 
"But even more than that, you also have the Tampa history," he adds. "You have thousands of people who attended graduations, weddings, cotillions, convention meetings. So, we as an organization have the privilege of not only restoring a landmark property, but we had the opportunity to repurpose the facility and relaunch it into a new bright future."
 
The building is divided into a member section on the west side and a non-member section on the east side.
 
The member side houses a more than 50,000-square-foot fitness and aquatic center, known as the Diane and Leon Mezrah Family Aquatic Center. There's a multisport gymnasium and indoor track, yoga, spin, Pilates, and Group Ex classes. Anyone can become a member, and fees range from $49-$159, Ross says.
 
The non-member section houses the Roberta M. Golding Center for the Visual Arts, a premier fine arts center operated by the City of Tampa in conjunction with the Tampa Museum of Art in partnership with the Hillsborough County Board of Commissioners. There's also a large event space, a social service center operated by Tampa Jewish Family Services, and the Florida-Israel Business Accelerator.
 
The accelerator is a landing pad for Israeli high-tech companies who want to launch in the United States, Ross explains. It assists these companies by aligning them with corporate strategic partners and getting their products ready for the U.S. market.
 
Anyone can use the event space for meetings, weddings, banquets and other occasions.
 
"Flexibility and versatility was the mantra in developing the whole building," Ross says.
 
Furthermore, a pre-school will be added to the property, although details of this second phase of the project are still in the works.
 
Ross says the importance of the center is three-fold. It revived and repurposed a historic landmark; it will have injected $30 million into the local community and hundreds of jobs by the time both phases are complete; and it’s a gathering spot for all faiths, creeds and religions.
 
"We are building community at a time when our country seems divided," he explains. "This is the great communal gathering spot. This is a place to come to gather and grow."

St. Pete-Clearwater airport continues renovations, on track to serve record number of travelers

Construction at St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport is moving along as planned, and the growing airport is on target to serve the most passengers in its history -- 1.8 million.
 
The airport has been modernizing its terminal since 2008. According to Michele Routh, the airport's PR Director, the first and second phases of the project included adding a chiller plant for the HVAC system; updating plumbing systems; adding two passenger loading bridges; renovating Gates 2-6 hold rooms for expanded seating, square footage, restrooms and restaurant areas; and addressing other infrastructure issues.
 
Most of the airport's passengers -- about 95 percent -- are served by Allegiant Air, which was moved from Ticketing B to Ticketing A because an inline baggage system was added there during the second phase of the project.
 
"It processes bags quicker," Routh says of the inline system.
 
The third phase of the project began in April and includes adding an inline baggage system to Ticketing B. In September, the airport received a $753,979 grant from the Transportation Security Administration for the design of the new system. An additional grant for $300,000 had already been awarded from the Florida Department of Transportation Aviation Funding. The total design cost is $1,070,302.
 
"Once we get this designed and get it built, then Allegiant will get back to Ticketing B where there's more counter space, and they'll have the inline system." Routh says.
 
The third phase of the project also includes a major focus on Gates 7-10, as well as adding checkpoints, restrooms, restaurant space and a play area for kids designed by Great Explorations Children's Museum.
 
"We're adding 12,000 square feet to the Gates 7-10 area," Routh says, which includes an additional 450 seats.
 
The airport has also added a third checkpoint for Gates 2-6, and will add a third checkpoint for Gates 7-10 by the time the third phase of the project is completed, which is estimated to be in summer 2017.
 
Additionally, the airport opened a cell phone parking lot over the summer, will update its master plan next summer, and plans to build a parking garage in the future.
 
All of the projects are meant to accommodate the airport's travelers, who have more than tripled in the past 10 years.
 
"The growth we've had in the last decade since Allegiant and Sunwing joined us has been a 322 percent increase," Routh says.
 
She says the airport is proud of its customer service and its commitment to heavily compete for grants to fund its projects. The airport has no debt service and has spent $76 million over the last 10 years. It plans to spend $142 million in renovation projects in the next 10 years.
 
"We're very excited about all the developments," Routh says. "As we go through them, our challenge is making it as easy on our passengers as we possibly can."

Nautical-inspired restaurant The Galley to open in St. Petersburg this month

Two hospitality professionals are banking on downtown St. Petersburg's growth as they open their new restaurant, The Galley, this month.
 
St. Pete natives Pete Boland and Ian Taylor have joined forces to create the nautical-inspired eatery and tavern at 27 Fourth St. across from Williams Park, the open-air post-office and Snell Arcade.
 
It's an area that is expected to change dramatically by 2018. Near the restaurant, the 400 Block and the ONE condo-hotel building are slated for development.
 
Boland doesn't disclose the pair's investment in the project, but he says "we are well-funded and in it for the long haul."
 
The restaurant and tavern is located in a two-story, 2,000-square-foot space that was most recently Reno Downtown Joint. Decades ago, the building served as a Howard Johnson hotel with an oversized kitchen, which is now where Chef Ian Carmichael will create high-quality food, Boland says. The menu will feature Grouper sandwiches, Cuban sandwiches, stone crabs, and desserts with fresh Florida fruit.
 
Boland and Taylor have made substantial renovations to the building that are largely cosmetic to create a nautical look and feel with the warmth of a local tavern. Boland says there's familial seating, a mural by Seacat Murals, 10 HDTVs for Sunday football and local games, and a projector screen for special events.
 
Nearby restaurants and bars include Fuego Lounge, Cask and Ale, and Ruby's Elixir. Boland says The Galley's locally-inspired gastropub with Beach Drive-quality cuisine and Central Avenue-style fun make it unique.
 
The target customer is locals and tourists of all ages, and Boland says he sees the restaurant as a place where locals can bring visiting friends and family.
 
So, what should patrons order on their first visit?
 
"The Grouper sandwich -- we want to serve this iconic item better than anywhere else on the peninsula," Boland says. "Or whatever special Chef Ian Carmichael has on the menu that day. He won't disappoint."
 
The target opening date for The Galley is mid-December, sometime before Christmas. The restaurant will create about 20 new jobs, and almost all the bar staff has been recruited. Back-of-house positions are currently being hired. To apply, email Carmichael at Ian.C@TheGalleyStPete.com.
 
For more information about The Galley, visit the restaurant on Facebook and Instagram.

Port Tampa Bay busy with cold storage facility construction, new berth, gantry cranes

There's a lot going on at Port Tampa Bay.
 
In October, the Port announced that Port Logistics Refrigerated Services had begun site work for construction of a new 134,000-square-foot cold storage warehouse. The facility will handle refrigerated import and export cargoes, and it's scheduled to open in the summer of 2017.
 
Port Logistics will operate the facility, which will be able to accommodate both chilled and frozen products. It's being built on a 13.7-acre site at the Port, which serves a growing consumer market and distribution center hub along the I-4 Corridor across Central Florida.
 
"It’s important because it’s bringing economic development to the Tampa Bay area, as well as bringing a unique cargo opportunity and building a very impressive, state-of-the-art cold storage facility," says Andy Fobes, Port Tampa Bay spokesman. 
 
In addition to the cold storage facility and the infrastructure surrounding it, Port Tampa Bay is planning to open a new multi-use berth at East Port on Dec. 8. The East Port berth will be able to accommodate a variety of cargoes, Fobes says.
 
Also on Dec. 8, the Port plans to unveil its updated master plan called Vision 2030. The plan will serve as a road map to building the port toward 2030 and beyond, Fobes says.
 
In July, the Port commissioned two gantry cranes that weigh 1,600 tons each and can lift 65 tons. They're used for loading and unloading cargo containers from container ships.
 
"The two new post-Panamax gantry cranes have elevated our stature as a container port, and we are able to accommodate for ships twice as large as ever before," Fobes says.
 
The increased accommodation has allowed the Port to expand and diversify its cargo business by serving wider ships that travel through the expanded Panama Canal.
 
"Our improved facilities and continued capital program ensure that our Port will continue to serve the region well in all our diverse lines of business," Fobes says.

Could parklets be coming to Tampa in 2017?

If you happened to be in the Channel District earlier this month, you might have seen something unusual on the street that could soon become more popular.
 
Seven parklets, or extensions of the sidewalk built on street parking spaces, were displayed on 12th Street for four hours on Nov. 5 during a pop-up festival for the annual Tampa Bay Design Week.
 
"We had a really great turnout," says Rachel Radawec, executive administrative assistant with the Tampa Downtown Partnership and parklet enthusiast. "People came down, they loved it, they sat down and talked and ate and everything you're supposed to do in a parklet."
 
Parklets are a trend gaining popularity across the country. San Francisco, Seattle and Charlotte, NC, are a few cities that have them.
 
During the third year of Tampa Bay Design Week, an event meant to expose the public to the design world, "we decided it was time for Tampa to have one," Radawec explains.
 
Parklets aren't art installations. They provide space for people to sit, relax and enjoy the city on streets that would otherwise be used simply for traffic, according to the National Association of City Transportation Officials. They often combine seating, trees, flowers or shrubs, but they don't necessarily have to be green spaces.
 
"You essentially take an on-street parking spot and take it away from the car and give it back to the people," Radawec says.
 
As a Tampa resident, Radawec says she's a fan of anything that enhances the downtown area, which she considers her backyard.
 
"I'm really just interested in anything that makes Tampa an interesting place," she says.
 
So, she helped facilitate the Nov. 5 showcase, and she's helping to facilitate discussions about the future of parklets in Tampa.
 
Gensler, a Tampa design firm who created one of the seven parklets during the showcase, was so taken with concept that they set up their parklet for an extra week in front of Regions Bank at 100 N. Tampa St.
 
Now, they're one of the entities talking with Radawec about launching a parklet program in Tampa next year. TECO has provided $12,000 to cover the cost of two commercial-grade steel bases that parklets sit on. But details, including who will host the program, where the parklets will be located and for how long, and what they'll look like, are still up in the air.
 
"My hope right now is to launch a program next fall," Radawec says, adding that October is the time when the weather cools and people want to sit outside.
 
Radawec invites anyone interested in knowing more about parklets or joining the effort to email her by following this link.
 
"We're really excited about it," she says.

City of Clearwater wants you to reimagine what waterfront could be #design

Clearwater’s downtown waterfront is closer than ever to receiving a much-needed facelift, says Seth Taylor, the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency director.

Imagine Clearwater, a community-focused visioning and master planning effort to revitalize the waterfront and bluff, will present its new vision for the area at two public workshops set for Tuesday, Nov. 29, at 6:30 p.m. at Countryside Library, 2642 Sabal Springs Dr., and Wednesday, Nov. 30, at 6:30 p.m. at the Downtown Clearwater Main Library, 100 North Osceola Ave.

New York City-based HR&A Advisors, which specializes in urban development, and Sasaki, an international architecture firm, has been hired by the city as consultants for the redevelopment project. The city has set aside $400,000 for consultation alone, Taylor says.

HR&A and Sasaki have been “working to create a new vision for our downtown waterfront, which is one of our biggest assets in Clearwater and certainly in downtown Clearwater,” he says.

The area, which includes around 50 acres, runs from Drew Street north to Court Street and from the waterfront west to Osceola Avenue.

Taylor says two factions have risen up in the community: those who desire “a natural, passive open space” for the waterfront and residents who wish to see “a more active, intensively programmed space.”

He adds, “We’re trying to strike a balance between the two. Ultimately, it’s about getting people to visit downtown Clearwater and enjoy their time there.”

Currently, the area is underutilized, he says, adding that while it is home to Coachman Park, which hosts a number of events throughout the year, there are more possibilities for the space.

While Imagine Clearwater’s vision will include commercial uses, green space and activities for children, the community should also expect to see a suggested residential component, Taylor says. 

“The key to revitalization is we need more housing downtown, we need more people who live and work there,” he says. “So there will be a recommendation for more housing along the waterfront and bluff.”

There is no timeframe or budget set for the project yet. Both will be determined by the final version of the project approved by the City Council down the road, Taylor says.

“But the will is there to implement this plan both from the elected leaders and the civic and community groups,” he says.

Those interested in learning more about the project should follow this link to the Imagine Clearwater website.

Ford's Garage restaurant acquires Rowdies Den, plans summer 2017 opening

Ford's Garage, a restaurant known for its old-school service station theme, has acquired the space previously occupied by the Rowdies Den in downtown St. Petersburg, which closed Sunday.
 
The new restaurant will open in the summer of 2017 in the location at the corner of First Avenue and Second Street. It plans to continue to be the official gathering spot for fans of the Tampa Bay Rowdies soccer team.
 
Ford's Garage was established in 2012 in Ft. Myers and has expanded to Cape Coral, Estero and Brandon. Each gourmet burger bar looks similar inside and out, with a 1920s service station/prohibition style. The new St. Pete location is one of several that the company has in the works.
 
"The area itself, just knowing the energy that's thriving there, has been on the radar for at least a year," Tara Matheny, director of Business Development for 23 Restaurant Services, the parent company of Ford's Garage and Yeoman's Cask & Lion in downtown Tampa, says of St. Pete.
 
She says the location of the restaurant space is appealing because it's right in the middle of downtown, which has a unique vibe.
 
"It just fits with that energy that’s going on in downtown St. Pete," she says.
 
Other up-and-coming Ford's Garage locations include Wesley Chapel, next to Tampa Premium Outlets, which is projected to open in February; Westchase/Citrus Park, at Sheldon Road and Linebaugh Avenue, which is expected to open in March; Clearwater, close to Countryside Mall, which is projected to open in April; and Dearborn, Mich., which is expected to open at the end of May or the beginning of June.
 
Matheny says the entire company is especially looking forward to the St. Pete location though because of its potential for success in such a lively community.
 
"It's really exciting for all of us," she says.

Atlantic Beer & Oyster to open at The Heights in Tampa in 2017

Visitors to The Heights, a 43-acre mixed-use development in Tampa opening next year, will have a place to experience fresh seafood.
 
Atlantic Beer & Oyster, an outdoor eatery, will open with The Heights in early spring.
 
The restaurant will sit along the Tampa Riverwalk under a 165-foot water tower, a tribute to a tower that once sat on the property. The new, similar tower came from a field in Bartow and has been renovated.
 
Atlantic Beer & Oyster will feature a rotation of East coast, West coast and Gulf coast oysters, as well as fresh shrimp, smoked fish dip and its signature grouper sandwich. It will also showcase local breweries, like Cigar City Brewing and Big Storm Brewing.
 
The Heights is located between North Boulevard and North Tampa Street, parallel to the Hillsborough River and just north of Water Works Park. The centerpiece of the project is the Armature Works building, a 73,444-square-foot former storage and maintenance facility for Tampa's streetcars.
 
The first phase of The Heights project is scheduled to open in the spring of 2017. This includes the Heights Public Market; The Gathering and The Theater, which are two event spaces; Atlantic Beer & Oyster; Steelbach restaurant; a shared work space; and a rooftop social area. SoHo Capital, the developer of the project, is now taking reservations for the event spaces.
 
Future expansion plans for the project include a mix of residential units for sale and for rent, an office village, additional eateries, ground floor retail, a hotel, on-street and structured parking, and an expansion of the Tampa Riverwalk.
 
The Atlantic Beer & Oyster concept is part of the BE-1 Concepts restaurant group, which is headquartered in Tampa and also owns Boca Kitchen, Bar & MarketCiro's Speakeasy & Supper Club, and Park Social. Kevin Enderle, the company's president, says he's looking forward to serving as one of The Heights' first restaurants.
 
"The Heights project provided us an exciting opportunity to showcase our Atlantic Beer & Oyster concept alongside the Tampa Riverwalk and the Hillsborough River," Enderle says. "This unique location will allow visitors to enjoy the freshest seafood at one of the most beautiful settings in downtown Tampa."
 
Atlantic Beer & Oyster also has a location in Winter Park and will open another in Sarasota in early 2017.

Fuzzy's Taco Shop to open in Temple Terrace in January

Temple Terrace and the USF area will soon have a new option when it comes to Tex-Mex food.
 
Fuzzy's Taco Shop will be opening at 5621 E. Fowler Ave. in the former Clubhouse Sports Grill at Terrace Walk Plaza after the New Year.
 
"Most likely it'll open the first week of January," says Tampa-native Ian Lieberman, who owns the location with his brother, Adam Lieberman, and Adam's wife, J-Ray Lieberman.
 
The trio opened their first Fuzzy's franchise in Brandon in February, which Ian says has received a favorable response from the community.
 
He says he thinks that's because Fuzzy's takes a different view on Tex-Mex from other similar-style restaurants, like Chipotle, Qudoba, Tiajuana Flats or Taco Bus. He calls Fuzzy's the next generation of fast casual, offering food made from scratch and a full liquor bar.
 
"It all starts with the food," he says. "But beyond that, I think that the restaurant business is more competitive today than it's ever been. If you're not showing an attention to detail for the things that customers actually want, then you're not creating that experience."
 
"That experience" is a focus on great food, great service, and a great atmosphere.
 
"You have to have all three," Lieberman says.
 
Fuzzy's Taco Shop originated in Ft. Worth, Texas, in 2001 with a fast-casual concept. Patrons order at the counter and retrieve their food shortly afterward. But Fuzzy's locations in the Tampa Bay area also offer full-service dining, Ian said.
 
The trio is investing between $750,000 and $1 million in the Temple Terrace/USF location, which will feature a large, garden-style patio with truck-bed seating, large communal style tables, a live music stage for local singers and DJs, 16 beers on tap, a full liquor bar with six barrels of signature frozen cocktails, and countless margarita flavors.
 
They're hoping to attract students, business people, and local families. Ian points to the University of South Florida, Moffitt Cancer Center, Telecom Park and young families moving to Temple Terrace as reasons why they chose to open a location in the area.
 
"I think that all of the writing is on the wall for a good period of growth in the next 20 years," he says.
 
In fact, Ian says Temple Terrace has been on their radar for more than two years because it has low crime, a high percentage of families, and is heavily trafficked by USF.
 
"Before we even signed our documents, we were already working on this location," he says.
 
And Ian says Fuzzy's plans to give back to the area, partnering with local non-profits.
 
"Us being local, we put a tremendous amount of involvement in the community as well," he says. "It's important to give back."
 
Next, the trio has their sights set on other future Fuzzy's locations in the Tampa Bay area. Ian says they have the rights to build franchises in Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties, and they have at least five franchises currently in the works. They plan to open the next one in Wesley Chapel in 2018.
 
"We just love making tacos and selling cold beer," Ian says. "We're pretty excited about this stuff."
 
In addition to tacos, the Temple Terrace/USF Fuzzy's location will offer a wide array of handmade enchiladas, salads, nachos, jumbo burritos and quesadillas. Tacos start at $2.19 ($1.59 on Tuesday), jumbo burritos are $6-$8, and dinner plates range from $6-$11 for the most expensive item in the restaurant. There will also be a Munchkin’ Mondays, where kids can eat for free.

For more information, visit Fuzzy's on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

New stores, pop-up shops open at Hyde Park Village in Tampa

Hyde Park Village is hoppin'.
 
With construction taking shape and new stores moving in, the last few months have been busy for the area, and it doesn't look like things are slowing down for the WS Development property.
 
On Oct. 25, Scout & Molly's, a national women's clothing, jewelry and accessories boutique, opened at 1603 W. Snow Circle. The 1,239-square-foot shop carries something for every woman, from young professionals to savvy seniors. Stylists are also available to help each customer find what's right for them.
 
Owner Linda Crawford says she wanted to open Tampa's first Scout & Molly's franchise because she was attracted to the brand's fashions and accessories, which allow every woman to create a look that suits her individual tastes.
 
In August, three new businesses opened in the Village: Suitsupply, vineyard vines and Goody Goody.
 
Suitsupply, a European men's brand known for their stylish suits in tailored fits, set up shop at 1525 W. Swann Ave. on Aug. 26.
 
Also on Aug. 26, vineyard vines, a preppy lifestyle clothing and accessory brand for men, women and children, opened at 1623 W. Snow Ave.
 
And Goody Goody, the iconic Tampa hamburger restaurant reinvented by Richard Gonzmart of the Columbia Restaurant Group, began welcoming diners on Aug. 23 at 1601 W. Swann Ave.
 
Permanent stores and restaurants aren't the only ones setting up shop. WS Development, a national retail development firm that began revitalizing the area in 2013, says temporary retailers are also part of its vision.

"Hyde Park Village is always looking for the unique specialty shop that offers a gift or snack or a pop of color to brighten our shoppers' experience," says Susan Martin, GM of the property. "That is why we started The Fling POP Up shop. This space allows the small business person to try out retail and bring their product to new customers."
 
Toffee to Go was the area's first pop-up shop last year, and it's returning for this year's holiday season. The treat shop, which is based in South Tampa, is scheduled to be open Nov. 18-Dec. 26. Martin says more details about this year's Toffee to Go pop-up shop will be released this week.
 
Florist Fire, based in Seminole Heights, first had a pop-up shop at 716 E. Village Circle in February. And Dark Cycle Clothing, an alternative T-shirt company, opened Sept. 23 at 1607 W. Snow Ave. Both have extended their terms at Hyde Park Village. Florist Fire will be open through June 2017, and Dark Cycle will have its shop through Dec. 31.
 
HICO is another pop-up shop at the Village. The Colombian swimwear and lingerie company opened at 1619 W. Snow Circle on Oct. 1 and will be open through Dec. 31.
 
"This is an exciting way to offer our shoppers fun and different items all the time," Martin says. 
 
And to get shoppers ready for the holiday season, Hyde Park Village is having its annual Enchanted Tree Lighting on Nov. 19, 5-9 p.m. The free, family-friendly event will include the annual tree lighting at 8 p.m., photos with Santa, live music by Late Night Brass, food and beer trucks, a kids' zone, face painting, balloon animals and more.

Park Tower in downtown Tampa sells for nearly $80 million

A downtown Tampa high rise has changed ownership.
 
City Office REIT, Feldman Equities and Tower Realty Partners have joined to buy the 36-story Park Tower at 400 N. Tampa St. from Sterling Equities and joint owner PT Associates for $79.95 million. Colliers International Tampa Bay brokered the sale.
 
The 475,000-square-foot building is 86 percent leased, and anchor tenants include BB&T, United States Department of Justice – US Attorney’s Office, Level 3 Communications and Lykes Insurance.
 
The building was Tampa's first high rise, according to Sterling Equities. It was built in 1973 and overlooks the Hillsborough River, the Tampa Riverwalk and Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park.
 
Sterling Equities bought the property in 2006 from Colonial Properties Trust. Since then, Sterling Equities has invested $5.8 million in capital improvements into Park Tower to modernize common areas, upgrade electrical and lighting systems, and add improved finishes. The new owners plan to continue modernizing the building.
 
"Park Tower is at the intersection of 'Main and Main' in downtown Tampa," says Larry Feldman, CEO of Feldman Equities. "The opportunity to bring this building from the 1970s to the 2020s was too good to pass up."
 
The three new owners also manage other local properties. City Center in downtown St. Petersburg is a joint venture with City Office REIT and Tower Realty Partners. Feldman Equities and Tower Realty Partners are JV partners on Wells Fargo Center in downtown Tampa, as well as the Morgan Stanley Tower and First Central Tower in downtown St Pete.
 
Park Tower also offers views of the downtown Tampa skyline, which could be changing in the next few years. Last month, Tampa's Hillsborough River Realty Company applied for a mixed-use development rezoning from the City of Tampa for Lafayette Place, three high rises totaling 1.7 million gross square feet on the west side of Hillsborough River just a block east of the University of Tampa.

3-building high-rise project seeks approval in downtown Tampa

Downtown Tampa's landscape could soon be changing.
 
Hillsborough River Realty Company, based in Tampa, has applied for a mixed-use development rezoning from the City of Tampa so it can build three high rises totaling 1.7 million gross square feet on the west side of Hillsborough River just a block east of the University of Tampa.
 
The development is called Lafayette Place in honor of the Lafayette Street Bridge, which is now the Kennedy Boulevard Bridge.
 
The plan calls for a blend of residential, hotel, office and retail space built on three parcels totaling six acres and owned by HRRC.
 
Two of the parcels are located on Kennedy Boulevard. Lafayette Tower, which includes office, hotel and retail space, would have 355 linear feet of Hillsborough River frontage. Behind it, Lafayette Parkview would include high-end residential homes, retail and parking. Parker Street would separate these two buildings, and a sky bridge would connect them.
 
The third parcel is located in the nearby Grand Central District and would be the site of Lafayette Central, which would include high-end residences, retail and parking.
 
Lafayette Place could also expand the Tampa Riverwalk to the west bank of the Hillsborough River.
 
According to HRRC, Lafayette Place would attract new companies, residents and visitors to downtown Tampa's waterfront.
 
“Lafayette Place extends downtown Tampa to the west side of the Hillsborough River and adds a new and vibrant energy to one of Tampa's most historic neighborhoods," says John N. LaRocca, HRRC's senior VP. "Lafayette Place offers the tools necessary to advance downtown Tampa’s economic prosperity and create a true live, work, play environment.”
 
The project is designed in a way that allows for development phasing. HRRC says it expects to get approval from the Tampa City Council in March 2017, and then begin more detailed design work, pricing and assessment of the marketplace for timing of certain phases of the development.
 
Then, thorough plans would be submitted for review and permitting through the City of Tampa. The company says it's considering Lafayette Central as the first phase of the project, but construction would not begin before the end of 2018.
 
According to the company, cost estimates will be calculated once the city's zoning board approves the development. 

How you can participate in Tampa's award-winning free tree program

If your home could use some protection from the sun or your neighborhood could use more character, the City of Tampa's Tree-mendous Tampa Free Tree Program is available to help.
 
The program was established nearly 20 years ago by the city's Parks and Recreation Department with the goal of improving neighborhoods and Tampa's environment. Over the last three years, the program has planted about 3,000 trees in the rights-of-way in front of or on the side yard of residential properties.
 
Earlier this month, the Tree-mendous program was recognized along with the department's Stay & Play Program by the Commission for Accreditation of Park and Recreation Agencies for excellence in innovative programming. In a press release, Mayor Bob Buckhorn credited the tree program with transforming Tampa's "once bland urban landscape to a lush and vibrant green canvass that's revitalized (the) city."
 
So, how can a Tampa resident participate in the program? Brad A. Suder, superintendent of Planning, Design and Natural Resources for Tampa's Parks and Recreation Department, explains the first step is to contact the city through an online request. You can also call 813-274-7733, but the city prefers online requests because they are easier to track. The city will then meet with you to assess the planting site and discuss which variety of tree would work best.
 
"There are 12 trees currently available," Suder says. "Six species are appropriate under power lines and in open areas: Crepe Myrtle Natchez, Bottle Brush, Japanese Blueberry, Silver Buttonwood, Loquat, Geiger White. There are six additional species with no overhead height restrictions: Live Oak, Tabebuia Yellow, Tabebuia Purple, Loblolly Pine, Florida Maple, Bald Cypress. They are in 30-gallon containers and are 8-10 feet overall height."
 
You're responsible for watering the new tree the first year after it's planted, and you have to commit to a 90-day watering schedule that entails watering the tree every other day for the first 30 days, watering every other day for the next 30 days, and watering every three days or twice a week for the last 30 days. After the 90-day watering schedule, you'll be expected to water the tree at least once a week.
 
"Once the water commitment is obtained, the request is placed into a future planting schedule," Suder explains. "Currently, the program plants approximately 20 trees per week and is scheduled through the end of February."
 
In the future, Suder says the city hopes to expand the tree species that it offers, as well as the scope of the program. That means businesses and other open spaces could also participate, and watering responsibilities would fall to the department in some cases.
 
For more information, visit the Tree-mendous Tampa Free Tree Program online.

RCMA opens new child-care center in Dover in east Hillsborough County

Redlands Christian Migrant Association (RCMA) opened the doors to a new child-care center for the children of migrant farmworkers in Dover on Monday, Oct 31st. 

The $3.6 million, 15,000-square-foot center triples the capacity of children served from 88, at the current center, to 264. 

RCMA expects to start caring for 70 children who had been on a waiting list. That number is expected to increase to 172 by the peak of the strawberry season in Dover this February. 

Children cared for at the current center will also be moved to the new center. RCMA is Florida’s largest nonprofit child-care provider with 68 centers across Florida. Its Dover operations are funded by the federal Migrant & Seasonal Head Start program, which focuses on serving migrant families. 

For more information contact Elda Cruz, RCMA Center Coordinator, at 813.707.7002 or via e-mail her by following this link

RCMA abre nuevo centro de cuidados infantiles en Dover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New townhome development Westbay planned for South Tampa

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

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

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

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

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

Are you into local architecture? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New independent drugstore, café coming to Seminole Heights in November

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New nature-preserving neighborhood in Parrish sells out

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tampa considers $7.5M offer for downtown block

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Free shuttle service coming to downtown Tampa this fall

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

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

2nd phase of Sulphur Springs revitalization project begins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Newest shop in Seminole Heights readies for grand opening

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New St. Petersburg College library will serve students, community

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crescent Westshore now open in Tampa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tampa Bay Sports to open store at Tampa International Airport

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

Gobioff Foundation to launch creative placemaking program in September

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

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

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

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

St. Petersburg awards $468K to 6 local businesses

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

Temple Terrace council to hear 2 very different redevelopment plans

The Temple Terrace City Council is considering two proposals for its downtown redevelopment area -- one from Eriksson Technologies, and the other from Florida Hospital.
 
Following state regulations, they'll meet as the Community Redevelopment Agency to hear more about each plan on at 5:30 p.m. Monday, Aug. 15, at the Lightfoot Recreation Center, 10901 N. 56th St., Temple Terrace. A special meeting of the council will follow at 7 p.m. Both meetings are open to the public.
 
"This meeting will provide an opportunity for the elected officials, and the public, to see a couple of proposals for our downtown redevelopment," says Michael Dunn, the city's spokesman. "We're not sure whether the City Council will vote to approve either of these that evening, but this offers them an opportunity to consider and evaluate the proposals going forward."
 
Eriksson Technologies, an engineering and software development firm, and Florida Hospital have both created proposals for a 1.5-acre parcel at the northwest corner of the 20-acre redevelopment site. The lot is located at the corner of Bullard Parkway and 56th Street and is currently home to a vacant Burger King.
 
The Eriksson plan got an initial thumbs up from the council in January. The proposal calls for a six-story office building with retail, such as coffee shops and restaurants, on the first floor, as well as structured parking on the first three levels.
 
The proposal states Eriksson would anchor downtown Temple Terrace in the professional-level jobs the company has created and establish a conduit between the University of South Florida and local high schools.
 
"Our proposed development plan will permit us to consolidate our operations -- currently spread over three separate office buildings within Temple Terrace -- into a single, state-of-the-art, architecturally important building with room for future growth," the proposal states.
 
The company is offering $250,000 for the property.
 
Florida Hospital's proposal includes the 1.5-acre parcel the city put up for sale, as well as an adjacent 1.5-acre lot to the south. The plan calls for a single-story freestanding emergency department with a two-story lobby, as well as a two-story medical office building. The office building's first level is designated as covered parking for tenants and visitors, and the second level is designed for medical offices and other healthcare services.
 
The proposal states the location would bring 24-hour, state-of-the-art emergency care directly to the residents of Temple Terrace and create high-paying professional and support jobs.
 
Florida Hospital is offering more than $2.3 million for the 3 acres, as well as up to $100,000 for construction of a Temple Terrace gateway sign at the Fowler Avenue entrance to Temple Terrace.
 
"This contribution is being made as a gesture to illustrate the hospital's intent to be a key partner with the city," the proposal states.
 
The city received two appraisals for the value of the 1.5-acre property. Appraisal Development International determined the parcel is worth $1.1 million, while Cliggitt Valuation determined it's worth $690,000.

Developers, architects transform Clearwater bank building into SkyView luxury condos

A former Clearwater bank will find new life as a luxury condominium when it opens to residents next year.
 
The SkyView at 400 Cleveland St. is a collection of 51 condos designed by Gomez Vazquez International Architects. The location was formerly the AmSouth bank building, and the complex will incorporate the original structure by reinforcing the steel and concrete framework initially designed to house the bank’s vault.
 
Construction on the project began in October 2014, and the first phase is nearly finished, according to Alvaro Gonzalez Guerra Gomez, the architecture firm's principal of North America. The firm has designed more than 200 lifestyle developments worldwide since it was founded in 1968, although this is the first in the Tampa Bay area.
 
The first phase entails "gutting and demolition of the existing facade, core of the building, stairwell and elevator shafts to make way for 38 units in place of the previous bank offices," Gonzalez says.
 
"This, of course, includes the amenities -- pool, fitness center, kids club, smoothie bar, and the vault room, which was transformed into a room where the condo owners can have cozy get-togethers."
 
Other amenities include a spa and an amenities deck with resort-style day beds and views of the Gulf of Mexico.
 
"It’s the ultimate escape and destination for relaxing and socializing," Gonzalez says.
 
All units will have two bedrooms and two bathrooms, Gonzalez says. The average size will be 1,300 square feet. Prices will range from $260,000 to $890,000 and depend on the view, the floor and the terrace space.
 
Although developers Moises and Cleman Agami decline to disclose their total investment in the project, Paulette Agami, design manager and spokeswoman, says they want to bring "a fresh, contemporary and chic architectural landmark" to Clearwater that features "an air of high design and clean lines."
 
"That’s precisely what was accomplished," she says. "When potential buyers or visitors walk into The SkyView showroom, there are, without fail, remarks about the good taste that we have brought downtown."
 
The entire project is expected to be complete in March 2017.

Why Harbour Island complex is developer's fanciest apartment project yet

You'll find a little bit of France on Harbour Island when a new, high-end apartment complex opens next year.

The 21-story building at 402 Knights Run Ave. will have a distinct look, according to Arturo Peña, VP of Development for the Related Group, the developer of the project. Related has built and managed more than 80,000 condominium and apartment residences around the globe since its inception in 1979.

"It definitely has iconic architecture, like a Parisian style," Peña says, adding that the architect for the project is Atlanta-based Smallwood, Reynolds, Stewart, Stewart.

"When one walks in, there's going to be a piano playing music all the time, so kind of that French style combined with the latest technology," Peña explains.

Elevators will be access-controlled, for example, and residents will be alerted electronically if they have a package.
 
"It's our fanciest apartment project yet," Peña says.

Other amenities include a clubhouse that overlooks a large pool with cabanas, a gazebo and fire pit.

"Because we're using an existing parking garage, we were able to maximize the site," Peña says.
 
Residents will use a parking garage at an adjacent office building, which has been a point of contention between the developer and some Harbour Islanders. Opponents say the city of Tampa miscalculated the number or parking spaces available for the project, while the city maintains the project meets Tampa's requirements.
 
Construction on the project began in February, and although the complex hasn't officially been named, Peña says he expects to have a moniker by the end of 2016. Leasing should begin about a year from now.

"We will commence occupancy around next August [2016], and it will be completed around next October 2017," Peña says.

The complex will have 340 units with an average size around 1,100 square feet. The average price renters will pay is $3,000 a month.

"We think the demographic at Harbour Island is a little older, a little more established," Peña says.
 
He says he expects residents will be empty nesters or affluent professionals, like doctors from Tampa General Hospital or attorneys who work downtown.

Although Peña declines to disclose Related's total investment in the complex, he says the Miami-based company chose to take on the project, and a few others in Tampa, because it is impressed with the city's effort to be a "24/7 live, work, play" community.

He points to Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn's commitment to growth and professional development, as well as Tampa Bay Lightning Owner Jeff Vinik's $1 billion investment in the Channel District as examples.

"We really like what Tampa's doing," Peña says. "… We want to be part of it."
 

Crescent Westshore installs giant sculpture near leasing office in Tampa

A new piece of artwork will greet residents and guests at Crescent Westshore, a multifamily development under construction near International Plaza.

A 10,000-pound sculpture at the front of the property near the leasing office stands 18 feet tall. It was designed and constructed by Mark Aeling of MGA Sculpture Studio in St. Petersburg.

"The sculpture is called the 'Budding Vortex' and is representative of the reproductive organs of plants and represents an investigation into the math inherent in all living things," says Aeling, who also created the dolphins at the Sundial, the sculptures in the entry way at The Florida Aquarium, and a sculpture at the Opal Sands Resort on Clearwater Beach.

"Budding Vortex" is made out of aluminum plates and represents 15 months of work. It was installed Wednesday, July 27.

Crescent Communities, the developer of the complex, values curiosity and innovation, which guides its buildings and its vision of community, according to spokesman Ben Watt. He says art plays a major role in supporting the vision, and Aeling's sculpture brings Crescent's values to life.

"It is a great addition to the local community and exemplifies the unique features and amenities that can be found at Crescent Westshore," Watt says.

The idea for the art display was conceived from the start of the $45-million project and incorporated into the overall cost.

Crescent Westshore, located at 2202 N. Lois Ave., will have 374 units, averaging a little more than 800 square feet. Rent is expected to range from $1,100 to $2,000 a month.

Apartments will have quartz countertops, stainless steel appliances, up-market lighting and premium cabinets. Other amenities will include open areas for people who work from home, a lounge area with a flat screen TV, a shared kitchen in the amenity center to entertain guests, and a resort-style pool deck in the middle of the community.

Developers say the proximity to retail and business makes the complex attractive. They expect young professionals and business travelers to make the community home.

Crescent Westshore has already begun leasing and has several move-ins already on the books. The first residents are expected to move in Sept. 1. 

Kahwa Coffee opens new location in Belleair Bluffs

Kahwa Coffee reached a new milestone in July by opening its 10th location in the Tampa Bay area.
 
The 1,200-square-foot shop sits at 2919 W. Bay Drive in Belleair Bluffs. It's in a shopping center anchored by a Bonefish Grill. The space was formerly a nutrition store.
 
“We are very excited,” says Raphael Perrier, who owns the business with his wife, Sarah.
 
Perrier says the couple invested $100,000 into the new location to purchase the building and remodel it.
 
"We found that we had a lot of demand in the Belleair area," Perrier says. "I love the crowd over there. I think it's exactly what Kahwa needs."
 
Kahwa Coffee has been growing ever since the business launched in St. Petersburg in 2006. There are now multiple locations in St. Pete and Tampa, as well as shops in Westchase and Sarasota.
 
Perrier attributes the company's success to the quality of their products, their level of service, and their involvement in local fundraisers.
 
"I think we became a better Starbucks and people just enjoy the fact that we’re local," he says. "Plus, I think we don’t take ourselves too seriously and people like that."
 
You can also find Kahwa products in 27 Winn-Dixie locations in Florida, and in restaurants and other places throughout the Tampa Bay community.
 
“We have a lot of wholesale customers that sell our coffee,” Perrier says.
 
In December, HSN brought Kahwa to the national market. Perrier says Kahwa has appeared live on the network four times and has been presenting products about every month and a half.
 
July 20th was a soft opening for the Belleair Bluffs location, and Perrier says a grand opening will probably happen in two or three weeks, although he hasn't set an exact date. He says there will likely be coffee giveaways and visits from community leaders during the celebration.
 
In the future, Perrier says the company is looking into franchising opportunities and will continue to enjoy their journey in the coffee business.
 
“We’re a wife and husband running the show and having fun,” he says.
 
For more information about Kahwa Coffee, like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter.

Port Tampa Bay begins using massive new cranes

If you're traveling near Port Tampa Bay, you might see two newly commissioned gantry cranes in action.
 
The cranes, which weigh 1,600 tons each, were officially brought into service on Friday, July 22. They're used for loading and unloading cargo containers from container ships, and they'll allow the Port to expand and diversify its cargo business by serving wider ships that travel through the expanded Panama Canal.
 
The new cranes can lift 65 tons. That's 25 more tons than the three 42-year-old gantry cranes that were previously used at the port. They stand 300 feet high and have a 174-foot outreach, allowing the Port to handle ships nearly twice the size of ships it could handle before.
 
The cranes were manufactured in China, arrived at the port in April, and then went through testing and certification.
 
"It's great to unveil these beautiful new cranes to our customers and the community, following a seamless and exciting period of getting them ready for container operations," says Port Tampa Bay CEO Paul Anderson in a July 22 news release.
 
The Port's vision is to be the container gateway of west and central Florida, according to the release. The idea is to serve the growing Interstate-4 Corridor between Tampa and Orlando, and the Port has been marketing its increased capability to global shipping companies.
 
Port Tampa Bay, the state of Florida and terminal operator Ports America invested $24 million into the new equipment, including $11 million for each of the cranes, and another $2 million in infrastructure improvements and spare parts. Ports America will operate the cranes.
 
"It's truly a milestone for the port as we realize this tremendous capital investment and begin to see the generational benefits for the economy," Anderson says.

Downtown St. Pete gets new ramen restaurant, townhomes

There is no slow down in sight when it comes to development in downtown St. Petersburg. 

Buya Ramen

The ramen craze has been looming in the air for some time in big cities like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. Now the trend is hitting the growing Edge District of St. Petersburg, as Buya Ramen gets ready to open its doors. 

The restaurant seats just over 100 people, and will feature a Japanese whiskey bar. The interior is adorned with 12-foot-long community tables, a concrete bar top and a mural done by local artist Michael Vahl

The menu is comprised of the popular Japanese noodles as the name of the restaurant implies, but also features dumplings, duck and other popular dishes from the island nation. 

For more information, click here

Delmar City Homes

In the growing mix of housing in downtown St. Petersburg, Delmar City Homes features four-story townhomes offering luxury amenities.

“Each unit at Del Mar has a roof-top deck, as well as an outdoor living room,” says Jeff Craft, developer at Tampa Bay City Living (TBCL), which developed Del Mar Homes.

The three-bedroom, three-and-a-half bath units also feature a two-car garage, modern finishes and nearly 3,000-square-feet of space. Located at 433 Third St. S., the homes are within walking distance to restaurants, shops and office space.

Construction recently completed on Del Mar Homes, however, three units are still available. 

TBCL has plans for even more projects, with several in the works around the Tampa Bay area, including in the Westshore area, the Crescent Lake neighborhood of St. Petersburg and its own new headquarters.

For more information on both of these properties, visit TBCL's website.

New apartments open for low-income seniors, waiting list forms

A new affordable apartment complex for Tampa-area seniors is 100 percent leased with a waiting list for new openings, says Hillsborough County Affordable Housing Director Paula Harvey.

Haley Park Apartments, a $14.5 million development that celebrated a grand opening in June, is an 80-unit complex just west of the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital. The complex was financed with public and private funds and is managed by Wendover Housing Partners, a privately held real estate company. 

The apartments include many of the same amenities that market-priced apartment dwellers enjoy, but they are priced for very low- to low- and moderate-income residents, 55 and older.

First conceived by Wendover in 2012, Haley Park was intended to address the growing need for housing that low-income seniors can afford. The company’s Founder and President Jonathan L. Wolf points to a National Housing Conference study that said the number of Florida residents aged 65 and older will more than double by 2030.

“As the state’s aging population increases, there is an immediate need for cost-effective rental homes for seniors, especially in metro areas near hospitals and doctors’ offices,” Wolf says in a news release. “Haley Park will help address this rising need in Hillsborough County.”

Harvey says the need for affordable housing of all types is not going away.

“We still need more,” she tells 83 Degrees. “This only addresses part of the problem; it doesn’t solve it. We still have needs for affordable housing in every category from homeless to elderly, and everything in between.”

Wendover first came to Hillsborough County seeking funding for the project in 2012, Harvey says. At that time, the county was able to come up with $750,000 to buy the 4-acre parcel at 1503 E. 130th Avenue. Harvey says the county land-banked the property until more funding became available.

The Affordable Housing Department was able to put together a series of grants: $2.4 million from the federal Home Investment Partnership, $1.7 million from the State Housing Initiative Program (SHIP), and $1.1 million from the federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program. 

Other financing partners were JPMorgan Chase and the Florida Community Loan Fund. RBC Capital Markets-Tax Credit Equity group was the low income housing tax credit syndicator.

“It wasn’t just our funding that was paying for construction,” Harvey says. “They got private financing and multi-family mortgage revenue bonds issued in December 2013. There was a whole host of financing that went together to build the project.”

Wendover broke ground in June 2015. Each of the one- and two-bedroom units comes equipped with a dishwasher, microwave, full-sized washer and dryer, ample storage areas and a monitored emergency call system.

Residents can enjoy a community center, a swimming pool and fitness center. Social, educational and recreational services are offered.

Haley Park’s monthly rents run from $605 to $720, much lower than average rates across Florida which range between $1,176 to $1,657, according to Wendover.

Harvey says her department monitored Wendover to make sure all federal and state regulations were followed, including minority participation in construction. The county will continue to monitor the apartments to make sure new residents meet income requirements. 

Western, wildlife art focus of new museum in downtown St. Petersburg

The co-founder of Raymond James is opening a new museum in St. Petersburg.

The Tom & Mary James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art, otherwise known as the James Museum, is an 80,000-square-foot gallery of space, is set to open fall 2017. The site will feature 30,000-square-feet of gallery space, a 2,500-square-feet indoor sculpture court throughout a two-story stone "arroyo'' with a backdrop of an indoor waterfall, a 120-seat theater and 6,000-square-feet of event space. A store and cafe will also be on-site. 

"The art that will displayed is western and wildlife, chosen from Tom and Mary James' extensive collection of over 3,000 works," says Anthea Penrose of James Museum. 

The new museum will be located at 100 Central Ave. The family recently gave over $50 million in personal funds to start the renovation project making way for the museum, which is expected to make a great economic impact on the city. 

"It is expected that some 30 new jobs will be created at the museum," Penrose says. 

Office and retail space around the museum is also being renovated. St. Pete Design Group (SPDG) has been selected to be the design architect on the project. They are tasked with the goal of transforming the lower two floors of a 30-year-old existing parking structure into a 21st century art museum. 

“I am incredibly excited about this new partnership between St. Petersburg and what will surely be
a landmark in this city, The James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art, mayor Rick Kriseman states in a news release. 

For more details on this project, click here

Boutique hotel, restaurant coming to Westshore area of Tampa

The Westshore District of Tampa continues to thrive with new development, including a new luxury hotel and a beloved restaurant that are moving into the neighborhood.

Kimpton Hotel

Located at the intersection of O’Brien and Laurel Streets, a new luxury boutique hotel will feature 150 rooms and suites spanning five stories. Designed by award-winning Architect Albert Alfonso of Tampa, the new hotel will also feature many unique amenities.

“The hotel will feature a traditional Italian piazza that will essentially create an intimate town square, where we’re hoping locals and visitors will enjoy a meal, a concert or a stroll,” says Nick Gregory, Senior VP of Hotel Operations for Kimpton Hotels. “We’ll also have all our signature Kimpton amenities, including a hosted nightly wine hour, complimentary custom bike rentals and yoga mats in every room.”

Other hotel attributes include a rooftop bar with separate event space, additional 4,000-square-feet of indoor meeting and event space and the first U.S. outpost for Chef Silvia Baracchi, best known for her Michelin-starred restaurant and retreat in Cortona, Tuscany. All of the food served at the upscale restaurant will be supplied by a new off-site, state-of-the-art hydroponic farm named Red Barn Farm. Locals can look forward to taking signature cooking classes from Chef Baracchi.

The boutique hotel is expected to be open early 2018.

Miller’s Ale House

The popular chain is moving into the Westshore District. With three other locations in the Tampa Bay area, Miller’s Ale House will be opening at 3860 West Columbus Drive. The property used to be home to the infamous Without Walls International Church.

With plenty of adult beverages like beer, wine and cocktails, and casual dining provisions such as burgers, flatbreads and fajitas, the chain has become a local favorite. On the same property is Grady Square, a $56-million luxury apartment building, which is expected to be completed later this summer.

Dog park + bar in a box proposed for Seminole Heights neighborhood in Tampa

The idea for a dog park bar came to Todd Goldfarb when he and his wife Mara were having beers at The Independent in Seminole Heights.

The couple had brought their dog Frida, who began pulling at her leash and barking in an attempt to befriend another canine.
 
“You have to have them on a leash at The Independent,” Goldfarb says. “My wife, who is crazy about dogs … said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if you had a dog park where you could have a beer?’”

Goldfarb liked the idea and found an empty lot he thought would be ideal at Nebraska Avenue and Genesee Street, about three blocks north of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. He contacted members of the Southeast Seminole Heights Civic Association. They liked the idea. 

However, the proposal faced a more-skeptical reception when Goldfarb met with Tampa city officials. For one thing, his vision is to house the bar in an 8-foot-by-40-foot shipping container.

Container bars are a trendy new craze internationally, but Ferg’s Live, near the Amalie Arena, is the only bar in Tampa that uses them now, Goldfarb says.

And then there’s the idea of combining a dog park and bar, an establishment with no precedent in Tampa. The concept doesn’t fit with an overlay district plan adopted many years ago for Seminole Heights, Goldfarb says.

“Beyond the containers, we have additional zoning challenges,” Goldfarb says. “The overlay zoning is well-intended but they didn’t have dog park bars in mind. We don’t fit; we’re not a conventional business. We’re going to need variances.”

Even though the lot is 30,000 square feet, Goldfarb says he’s not going to need as many parking spaces as city codes prescribe for that size property. He envisions people stopping by after work for a beer they can drink while their dog plays. The shipping container will hold a bathroom and four locally brewed beers on tap. People will stand outside or sit on picnic tables. The bar won’t carry food or liquor, but he hopes to have some food trucks park at the site.

“People are not going to camp out and watch live music because there is no live music and they’re not going to watch the game because there is no TV,” he says. “The whole point of a dog park is you want your dog to run around.”

Despite the challenges related to zoning and parking, Goldfarb says city officials have been very helpful. But to be successful, he’s going to need a bunch of neighborhood folks to show up at an October 13 City Council meeting.

“That’s our day when the city gets to know us,” he says. “We’re hoping people from the neighborhood who have dogs and love dogs will show up at this hearing.”

New apartments, hotel grow along Courtney Campbell Causeway

The Courtney Campbell Causeway, the picturesque boulevard connecting Tampa and Clearwater across Tampa Bay, is experiencing new private investments designed to attract more people to the Causeway as a destination. Here are two examples: 

Seazen

Situated where the Chart House restaurant once stood at 7616 Courtney Campbell Trail will soon be a multi-family housing community known as Seazen. With over 320 units, the apartments will offer one-, two- and three-bedroom floor plans ranging from approximately 600 to 1,600 square feet. There will also be plenty of amenities.

“Seazen’s amenity package features a 12,000-square-foot clubhouse, membership-grade fitness center with yoga and spinning classrooms plus an on-demand virtual fitness trainer,” says Beth Alonzo of ZOM, Inc., which is the developer of the project. “There will also be two resort-style pools, four waterfront courtyards, a pet salon, bark park as well as an aqua lounge waterfront amenity center featuring paddle-boards, kayaks and on-site boat slips.

First units are expected to be available summer 2018. For more information, visit Zom Inc’s website.
 
Autograph Collection Marriott on Rocky Point

Also located along the Courtney Campbell Causeway is Rocky Point, an inlet of restaurants, offices and hotels. One of the newer hotels to go up in Rocky Point, is a new Autograph Collection Marriott. The Autograph Collection hotels offer luxurious accommodations and refined ambiance. With only 100 hotels of its kind globally, this will be the second one in the Tampa Bay area, joining the Epicurean in Tampa.

Lifsey Real Estate Holdings in collaboration with Pinnacle Hotel Management is behind the 180-room boutique hotel. The new structure will be nine-stories with a restaurant and rooftop bar. Construction is expected to be completed by the end of 2016. 

Townhomes still booming in downtown St. Petersburg

The townhouse boom in downtown St. Petersburg continues, as two more projects are announced.

Urban Village Townhomes

Situated at 2462 First Avenue N., Urban Village Townhomes, gives homeowners the unique opportunity to purchase new construction in the historic Kenwood neighborhood. With 10 units, each two bedroom, two and half-bath, the two-story townhomes offer over 1,300-square feet of living space.

“The best amenity Urban Village has to offer is its location,” says Bill Andrasco, of ODC Construction, which is building the community. “It’s footsteps from Central Avenue, where you can walk to restaurants and bars, but it’s also located in the warehouse arts district, which is also great.

Andrasco goes on to say that local developer Leah Campen, who is the designer on the project is taking into account the neighborhood in her design.

“The design of the townhomes is inspired by the Kenwood neighborhood, so it really compliments the community.”

Homes are anticipated to be completed fall 2016, and will be for sale in the upper $200,000s. Units are available for pre-sale.

 801 Conway

This 35-unit townhome community will be located at the corner of Burlington and 8th Street North.  Five floor plans are available with the average square footage around 1,500. Two and three bedroom options are available in this community, which is expected to sell in the upper $200,000s.

The townhomes will have a modern look as developed by Aspen VG, the same company behind 3405 Swann in Tampa and Villas of Deleon in St. Petersburg, among other local projects. Aspen VG is working in collaboration with Mesh Architecture.

Construction is expected to be completed by summer 2017; however units are available for sale now. For more information, visit the community’s website

4 Clearwater Beach bridges are being replaced

Four bridges in the Island Estates community of Clearwater are being replaced.

It started when someone kayaking under one of the bridges noticed degrading concrete and reported it to the city of Clearwater.

“We hired a consultant to do a study and when we got the reports back we found out the bridges needed to be replaced,” says Roger Johnson, Project Manager for the city of Clearwater.

Johnson explains the process is quite complex, involving demolition of the bridges, which is not easy when these roadways are the only access point to the fingers of the Island Estates community. In order to replace them, the city has to demolish one side at a time, while using the other side as two-way traffic for people to get back and forth. Once one side is completed, construction can begin on the other side.

Minor repairs are being made to an additional five bridges in the community. The total cost of the project is $3.6 million.
So how are other bridges in Clearwater fairing?

“The FDOT inspects our bridges regularly and provides reports on their findings,” Johnson says. “For now we don’t see anything substantial in the foreseeable future, of course if something shows up then we will obviously address the issue.”

As for the construction on the Island Estate bridges, progress is moving forward and construction is expected to be completed April 2017.

For the most up-to-date information on road closures, and construction updates on the project visit the city’s engineering website.

More new restaurants, bars coming to Seminole Heights

Three new eateries and a combined bar and dog park are set to open in Tampa in the same stretch of North Nebraska Avenue that is now home to Ella’s Americana Folk Art Café and Southern Brewing & Winemaking by early 2017.

Ebisu Sushi Shack will likely be the first of the new establishments to open its doors in a former bungalow at 5116 N. Nebraska Ave. The restaurant plans a soft launch for the Seminole Heights neighborhood in late June or early July. Ron Simmons, co-owner with his wife, Akemi Simmons, says the menu will include a wide range of sushi choices, plus other Asian dishes.

“It’s a sushi place, but we’re not going to do only sushi,” Simmons said. “There will be a lot of small dishes people can share.”

Akemi worked in restaurants for most of her adult life and will handle the cooking. Simmons will keep his “day job” as a history teacher in the Hillsborough County school system.

Antoinette’s French Bakery and Café will move into the small strip mall at Osborne Avenue and Nebraska where Old Heights Bistro is located. The café will be open for breakfast and lunch and will feature homemade pastries and sandwiches, according to Stan Lasater, president of the Southeast Seminole Heights Civic Association. Lasater says the café owners hope to be open in time for Taste of the Heights, a yearly food-tasting festival in the neighborhood.

“They’re working with an architect and should be starting construction by no later than mid-July,” Lasater said. “They’re hoping to be open in time for the Taste of the Heights in November or by the first of the year.”

Combining the popularity of dog-friendly venues and the urban-chic craze of container crate bars, the Seminole Heights Dog Park Bar is planning to open on a vacant lot near Nebraska Avenue and Genesee Street. The bar’s Facebook page says the owners hope to open by the fall. 

Lasater says the bar will feature a fenced-in area on the 30,000-square-foot lot where dogs can play while their owners enjoy the finest craft beers, many from local breweries. The bar’s motto will be, “Don’t leave your best friend at home when you feel like going out for a beer.”

For a sweet treat on a hot summer day, Pirate Pops will feature organic, gourmet popsicles at 5120 N. Nebraska Ave. The company, which has been a popular stop at Tampa’s Downtown Market, says on its Facebook Page that the popsicles are made in small batches with all-natural ingredients. The company claims to buy all the fruit used in the pops from local organic farmers and back-yard gardeners.

“Their claim is they use no sweeteners except the best Florida cane sugar,” Lasater said. “Everything is locally grown with no additives. They are amazing popsicles.”

An opening date for the popsicle shop has not been announced.

Hopes for New Tampa Cultural Center live on

New Tampa residents have been hoping for nearly 15 years that an arts and cultural center would rise on 17 acres of vacant land along Bruce B. Downs Boulevard.

Now, with a private developer ready to build the center as part of a larger residential-commercial development, supporters of the project are awaiting word of a ground-breaking. But county officials say residents will have to wait a while longer.

The project is still in what Hillsborough County officials call in “inspection period,” during which the developer and the county work out details of the site plan, says Josh Bellotti, county real estate and facilities services director. That period ends July 30.

After that, Bellotti says the development enters an “approval period” ending Jan. 9 so the developer can get necessary rezoning and final site approval from the city of Tampa. The property, across from the upscale Hunter’s Green housing development, is owned by the county but lies in the Tampa city limits. 

Last July, county commissioners approved a real estate purchase agreement with developer Hunters Lake Tampa LLC for just over $2 million. In addition to the sale of the land, the agreement calls for Hunters Lake to construct public amenities and infrastructure valued at $2.17 million.

The county and developer will close on the property in February, Bellotti says.
 
Doug Wall, founder and director of the New Tampa Players performing troupe, says he and other residents met six weeks ago with county Commissioner Victor Crist and a representative of the county Parks, Recreation and Conservation Department. Crist has been a prime proponent of the project.

“They are working on the site plans,” Wall says. “We were supposed to get together again and give input on floor plans, but I have not heard anything since that meeting.”

Crist could not be reached for comment. 

Wall says the cultural center will cover about 20,000 square feet and include a theater with just under 300 seats. It has not been decided whether the seating will be permanent or removable so the space can host other pursuits when not in use as a theater. The building could be expanded later to 30,000 square feet by adding a second floor, according to county plans.

In addition to drama, the center will also house classrooms for music, dance and visual arts.

The New Tampa Players have been lobbying the county and city of Tampa governments for a cultural center since 2000, Wall says. Though the city paid for studies showing a need for such a center, neither local government would come up with the $7 million to $10 million needed for construction.

In 2009, Commissioner Ken Hagan convinced commissioners to appropriate land for the center, however, there were “strings,” Wall says.

“We had to raise the money up front,” he says. “We had to have a business plan approved by the county.

“Basically, for a small nonprofit, it made it impossible for us to do anything,” Wall says. “It died out until Victor Crist took over the project and wanted to make something happen.”
The residential-commercial development will be on 17 buildable acres out of an 80-acre county-owned tract. The rest of the area is either wetlands or will be used as a water retention area for drainage off Bruce B. Downs Boulevard. 

Funding for the center is likely to be discussed during county budget hearings next month. In past meetings, Crist says the project would need $7.5 million in county funding.

Outdoor public art adds to Tampa Riverwalk experience

There is a walkable outdoor museum of sorts in downtown Tampa, and it’s growing.   

When the latest segment of the Tampa Riverwalk is completed in June, two enormous public artworks will also be formally unveiled for all to enjoy. Water, not surprisingly, plays a role in both pieces, though they couldn’t be more distinct in aesthetic and material. Both artworks will be located under bridges serving functional, protective roles as safety barriers.  

“Tampa is a place where artwork is expected and presumed,” says Robin Nigh, Manager of Art Programs for the City of Tampa. “It is integrated; you can really tell the difference when [public art] is part of the design versus an afterthought. It’s just part of who we are.” 

The new artworks can be viewed by foot, bike or boat along the Riverwalk from Tampa’s Water Works Park to the Straz Center. 

Under the Laurel Street Bridge, one will find Woven Waves a vibrant ceramic steel creation with large-scale folded corrugations. The effect of the textile-like design changes with the viewer’s movement. Houston-based Re:Site that created the piece says on its website that they drew inspiration from Tampa’s cultural diversity, “bringing to mind the metaphor of a quilt.” 

The second structure, entitled Andante by artist Heidi Lippman -- an enormous, stunning work of glass -- will be located under the 1-275 underpass and can also be seen from the road. Nigh notes that because of materials used, digitally printed tempered glass, and the artwork’s east-west orientation, there is a constant change in how the site is experienced as the light of day changes. She characterizes the space as “soothing” and notes that the musically inspired piece brings “color and quiet to an otherwise typically massive FDOT structure.”  

This follows several other major refurbishments and new public artworks  downtown Tampa. Among them, numerous sculptures, mosaics and installations at the recently inaugurated Perry Harvey Park; Stay Curious at the Poe Garage by artists Bask and Tes One, and the refurbishment and relocation of the Yaacov Agam sculpture Visual Welcome to Bayshore Boulevard and America, America sculpture by Barbara Neijna to the south side of the Laurel Street Bridge.

On the City of Tampa website one can do a public artworks “web tour.” There are 68 sites to view. 

A better plan might be to download the Tampa’s Public Art After Dark map and take a tour the old fashioned way, discovering in person this open-air and open-to-all museum. The most recent additions, Andante and Woven Waves, have yet to be updated on this map, but now you know where the treasures are hidden. 

Large skatepark coming to St. Petersburg

Skaters are stoked as news of a new skatepark in St. Petersburg breaks.
 
Advocates of the $1.25 million new skatepark were thrilled when St. Petersburg City Council unanimously approved the design and construction of the future skaters' oasis.
 
With bowls, half-pipes and ramps, the park will be a concrete playground for skaters. The skatepark will be regional grade, meaning designed at a large scale, within Campbell Park.
 
“The reason for building a regional grade skatepark is to both provide our younger citizens with access to a high quality course, and to have a facility that generates economic development,” says City Councilman Karl Nurse for the city of St. Petersburg.
 
Nurse explains that the economic impact involves the plans for future skating tournaments.
 
“We have had similar experiences with our pool, which attracts tournaments and brings folks to town for two to four days.”
 
Campbell Park was a natural choice for the city because it is a large area that can accommodate the new skatepark. It also happens to be connected to the Pinellas Trail, offering convenience to skaters and visitors.
 
Team Pain, a designer of skateparks out of Winter Park FL, has been chosen for the project. Construction of the new skatepark will be handled by Cutler Associates based in Tampa.
 
The question on many a skater’s mind is when they can hit the pavement. According to Nurse, construction is expected to begin early fall this year, and be completed by fall of 2017.

Upscale bar, restaurant coming to downtown Tampa

An upscale bar and new restaurant are the latest additions coming to downtown Tampa.  
 
Franklin Manor
 
Situated at 912 North Franklin Street, Franklin Manor will offer guests both a bar and entertainment venue.
 
“There is a small handful of places in town you can get a quality drink at but there isn't anywhere in Tampa you can enjoy an elevated crafted cocktail and be entertained at the same time,” says David Anderson of the Nocturnal Group, the company behind the project. “Our inside area and large outside patio dual stage format allows us to be unique.”
 
Franklin Manor will serve craft beers and specialty cocktails designed by local mixologist Rohit Patel. Happy hours and live music are expected to be a staple at the new joint.
 
The Carriage House
 
Sharing space with Franklin Manor is The Carriage House, a new restaurant concept, also created by The Nocturnal Group. Featuring gourmet sandwiches and baskets, the menu “features a modern take on classic Americana and Tampa-inspired dishes,” Anderson says.
 
The combined bar and restaurant establishment by the Nocturnal Group is a $1.3 million investment. Designer Robert Ibarra from Alfonso Architects has been recruited by the group for the downtown project.
 
“Downtown was our first and only choice,” Anderson says.
 
Franklin Manor and The Carriage House is expected to open by mid-July 2016.

City of Sarasota issues call to artists for public art at downtown roundabout

The city of Sarasota has issued a call to artists for the creation of an original landmark sculpture at a future downtown roundabout at Orange Avenue and Ringling Boulevard. The new roundabout is planned for construction in the summer of 2017.

The Ringling-Orange roundabout is part of a 10-year initiative in Sarasota to ease traffic patterns and promote more pedestrian-friendly roadways in the city’s highest density business, residential and arts districts. Sixteen roundabouts are planned for construction in the downtown region and along Tamiami Trail by 2025.

The City of Sarasota’s Public Art Committee plans to acquire and install landmark sculptures at the center island of each new roundabout in a placemaking effort spearheaded by the City Commission to highlight Sarasota’s identity as a hub for the arts on Florida’s Gulf Coast. These public art installations are budgeted in the city’s Public Art Fund, which collects financial contributions as well as donated artwork from multifamily and non-residential developers in the downtown area, according to David L. Smith, General Manager of the City Neighborhood and Development Services Department.

In early April, the city installed its first roundabout art installation at the Main Street and Orange Avenue roundabout, which opened last October. The artwork, a 20-foot tall stainless steel sculpture featuring multi-colored panels and LED lights was created by Tuscon, AZ artist, H. Blessing Hancock, as a response to a Call to Artists issued by the developers of One Palm Sarasota Luxury Living and Aloft Sarasota Hotel. Blessing Hancock’s work is also on display in cities such as Denver, CO; Shreveport, LA; Dallas, TX and Portland, OR. 

The current Call to Artists for the Ringling-Orange roundabout was submitted by the City of Sarasota with approval from the Public Art Committee and City Commission. This city-initiated Call to Artists is also a national call for sculpture proposals through the web-based Call for Entry (CaFÉ) organization, though Smith says the city is currently focusing its advertising efforts solely on local and regional artists. 

“It would be great if a local artist is selected, but that’s not actually one of our qualifications. I think that ultimately the Public Art Committee is looking for the best art we can acquire for Sarasota. ” Smith says. 

The proposal must be submitted by June 5, 2016 and its budget must not exceed $150,000. Smith says there is no stated stylistic preference or theme, but sculptures must not exceed 20 feet in height and the design must not include signs, traffic control features, auditory devices, reflective surfaces, flashing lights, moving parts, moving illumination, advertising, text, or alphanumeric characters. To compete in the competition, artists must have successfully completed other public art commissions and be familiar with creating artwork suited to Florida’s climate and environment. The Public Art Committee will choose three finalists to make in-person presentations at a special public art meeting that will be open for public comment, and artist honorariums of $1,000 each will be paid to the three finalists. 

The winning work must be completed for installation in Nov, 2017, following the construction of the Ringling-Orange roundabout. 

Smith says there are currently more than 40 art pieces in the city’s growing art collection, which includes the work of local artists as well as artists from around Florida and the United States. The city’s full collection can be found online in a public art catalogue that is maintained by the City of Sarasota.

MOSI working on move to Channelside District

MOSI could be moving to downtown Tampa.

Tampa's Museum of Science & Industry (MOSI) is in the process of developing a task force to plan, design and raise funds for a new science center in downtown. The task force will be comprised of community partners, land use experts, philanthropists, museum master planners, scientists and educators. This news follows a vote at the museum's board of directors meeting earlier this month, which looked at a feasibility study to rebuild a new science center around Amalie Arena.

The move to downtown is part of Jeff Vinik's redevelopment plan for the Channelside District.

“One year ago, Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik invited MOSI to consider becoming a centerpiece cultural institution in the new $2 billion development his company is creating in the Channelside District,” says Grayson Kamm of the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI).

Vinik has pledged financial support through his company Strategic Property Partners.

While it is still early in the planning stages, the downtown museum is described by Kamm as a “new, world-class, future-focused science center.” He goes on to say that the new site will also be environmentally friendly.

“The feasibility study called our current 300,000-square-foot campus on Fowler Avenue overbuilt, with countless inefficiencies,” he says. “Our new facility will be appropriately sized for our market and built with environmental sustainability in mind.”
 
If everything goes as planned and a new museum is built in downtown, the MOSI site at Fowler Ave would be closed and re-purposed by the county.

“Our current 74-acre site along Fowler Avenue is in the heart of Hillsborough County’s Innovation District, and there is potential to redevelop the land into something that could contribute greatly to the economic prosperity of the county and the entire region,” Kamm says. “Hillsborough County has not laid out any specific plans for the land.”

New single-family homes coming to East Tampa

A new housing community is in the making in East Tampa.

Ground is breaking this month on 13 new homes at the corner of North 34th Street and East 28th Avenue in Tampa. Neighborhood Lending Partners (NLP) and Corporation to Develop Communities (CDC) of Tampa are starting construction of a new community of single-family houses utilizing the new Florida Minority Impact Housing Fund (FMIHF).

The site chosen by the CDC will eventually be filled with houses from Beacon Homes.

“We wanted to have a large enough parcel of land in East Tampa where we could build and make a substantial visual and economic impact in the community,” says Frank Cornier, VP of Real Estate Development for the CDC of Tampa. “This new development gives a great, affordable opportunity to those that want to purchase a new home in the city of Tampa.”

NLP, a nonprofit multi-bank lending consortium, which provides financing to developers of affordable housing and community revitalization is funding the project. It is doing so through the Florida Minority Impact Housing Fund (FMIHF), which the NLP created. Bank of America and Wells Fargo are the primary supporters of the $3 million dollar fund. The land where the development will be built was purchased from the Tampa Housing Authority.

“We’re thrilled to establish the Florida Minority Impact Housing Fund and know that Beacon Homes will be a wonderful addition to East Tampa and a vital part of the area’s revitalization efforts,” Debra Reyes, Neighborhood Lending Partners President and CEO states in a news release. “Quality, affordable housing should be available to all Florida residents and it is our goal to create those opportunities in as many communities as possible.”

According to Cornier, construction on the new housing community is expected to be completed in less than two years, depending on demand.
 

The Space theater in West Tampa grows a loyal following

A new arts space in a historic part of Tampa is thriving.

Simply called The Space, a restaurant turned performing arts venue in West Tampa, is now in its fifth month of business, which is booming. The Space is an innovative concept where round tables and couches replace typical theater seating, and performers sit in the audience and perform on raised platforms around the establishment as opposed to a traditional stage.

What is also unique about The Space is its location. While other owners may have looked for locations in downtown, Westshore or Hyde Park, Jared O'Roark and co-owner Erica Sutherlan chose West Tampa and the community has embraced them.

“So far the community has been so great to us,” says O'Roark. “There are several local gentlemen in the area who help with parking, and reassure people who are not familiar with the area that this is a safe area. When you make that turn on Main Street, some people may perceive the neighborhood as dangerous, but believe me, I live around here and it is not dangerous.”

Currently at The Space, "Elegies for Angels, Punks & Raging Queens,'' is playing through April 24th. The musical is an innovative production in which each actor plays five to six characters -- each sharing his or her experience with death from AIDS.

So what is it like for performers in this unique theatrical environment?

'It's much more intimate and more challenging in a good way,” says Actor A.R. Williams who plays multiple roles. “It has made me a stronger artist because on a traditional stage with all the lights you can't even see the audience. Here, you can see and even feel what the audience is going through as they watch the performance. To feel the emotion and that energy just makes me a better performer.”

Tron Montgomery, who plays everyone from a homeless man to a flamboyant gay man to a horrific character who seeks to infect as many as he can with the virus to a war vet, states that bringing The Space to West Tampa is important for the community.

“Where I grew up is basically what you see outside,” Montgomery says. “I love the idea of bringing the arts back to change the community. To bring the arts to this neighborhood gives people a new aspect of life. It changes you, it certainly changed me. I could have easily ended up a completely different person, but theater saved me.”

"Elegies for Angels, Punks & Raging Queens'' will be playing its last show this weekend, April 22-24. For ticket information, visit the theater's website

Historic Tampa Theatre needs your donations to continue renovation

A historic gem in downtown Tampa is on its way to reaching its fundraising goal of $10 million thanks to several generous donors in the community.
 
The Tampa Theatre, located on Franklin Street, has been part of the city’s cultural arts scene for 90 years. To ensure the theater remains intact and relevant for future generations, a fundraising drive is ongoing.

Tampa Theatre board member Anne Arthur Pittman and her family are the latest donors to step up to pledge $500,000 to the historic theater. In addition, Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin Beckner on behalf of the county's Capital Asset Preservation (CAP) Grant program announced a $325,000 contribution. And the theater received an anonymous donation of $100,000 at the beginning of the year plus a $1 million tax fund appropriation passed by the Florida Legislature and approved by Gov. Rick Scott.
 
Improvements to the aging facility will be executed by Westlake Reed Leskosky, a Cleveland-based architectural and design firm that is also working on the Master Plan for the Straz Performing Arts Center in downtown Tampa.
 
“Our immediate priorities are protecting the building from the elements, or sealing the envelope, as we’ve referred to it, and updating critically outdated infrastructure and systems,” says Jill Witecki of the Tampa Theatre.
 
Witecki goes on to explain that priorities include:
 
  • Replacement of windows installed in 1926 along the Florida Avenue and Polk Street sides of the building with windows that are aesthetically true to the Theatre’s historic landmark status, but that are thoroughly modern in terms of energy efficiency and storm-rated safety.
  •  Water mitigation in the basement, which will include a vacuum de-watering system to prevent further water intrusion through the walls and floor, and repairs to the water-damaged plaster walls.     
  • Electrical upgrades throughout the building to replace the original cloth-covered wiring and main power distribution, update the house lighting, and modernize the lighting and sound interface that touring productions use when they visit the building.
According to Witecki, work is being completed as money comes in based on what needs must be met first. For those interested in donating to the historic theater, you can do so through the Tampa Theatre website. There are also opportunities to give back by becoming a member.

Straz Center master plan for redevelopment moves forward

Theater and performing arts lovers will applaud at the news that the Straz Center in Tampa is set for major redevelopment. The conceptual phase of the master plan was recently unveiled and its contents scrutinized.

Changes to the center, which are being developed and conceptualized by Paul Westlake and Jonathan Kurtz of the architectural firm Westlake Reed Leskosky, include the creation of a grand terrace that flows to the Hillsborough River, reinventing and enlarging the Silbiger Lobby in Morsani Hall and adding a multi-purpose events center to accommodate growth in food and beverage, education and artistic programming.

So why make the changes now?

“The Straz Center is approaching its 30th anniversary,” says Judy Lisi, CEO of the Straz Center.  “It was the right time to plan for the future of the Straz Center.”

The center, which boasts an average 600,000 visitors annually, has created its master plan to align with Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn's InVision Tampa plan. The Straz Master Plan will be funded by the Frank E. Duckwall Foundation, and has been approved by the mayor, city officials and the center board.

The project is expected to cost up to $100 million. While it is too early in the planning process to have a completion date, Lisi says the center will stay open during construction.

“Once we have a better handle on funding, then we will have a better idea of scheduling,” Lisi says. “The next step is further refinement of the plan.”

Dade City experiences new investments in downtown

Dade City, known for its quaint downtown and small town charm, is experiencing quite a development boom. 
 
New city hall and police station
 
One of the biggest projects recently unveiled is a new municipal complex. The 22,000-square-foot building located on Meridian Avenue houses both city hall and the police department. Paid for with reserve funds, the $6.6 million project makes life easier for residents and government employees alike.
 
“Employees are now under one roof,” says Dade City Manager Bill Poe. “Previously city hall staff were in two separate buildings, which caused citizens, developers and visitors to often have to go between buildings to accomplish a simple task.”
 
In addition to streamlining things by having all of the offices in the same location, the project also involved implementing new technology into the police department. Upgrades include state-of-the-art forensics room, a secure sally port, new interview rooms and a safe room for victims.
 
Poe says other city projects are on the horizon including an extension of the Hardy Trail, Beauchamp Pond expansion and downtown storm water improvements.
 
Flint Creek Outfitters
 
This is the second store in Florida for the outdoor specialty shop, with its other location in Ocala. One of the newer proprietors in Dade City, Flint Creek Outfitters is located at 14129 7th St. The store not only offers an array of camping and fishing products, but a lifestyle. With guided trips, monthly fly fishing competitions and owners with a rich history living with nature, the store promises to take you on an adventure. 
 
Shoppes of Dade City
 
When the first Publix in Dade City opened last year, it became the anchor of The Shoppes at Dade City, a strip plaza managed by Crossman & Company. With a total of 54,000-square-feet of retail property the plaza has a plenty of space for business owners. Aside from the Publix, there is a nail salon and a Chinese restaurant already open.
 
Other developments taking place around town include a new medical practice at Meridian and 10th Street, which is currently under construction. Florida Hospital Zephyrhills has obtained a permit for the space, however no other details are available at this time.

Community art giveback begins in Channel District, Tampa

Art is springing from the walls in the Channel District, literally.

The Channel District Community Alliance, Inc. in cooperation with the homeowner’s association at the Grand Central at Kennedy has begun the first installment of their art giveback to the community. The project entitled, “Waves of Change,” is a four-part art series that will reflect the overall spirit of the district.

The purpose of the art is to bring beauty to the neighborhood, but, according to Vance Arnett, President of the Channel District Community Alliance, it goes beyond just esthetics.

“We are a walkable community so we want to provide people with beautiful surroundings, but we also want to give people a destination to walk to,” Arnett says. “We want to have something that you will want to show visitors, family and friends when they come and visit.”

So what will people see when they walk the streets of the Channel District? A mural created by Artists Meaghan Farrell Scalise of Traditional and Digitial Arts, LLC (TADA) and Rebekah Lazaridis.

“We really want to catapult the arts scene here in this area,” Scalise says. “The neighbors that have seen our progress have expressed such joy over it and we hope that it provides the residents here with a sense of community and pride living in the Channel District.”

 It took the artists under a week to complete the mural.

“We are planning more art projects and each one will have a theme,” Arnett says. “One will be indicative of the history of the Channel District, another of the lifestyle and one that represents our future.  We also plan to strategically place them around the community so again they are destination spots for people to walk to.”

You can see the “Waves of Change” mural at Grand Central at Kennedy located at 1120 East Kennedy Boulevard in Tampa. 

St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport undergoes $9.8M renovation

Airports in the Tampa Bay area are getting bigger and better, including St. Pete-Clearwater International, which just announced its renovation plans for its terminals. This follows the recent announcement made by Tampa International Airport of the opening of the first few new restaurants and retail as part of a $953 million renovation master plan.

At St. Pete-Clearwater International in North St. Petersburg close to Largo and Clearwater, a $9.8 million project will add 12,000-square-feet to gates seven through 10 as well as an additional 350 new seats to the waiting area by those gates.

“The terminal renovation project is needed to meet our passenger growth,” says Michele Routh of St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport (PIE).

The passenger screening checkpoint area will go from two lanes to three in an effort to expedite wait times. Other improvements taking place in gates seven through 10 include renovations to retail and food and beverage concessions, a new children’s play area and renovated restrooms.

“The airport will be fully functioning during the renovations,” Routh says.

Restrooms will be renovated and expanded in baggage claim, the restaurant on the second floor and in the operations wing. All of these renovations will include upgrades to meet ADA requirements. A new mechanical control room will be added as well.   

“For over three years we have been growing by double digits,” St. Pete-Clearwater Airport Director Tom Jewsbury stated in a news release. “Although the construction phase will present challenges, the end result will be worth it for our passengers' comfort and convenience.”

Construction is expected to start next month. The Artec Group will be handling all of the renovations, and the project is expected to be completed in summer 2017.

Brand new, renovated Bay Area hotels ready for spring break visitors

With Spring Break just around the corner, hotels in the Tampa Bay area are getting ready to host an influx of tourists, including four hotels now under construction and/or undergoing renovation projects designed to meet increasing demand from tourists and other visitors.

Loews Don CeSar

Located near St. Petersburg Beach, Loews Don CeSar is the historic pink palace built in 1928. In addition to two pools, an 11,000-square-foot spa and an award-winning seafood restaurant, the hotel is adding a new bar to the list of amenities.

The Rowe Bar, which opened earlier this month at the Don CeSar, represents a $1.8 million investment by Loews.

“This is a brand new space that seats 200,” says Jeff Abbaticchio, Director of Public Relations for the hotel. “The new bar includes an interior space as well as an outdoor area featuring three fire pits and an outdoor fireplace.”

In addition to the Rowe Bar, Loews has been working on another project within the Don CeSar family of hotels.

Beach House Suites by Loews Don CeSar

A few blocks north of the Don CeSar, Loews 30-year-old Beach House Suites recently completed an $8 million renovation to its 70 suites, which offer guests one-bedroom lodging complete with kitchen space and a washer and dryer.

”All 70 suites were renovated to offer more spacious and contemporary space for our guests,” Abbaticchio says. “Beach House Suites is the perfect lodging solution for guests coming to the area from overseas or staying for an extended vacation because it has all the amenities you need, like a kitchen and washer and dryer. Plus we offer a complimentary shuttle service between Beach House Suites and the Don CeSar so guests can enjoy all that the Don CeSar has to offer.”

Opal Sands Resort

Drive down Gulfview Boulevard in Clearwater Beach to find the crescent-shaped building that is Opal Sands Resort, the latest hotel to open on the world-famous beach.

The shape of the building guarantees every visitor a view of the Gulf, according to Opal Sands General Manager Jeff Castner.

This luxury resort, which had a soft opening in early March, is 15-stories, features 230 rooms and cost $50 million to build.
 
Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Tampa

Situated at 5223 Orient Road in Tampa, the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino is visible from Interstate 4 and adjacent to the MIDFLORIDA Credit Union Amphitheatre. The hotel features a spa, salon, restaurants, stores and of course a casino.

As large as the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino already is there are plans in the works for it to get even bigger. Last week, the Seminole Tribe of Florida met with Florida Gov. Rick Scott and unveiled its plans for a $1.8 billion expansion for its Hollywood and Tampa hotel locations.

For the Tampa hotel, plans include a second tower with 500 new rooms, a helipad, five retail stores, a new lobby bar as well as new dinning and meeting spaces.
 
A construction start date for this project has not been set. 

New live, work, play, stay places coming to Downtown Dunedin

The sounds of construction are back in Downtown Dunedin with a new mixed-use building going up and other projects just beginning or in the works.

Victoria Place

Located at 821 Victoria Drive in Dunedin, Victoria Place is under construction. This mixed-use building will house 30 units and eight retail spaces when it is completed later this year.

There are several factors that make Victoria Place an attractive place for future residents, including “the urban lifestyle that Dunedin offers,” says Claudia Emery of Victoria Place. “The walkability to events, restaurants and boutique shops is a draw to the community.”

Developer and contractor JMC Communities Inc. along with architect BSB Design Inc. are working on the project, which is expected to be completed fall of 2016.

Artisan Apartment Homes

Artisan Apartment Homes is a proposed four-story apartment home development, which includes retail shops and a public garage leased by the city at the corner of Monroe Street and Douglas Avenue.

If all goes as planned, construction will start June 1st and be completed by summer 2017. The new complex will house 65 units, with more than 11,000-square-feet of retail space.

Dunedin Bed & Breakfast

Dunedin, with its small town charm, is no stranger to the bed & breakfast concept. Therefore, it is no surprise that a new bed & breakfast is planned for downtown Dunedin. The 11-unit lodging concept situated at 520 and 530 Skinner Boulevard is currently in the pre-construction phase.

The proposed development includes fives bedroom units inside the main building with an additional six units in detached duplexes. The main building will have a wrap-around porch, while the duplex units will have front porches. Retail space on the property is also planned.

New bicycle/pedestrian path connects Clearwater to Safety Harbor in Pinellas County

Good news for local and visiting pedestrians and bicyclists as the city of Clearwater announces the completion of an extended path running along Bayshore Boulevard on the eastern edge of the city along Cooper Bayou and Old Tampa Bay.

The trail, which connects the Courtney Campbell Causeway to Ream Wilson Trail at Del Oro Park is expected to be completed by today, March 1st.
 
“Providing bicycle and pedestrian accommodation is important for multimodal transportation alternatives, economic development and recreation for the city,” says Felicia Donnelly with the parks and recreation department for the City of Clearwater.
 
Donnelly says this connection will be among several other pedestrian and bicycle trail unions throughout the city, including Duke Energy, CSX, Druid Connection, Landmark Drive and Belleair trails. The city’s master plan for proposed bicycle and pedestrian paths proposes adding over 25 miles dedicated to trails throughout Clearwater.
 
The Druid Trail, which is expected to be completed later this year, will be a four-mile multiple use section along Druid Road. It will connect to the Pinellas Trail and residential areas, as well as Clearwater High School and Glen Oaks Park.
 
The city hopes that the connection between the Courtney Campbell Causeway and Ream Wilson Trail will open up a traffic-free path for pedestrians and bicyclists from Cypress Point Park to downtown Clearwater and north to Safety Harbor. With the master plan, the expectation is the network of trails will link the beaches to the Pinellas Trail, which runs North to South through Pinellas County.  
 
The trail will be complete with two bike fix-it stations where bicyclists can fix minor problems to their bikes without having to leave the trail. The city plans to install six more stations along the trails by the beginning of the summer.

Tampa Heights neighborhood tour of homes on Sunday

One of the most popular emerging neighborhoods in Tampa is welcoming visitors and future residents to take a peek inside during the 14th annual Tampa Heights Tour of Homes on Sunday, February 28th.

The tour will include seven homes never previously showcased in the annual event, as well as some other new unique aspects.

 “We are featuring commercial property this year,” says Chris Currie with the Tampa Heights Civic Association. “The Rialto Theatre on Franklin Street will be part of the tour. I don’t think a lot of people have been able to get into see it, but it’s been undergoing preservation and restoration. We will also be featuring Hidden Springs Brewery and they are offering discounts on their craft beers to visitors of the home tour.”

The historic Tampa Heights neighborhood has been experiencing investments leading to quite a transformation including the recent additions of Ulele Restaurant and Brewery, Water Works Park and the Riverwalk Extension, which is expected to be completed by mid-year.

According to Currie, properties in the neighborhood where the Tour of Homes will be held are valued between $250,000 and $350,000.

For those planning to attend the event, the tour starts at the community center at 2005 North Lamar Avenue In Tampa. There is parking available at the community center and ticket sales -- $10 each -- will start at noon. Discounted tickets are available for purchase online. The tour ends at 5 p.m.

“The Tour of Homes is the single greatest source of funds for the Tampa Heights Civic Association,” Currie says. “100-percent of the proceeds go to the association whose goal is to better the Tampa Heights community.”

Townhomes: Latest trend in downtown St. Petersburg

The urban renaissance is alive and well in downtown St. Petersburg. While several new condos and towers in the area have been getting a lot of publicity recently, it seems that the next new trend is townhouse living.

The appeal of having all the luxuries of a house with the backdrop of downtown in your backyard, and the accessibility and walkability to local destinations may make the lure of townhouses downright irresistible.

Here is a look at what is on the horizon for townhouses in downtown St. Petersburg.

Center City Townhomes

While several residential projects are underway in downtown St. Petersburg, one innovative project in particular stands out from the rest. It is small, but mighty.

Center City Townhomes will be comprised of just two units at 325 2nd Street North. While only offering two units, do not underestimate the offerings given at the $1.2 million properties.

“Each unit will be over 2,700-square-feet,” says Brooks Matheson, President of Matheson Designs, LLC.

With three-bedrooms, three-and-a-half baths and a family room overlooking a private pool,  the three-story townhouses will offer plenty of space for downtown living. Among some of the other luxurious amenities found in the properties are a media room on the third floor, which can also be used as an office, two-car garage, private elevator and a 600-square-foot roof top deck with covered porch.

“I have lived in St. Petersburg for six years now and have fallen in love with the area,” says Matheson. “The downtown corridor is a great place to live and work. Coming from the Miami area, to see a downtown with so much green space and walkability, I knew I wanted to build something here.”

Construction is expected to be completed by the end of 2016.

Regent Lane

With a British mews theme, these four-story townhomes located less than two blocks from Beach Drive offer future residents the chance to enjoy all that downtown St. Petersburg has to offer.

“I believe the potential for an urban lifestyle that has been established in downtown St. Pete will be easily accessible to the homeowners of my project,” says Neil Rauenhorst, President of NJR properties investment, LLC.

The 20-units within Regent Lane will be located in a gated community. Each townhome will be over 2,300-square-feet, with three-bedrooms, three-and-a-half baths and a private rooftop terrace -- offering plenty of room for a young family with children.

Rauenhorst together with Mark Stephenson, Architect and Principal of WS Architecture and Matthew Foster, President of Peregrine Homes, LLC are all working on the project set to be completed summer 2016.

The Brownstones

New Englanders now residing in the Sunshine City within the Sunshine State now have a housing option that will make them feel a little more a home with The Brownstones of St. Petersburg.

“Being from New York myself, I know there are a lot of people who live here, who are originally from New York and Boston, so I figured, why not bring brownstones to St. Pete,” says Steve Gianfilippo, Owner and Founder of the Brownstone of St. Petersburg.”

With 4,000-square-feet of living space, and a detached garage that can be rented out as an apartment, the Brownstones offer many options to future residents.

Each unit is four-stories with its own private elevator.

Gianfilippo is working on the project with architecture firm G2 Design and developer Channelmark Company.

Local restaurants, shops emerge in Tampa airport's redevelopment

The next time you fly out of Tampa International Airport you may notice some new shops to peruse and restaurants to grab a bite or have a drink. As part of the airport’s $953-million master plan, there will be 65 new shops and restaurants opening at the airport.
 
The first two establishments are already open in Airside A: Bay Coffee & Tea and Auntie Anne’s Pretzels.
 
Bay Coffee & Tea is a locally-based organic coffee shop. This innovative company uses solar energy to dry their coffee beans. More local shops and restaurants will be represented in the airport as construction continues.
 
“Roughly 40-percent of the food and beverage options are local, featuring such staples as Columbia, Cigar City, RumFish Grill, Buddy Brew and the Café by Mise en Place,” says Danny Valentine with Tampa International Airport.
 
The 65 new shops and restaurants will be spread throughout the airport including the main terminal. Thirty of the storefronts and restaurants are set to open this year.
 
Other local brands to look for include:
  • Shop HSN where live remote shows will be broadcast from the store, and Tampa Life featuring gifts from the Dali Museum can be found in the Main Terminal.
  • Ducky’s, partially owned by Tampa Bay Rays player Evan Longoria, will be modeled after the South Tampa Sports Bar in Airside A. Like the South Tampa location known for its duck pin bowling, the airport restaurant will offer a table top version of the bowling game.
  • Fitlife Foods known for its convenient but healthy meals and Goody Goody burgers are being brought back to life after a 10-year-plus hiatus in Airside C.
  • Tampa Bay Times storefront with grab-and-go food by Alessi Bakery, Four Green Fields, which will be a replica of the Tampa bar and restaurant complete with a similar thatched roof and Air Essentials, a news and convenience store featuring food from La Segunda Bakery, CaterMeFit and Amici’s Catered Cuisine  in Airside E.
  • For those in need of some liquid courage before their flight, there is The Gasparilla Bar, a Captain Morgan bar in the shape of a pirate ship, and Bay to Bay News, a news and convenience store featuring food from La Segunda Bakery, CaterMeFit and Amici’s Catered Cuisine in Airside F.
“Our redevelopment program will give our guests and passengers access to more choices than ever before,” Valentine says. “We are putting more options near gates where passengers want them most. Overall, we are enhancing passenger experience.”
 
Total construction is set to be completed by late 2017.

Construction begins on new apartment tower in downtown Tampa

The downtown Tampa skyline will be getting more crowded in coming months as yet another new apartment building grows out of the ground on north Franklin Street between Tyler and Cass streets.

With 362-units, the 23-story apartment building will also have 8,000-square-feet of retail space.

The building by developers Carter of Atlanta includes very dramatic public art, a generous amount of ground floor retail and a full amenity package including a rooftop pool,” says Bob McDonaugh, Economic Opportunity Administrator for the city of Tampa. “It all adds up to a very attractive development, which should be quite successful when it is completed.”

The design team includes DPR Construction and RJT+R Architecture.

The new tower is named Nine15 after its address at 915 Franklin N. St. It joins several other projects in the making including the Arts and Entertainment Residencies (AER) near the Straz Center and The Channel Club at the intersection of Meridian Avenue and East Twiggs Street.

“The city of Tampa is experiencing the same phenomenon that many other cities are experiencing, the flight back to the urban core,” McDonaugh says. “Today, many of the millennials as well as their empty nest parents are deciding that an urban lifestyle is what suits them.”

McDonaugh goes on to say that while there is very little vacancy available in many urban areas, the site for the new tower is where the former Grant Building sat mostly vacant for years, an interesting location because it is the furthest north of the current wave of residential development taking place in downtown Tampa.

Surge of multi-family residential development seen in South Tampa

Like many sections of Tampa, South Tampa is experiencing a surge of development as new townhouses and villas go up.  

Waverly Courtyard Villas
 
This new community is finishing up construction on its final two buildings, which are townhomes, situated at the corner of MacDill and Euclid Avenues. Each townhome has four bedrooms and four bathrooms, with more than 2,600 square-feet.
 
“The townhomes feature an open floor plan that is perfectly suited for entertaining,” says Bill Andrasco, who represents the construction company on the project, ODC Construction. “The custom kitchen is very stylish, with its maple cabinetry, granite counters and top-of-the-line appliances.”
 
Other amenities include energy efficient, impact-resistant windows, as well as a detached, private guest suites with full bath and kitchenette above a detached two-car garage.
 
“The South Tampa area is a bubbling and lively atmosphere,” Andrasco says. “Living in the area puts you walking distance from some of Tampa's best restaurants, wine shops, specialty stores and more.”
 
Construction on the mid-$500,000 priced townhouses will be completed May 2016.
 
Grant Place

Located near the intersection of Azeele Street and Armenia Avenue, Grant Place is under construction. This new development will feature triplex townhomes. Each townhouse will be three-bedrooms, two-and-a-half-bathrooms and will be approximately 2,200 square-feet.

Features of these low-to-mid $500,000 priced townhomes include a loft, Mediterranean-style design with tile roof and covered patio. The location of the community is within walking distance to several restaurants, Publix Greenwise and Starbucks.

Casa De Leon

Another of the more luxurious projects under construction in South Tampa is Casa De Leon, which will be located on West DeLeon Street. The development includes six luxury townhomes pre-selling in the low-to-mid $500,000s. These three-bedroom, three-and-a-half-bathroom homes have amenities such as a study and game room, optional elevator and second floor lanai.

The three-story home is also good for the environment with Energy Star windows, high efficiency heat pumps and electric heat strips with thermostats that can be programmed as well as a tankless water heater.

Construction on Casa De Leon is expected to be complete Fall 2016.

Tampa Bay area colleges add buildings designed for the future

As college students settle in for the Spring semester at campuses around the Tampa Bay area, many of the college grounds in the region are under construction to make way for the future.

USF St. Petersburg

The University of South Florida-St Petersburg (USFSP) recently broke ground on the Kate Tiedemann College of Business building. The building located on the downtown St. Petersburg campus will be designed to enhance the learning experience for business students.

“The new building will house an accelerator lab for its entrepreneurship program where students can develop startups and work with local entrepreneurs,” says Gary Patterson, interim Dean and Professor of Finance at the Kate Tiedemann College of Business. “We will also provide a consumer insight lab where marketing students can conduct focus group studies. The building offers USFSP the infrastructure needed to improve the services to our students and community partners.”

Patterson says the building, which will cost upwards of $29 million, will allow students the ability to congregate in one location.

“Currently the students, faculty and staff are spread across eight buildings at USF St. Petersburg,” he says. “Students will finally have a home, and the new building will allow them to work on group projects in the break-out rooms found throughout the building.” 

The Kate Tiedemann College of Business building is expected to open Fall 2016.

University of Tampa

To ensure not only a healthy mind, but healthy body too, the University of Tampa is building a new fitness center. Scheduled to open Spring 2016, the 40,000-square-feet, two-story building will have exercise programs, personal training and evaluation, intra-murals, club sports and a room dedicated for spinning classes.

In addition to the expenditure of the building, the University is purchasing a large number of treadmills, stationary bikes, elliptical trainers and free weights for the fitness center.

Eckerd College

Students interested in the arts rejoiced when the college recently announced plans to replace its Ransom Arts Center with a new visual arts building. The Ransom Arts Center, which has been a staple at the main campus since the 1970s, was torn down.

The new building has yet to be named, but will be approximately 34,000-square-feet, quite an upgrade from the original 18,000-square-feet. With the extra space, students can expect more video and photography space, a green screen and more space for a dark room.

Construction started last month and is expected to be completed in two years.

Tampa Bay area private schools grow, invest in new buildings

Tampa Bay area private schools serving students in kindergarten through high school are investing in their campuses as a way to enrich the educational experience for students.
 
Academy of the Holy Names
 
Located on Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa, The Academy of the Holy Names recently announced its groundbreaking on a new center for the arts. The $11 million facility will include a 350-seat theater, interior and exterior learning spaces, 2- and 3-D art labs as well as band, choral and dance classrooms.
 
“In addition to classes, the center will be used for full-run drama productions,” says Emily Wise of The Academy of the Holy Names.The arts are a central part of the Academy's curriculum and a critical factor in educating the whole child, mind, body and spirit.”  

Construction is expected to run approximately 13 months. While the center will be ready for use in spring 2017, classes will start in fall 2017.
 
Berkeley Prep
 
With a generous donation from the Gries Investment Fund to the tune of $4 million, last fall Berkeley Prep opened the Gries Center for Arts and Sciences. The 75,000-square-foot facility is home to the middle and upper division fine and visual arts departments, as well as upper division for math and science.
 
Other features of the center include multimedia labs, digital-ready study rooms, eight professional potter’s wheels, two outdoor kilns and a covered patio space.
 
One of the more innovative features of the building is the multimedia room, which includes a green screen, industry-editing software for film class and a whisper box that allows students to record voice-overs of sound studio quality for films and animation.
 
Jesuit High School
 
The historic all-male K-12 private school located on Himes Avenue in Tampa is planning a $35-million renovation and expansion project. Plans include adding four new buildings to the campus, as well as renovating others. Also, a full renovation of the chapel is planned.
 
“The refurbishment of the campus will begin with a full renovation of the chapel, which is the heart of the school,” says Pete Young of Jesuit High School. “The students gather every morning for Convocation, and we are maxed out on the number of students we can fit in the sanctuary, there is just no room for growth, so we need a larger chapel so we can accommodate more students.”

Memorial for veterans to open in Clearwater park

Driving down Gulf-to-Bay in Clearwater, you may have noticed fencing around Crest Lake Park. Wondering what is going on?
 
Well, the city of Clearwater, along with the Tampa Bay Veterans Alliance has decided to add a veteran’s memorial area to the park. Crest Lake Park was chosen given its visibility and access to Gulf-to-Bay.
 
Even though the memorial will be new, it already has historic significance.
 
“The Tampa Bay Veterans Alliance, established as Clearwater Veterans Alliance, developed the Florida Veterans’ Memorial concept to establish the first cross-generational veteran’s memorial in the State of Florida,” says Jason Beisel with the city of Clearwater.  “There exists no other memorial park or plaza that honors the commitments of veterans from so many eras, spanning World War II through present day.”
 
The estimated $1 million project will feature a brick circular plaza with a gold design in the middle along a paved pathway. An American flag displayed along with POW flags, as well as flags representing each branch of the United States military will be represented. Bronze sculptures representing periods of conflict from World War II to the present will be included. The plaza will be surrounded by walls on which those wanting to honor a veteran can have the veteran's name engraved for a small donation.  

“There is a longstanding tradition of honoring veterans in the United States of America,” Beisel says. “The Florida Veterans Memorial serves this tradition by continuing the city of Clearwater’s history of incorporating veteran’s memorials, started at the base of the Clearwater Memorial Causeway in the 1920s with the placement of E.M. Viquesney’s Spirit of the American Navy and Spirit of the American Doughboy into city infrastructure.”
 
There will be no fee to visit the memorial once it opens.  A portion of the memorial will open Memorial Day with a ribbon cutting.

Innovative aquaponics facility in Tampa Bay to grow produce, farm fish

Looking for a place where you could get fresh organic fish, as well as produce free of chemicals and fertilizers here in the Tampa Bay area? Now, what if these fish and produce would come from a building and not the ocean or farm land?
 
That is the innovative concept behind Global Aquaponic Inc. (GAI). It is a concept that the company wants to bring to the Tampa Bay area..

The specific location has not been yet determined.
 
If you have ever taken a ride through ‘The Land’ exhibit in EPCOT at the Walt Disney World resort, you may have seen how similar systems work. Basically, it is an alternative way to grow produce and farm fish in a controlled environment without the use of pesticides.
 
“Aquaponics uses up to 90 percent less water than traditional soil-based farming and therefore preserves our fresh water,” Bradshaw says. “Chemical pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers are poisonous to our environment; therefore we do not use any of those.”
 
Bradshaw goes on to say that although there is no start date as of yet, the facility can be completed and fully producing in one year from start to finish.  Which also means green job creation for the area.
 
“The aquaponics system will be comprised of two separate entities: a fish facility and a greenhouse,” he says. The fish facility will require two dedicated employees, a manager and an assistant manager, as well as one full-time employee. The greenhouse will require 12 to 24 full-time employees for the greenhouse bays.”
 
For more information on the company, visit their website.

Blocks of West Tampa experience investments, redevelopment

An abandoned shopping center in West Tampa is experiencing a rebirth as new retailers and a new restaurant make plans to call the neighborhood home. 

Ashley Furniture, Floor & Decor and Ker's Winghouse will all be going into a shopping center formerly anchored by K-Mart at  2915 North Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa.

“West Tampa is experiencing a renaissance,” says Dawn Hudson, president of the West Tampa Chamber of Commerce. “It is the perfect location for businesses to locate with easy access to all destinations, roadways and centers of influence around Tampa.”

Ashley Furniture and Floor & Decor are moving into the 60,000-plus square-feet space that K-Mart previously occupied. Ashley furniture, which has showrooms selling furniture for living rooms, bedrooms, dining rooms and home offices, will be occupying over 43,000-square-feet of adjacent storefront. Floor & Decor sells a variety of tile, stone, wood and laminate options for floors and walls.

Outside of the stores where Miami Subs once stood, a two-story Ker's Winghouse will be opening.

This 6,000-square-foot location has an unusually large layout compared to other Ker's locations throughout the Tampa Bay area.

The West Tampa area will continue to see more redevelopment as the city of Tampa's community redevelopment plan (CRP) progresses. Initiatives in the plan include improvements to sidewalks and roadways to make the neighborhood more walkable, redeveloping parks and restoring historic sites.

“Our iconic watertower will be illuminated soon,” Hudson says. “The renaissance is happening.”
 

Popular Chicago-based restaurant coming to Brandon

Tampa Bay area visitors and residents will be able to get a taste of Chicago while still soaking up the Florida sun when Portillo’s opens this spring in Brandon.
 
The Chicago-based restaurant chain plans to open its new location in the growing suburb east of Tampa, which is the first site in Florida for the chain.
 
“Tampans have been peppering us for years with requests to come to Florida,” says Nick Scarpino, Director of Marketing for Portillo’s. “There are also a lot of former Chicagoans in the greater Tampa area who are already familiar with our brand. We found a great opportunity just outside of Tampa and we're excited to open our doors soon.”
 
Portillo’s has 39 restaurants, most of which are in the Chicago area. Other locations can be found in Arizona and California.
 
The new restaurant located at the northwest corner of State Road 60 and Lakewood Drive will be 9,000-square-feet. There will be outdoor seating, as well as a 1930’s prohibition theme complete with a 1930’s truck suspended above the dining room.
 
Aside from the unique décor, Scarpino says it is the food that really draws people in.
 
“We are best known for our Chicago-style hot dogs and our Italian beef sandwiches,” he says. “Of course, no meal is complete at Portillo's without our famous chocolate cake, which is made fresh every day inside the restaurant.”
 
Up to 200 jobs will be created as a result of the new restaurant, which is currently taking applications. The grand opening is scheduled for late March or early April.
 
For more information on Portillo’s visit their website

Tech company in Tampa invests $1M in expansion, 45 new jobs

As the growing list of tech companies based in the Tampa Bay area gets longer, one company that has called Tampa home for over a decade has big plans for its future. SunView Software, Inc., founded in 2003, is investing $1-million into expanding its headquarters located at 10210 Highland Manor Drive in Tampa.
 
“We are adding 6,000-square-feet of office space to the existing headquarters in the Highland Oaks office complex,” says John Prestridge, VP of marketing and products for SunView Software, Inc. “We are building out a modern workspace for the expansion designed to enhance collaboration and teamwork for the expanding SunView team.”
 
He goes on to say that higher sales and continued product innovation have contributed to the robust growth and need for more space. With the extra space, Prestridge says, the company plans on hiring 45 new employees. Positions include software development, services, support, marketing and sales.
 
The company received help from the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation in expediting the permitting process to get the expansion plans on the fast track.
 
“Hillsborough County’s burgeoning information technology industry is a major point of pride for this community,” says Lesley “Les” Miller, chairman of the Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners in a news release. “Our formidable group of technology entrepreneurs, increasing numbers of highly skilled IT talent, and excellent business climate and quality of life are all helping to position us as one of the most desirable tech destinations in the country.”
 
Sunview Software joins several other technology companies that are also expanding their Tampa Bay headquarters including, Accusoft, BlueGrace Logistics, Connectwise, Hivelocity, ReliaQuest and Tribridge.

Downtown St. Petersburg residential boom continues

The residential real estate boom in downtown St. Petersburg is going strong as two new buildings get ready to rise along the ever growing skyline.

This month the NRP Group, which built Beacon 430 on Third Avenue, started construction on a nine-story residential building. Situated across the street from the Tampa Bay Times building, the new structure will have an internal parking garage for residents and 200 spots for Tampa Bay Times employees.  

“This will be a luxury residential building with 366 units,” says Kurt Kehoe, VP of the NRP Group, LLC.

Kehoe says the building, which has yet to be named, will have studios, one-, two- and three-bedroom units. The units range from 570 square feet to over 1,550 square feet.

“There is very little property that can be developed in the business district of St. Petersburg, but we wanted to move on this as soon as possible,” he says. There is a lot of interest in downtown with the walkability so it made a lot of sense to move on this property when we did.”

 The building will have a rooftop pool with views facing East toward Tampa Bay, as well as a rooftop fitness area and club room adjacent to the pool.

“We did a secondary pool in the courtyard that will be ground level that will have large sitting areas, a lounge and another club area.”

Construction is expected to be completed in early 2018.

A few blocks away from the NRP project, another building is under construction, which is expected to be completed this year.

AER St. Petersburg is a luxury apartment tower with 18 stories and 358-units. The $85-million project features 600-square-foot studios to 1,500-square-foot three-bedroom units.

Amenities at AER include interactive audio visual and social media venues, fitness center, business center, pool, clubroom with exhibition kitchen, observation deck and on-site parking garage.

New restaurant, new homes help revitalize Sulphur Springs neighborhood in Tampa

A struggling neighborhood in Tampa sees a brighter future with city and private investments, including the opening of a new healthy food restaurant.

“The city of Tampa has undertaken several steps to improve the Sulphur Springs neighborhood,” says Bob McDonaugh, Economic Opportunity Administrator for the city of Tampa. “Sulphur Springs was a neighborhood particularly hard hit during the real estate crisis and had a large number of foreclosures which contributed to blight in the neighborhood. The city of Tampa is determined to assist this neighborhood to get back on its feet.”

Keith and Vanessa Malson also see the potential in the neighborhood, which is why a few months ago they opened the Sulphur Springs Sandwich Shop.

“We love the Sulphur Springs area. Its where we live and we wanted to bring some positive energy to the neighborhood,” Vanessa Malson says. “Currently there are mostly fast-food restaurants here, so we wanted to offer an alternate that is reasonable priced but also offers healthier options.”

The new restaurant features all homemade food, made from scratch daily.  
 
“We don't necessarily believe that food has to be expensive or organic to be good for you, we believe it just needs to be homemade,” she says.

This is the first restaurant the couple has opened. Between the two of them, they have 25 years of restaurant experience. With 800-square-feet of space in their new establishment, the duo serves lunch Monday through Saturday, and also takes carry-out orders.

In an effort to bring more businesses and residents to the Sulphur Springs neighborhood, the city has demolished abandoned homes, focused more attention on enforcement of rules regulating maintenance and upkeep of properties and trimmed back trees that were interfering with the effectiveness of street lights.
 
“As part of the citywide 'Bright Lights Safe Nights' initiative, the city, working with Tampa Electric, added 400 streetlights to the neighborhood,” McDonaugh says. “Studies show that increased illumination in neighborhoods lowers crime rates. In conjunction with efforts by the Tampa police department, Sulphur Springs has experienced a 20 percent reduction in crime.” 
 
McDonaugh goes on to say, that the vacant homes that were demolished by the city are in the process of being replaced by new homes.

“Home ownership tends to stabilize neighborhoods and to date, the city has invested $1.4-million building new homes in Sulphur Springs,'' says McDonaugh. "This will not be a short-term effort, but the city will continue its efforts to assist this historic neighborhood.”

Sarasota's historic DeMarcay to reopen as luxury condo tower

New life is coming to the historic DeMarcay Hotel in downtown Sarasota, which is currently under construction and will reopen as an 18-story luxury condo tower.
 
The 39-unit tower will have many amenities including a rooftop pool, outdoor kitchen, club room and fitness center high above the city on the 18th floor.
 
“No other condominium in downtown has an amenities level at the top of its building,” says Perry Corneau, New Development Manager with Sotheby’s International Realty, which is handling sales for the tower. “The building will also have valet service and an elevator system to bring the residents' cars to the parking levels on the second through sixth floors.”
 
Corneau goes on to say that the façade of the original historic building will be incorporated into the new structure.
 
Unit sizes at DeMarcay at 33 South Palm range from 1,100-square-feet to over 3,000-square-feet and each unit has a balcony with a gas grill. Prices range from $600,000 to over $3.1 million per unit.
 
While construction has yet to start, units have already been sold.
 
“To date 13 of the 39 units have been reserved,” Corneau says. “Total sellout of the 39 units is expected to be in excess of $50 million.”
 
Construction is expected to be completed by spring of 2017.

Downtown Clearwater: development brings residential, restaurants, retail

Walk the streets of downtown Clearwater and you will see cranes in the air, traffic cones lining the streets and the feeling that a lot of change is coming to the neighborhood.
 
“The city and the community redevelopment agency’s (CRA) redevelopment strategy emphasizes the creation of a significant residential concentration in and around the downtown core to create and support a retail and recreation destination environment,” says Geraldine Lopez, Director of Economic Development and Housing for the city of Clearwater.
 
According to Lopez, there are currently two residential projects in the works. The Nolen, a $34 million mixed-use building that includes 257 apartments and approximately 10,000-square-feet of retail space, with construction expected to be completed this fall.
 
The other project is the Skyview. Like the Nolen, it is a mixed-use space, with 40 condos and 10,000-square-feet for shops. Construction on Skyview is expected by the end of the year.
 
In addition to the residential properties, downtown Clearwater is also experiencing a development boom in the way of restaurants.
 
“The downtown area is seeing a cluster of ethnic restaurants that is adding diversity to the food scene,” Lopez says. The restaurants include:
 
La Fondita de Leo
 
This establishment opened in the summer of 2015, and serves authentic Puerto Rican cuisine. Staples like mashed plantains, shredded chicken and corn fritters are offered, along with more savory options like stuffed chicken breast filled with cream cheese and bacon, the traditional mofongo dish and skirt steak. La Fondita de Leo is open for lunch and dinner.
 
Basil Fusion Bistro
 
With its opening at the end of 2015, Basil Fusion Bistro serves popular Vietnamese dishes. Open for breakfast and lunch only. Items on the menu include pho, spring rolls and smoothies.
 
Fuku Japanese Café
 
With its grand opening just before the New Year, Fuku looks forward to delighting customers with its sushi, ramen and yakisoba. The café is the brainchild of sushi chef Pla Sriwaree and his wife Aja Sriwaree, Fuku is a longtime dream of theirs that has come true. Fuku Japanese Café is open for lunch and dinner.
 
Lopez says that the combination of residential and commercial development is part of the overall vision the city has for the downtown area’s future.

“The city is striving for a vibrant, waterfront downtown destination with a mix of retail, restaurants, residential, office and recreational opportunities that attracts residents and visitors alike.”

Historic Clearwater neighborhood petitions city for brick streets

A historic neighborhood in Clearwater may soon take drivers down memory lane as brick streets replace the paved roads. Harbor Oaks neighborhood, located just north of Morton Plant Hospital, is a 110-home community dating back to the early 1900s.

“Harbor Oaks is a very historic neighborhood, however, there is a myth that it once had brick streets,” says Mike Quillen, director of engineering for the city of Clearwater. “The truth is there have never been brick streets there, if the petition passes then the neighborhood will get brick streets for the first time.”

The petition Quillen refers to has been made by residents of the Harbor Oaks neighborhood, which is comprised of multi-million dollar homes, some residents have been waiting years for the brick streets to become a reality for the future.

“Over the last few years, we have been looking into different solutions for traffic calming in that neighborhood and brick is one solution,” Quillen says. “It also looks very nice, which would likely raise the property value on the homes.”

He goes on to say that the timing for this project is advantageous for those who support the cause because there is already an underground infrastructure project underway, so the pavement has to be removed regardless.

“To do the brick streets would be a $1.8 million project as it is, so if the residents want this now would be the time to do it.”

The city will not be footing the bill on the project. The city will be polling the residents affected by the project, and if at least 65-percent are in favor, the brick will be installed with a special assessment put on the homes to cover the cost.  

“We will know what the decision is in the next few weeks,” Quillen says. “If it is approved, work on the brick streets will start a year from now.”

In addition to being an innovative, yet expensive answer to traffic calming, it is also a unique solution.

“We have researched a lot of cities throughout the states and it is very unusual to find a neighborhood that desires brick roads, Quillen says. “These days it is more common to find cities replacing their brick roads with asphalt.”

Roads that could potentially become brick streets include parts of Druid Road West, and Druid Road South, Jasmine Way, Magnolia Drive, Lotus Path, Bay Avenue, and small areas of Orange and Oak Avenues.

USF Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute begins move to downtown Tampa

Tampa’s downtown revitalization continues to flourish as plans for the new USF Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute begin to take shape at the corner of South Meridian Avenue and Channelside Drive.
 
The decision to place a facility in downtown was out of need and convenience.
 
“The current outdated medical school facilities were designed for a different era of medical teaching when large classroom instruction was the norm instead of today’s emphasis on smaller, active learning classrooms and on team-based, technologically intensive modes of learning,” says Dr. Charles Lockwood, Senior VP of USF Health and Dean of Morsani College of Medicine.  “Moreover, combining the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute into a single facility on the downtown site to be generously donated by Jeff Vinik will provide the university with an important competitive advantage in attracting the best and brightest students, the most talented young faculty and the country’s leading cardiovascular research scientists.”
 
While specifics of the building have yet to be determined, USF has already received an $18 million gift from Carol and Frank Morsani to assist with construction of the complex. Lockwood says it has been that kind of generous financial support from the community that led to the downtown plan.
 
“A series of events aligned, including our need for new facilities, Mr. Vinik’s visionary plan to develop the downtown Tampa waterfront, former Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford’s championing of the Heart Institute’s funding, and a new spirit of collaboration and cooperation between USF and Tampa General Hospital,” he says. “After careful review of our situation, we seized upon the unparalleled opportunity to make the downtown location a reality. “
 
Last June, the Florida Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott supported plans for the new facility by including $17 million in the annual state budget.
 
“The move will be critical in placing both the medical school and future heart institute within five minutes of Tampa General Hospital, USF’s primary teaching hospital where our students do most of their clinical rotations and our clinical faculty admit most of their patients,” Lockwood says. “This downtown location is precisely where millennial medical students and young faculty want to be.”

Smart Gigabit Community coming to Pasco County, first in U.S.

A developing neighborhood in Pasco County will have the distinction of being the first planned “Smart Gigabit Community” in the United States to be built from the ground up.

Tampa-based Metro Development Group, which has developed planned communities that utilize the latest innovative technologies across the state of Florida since 2003, will drive planning and development for the new “Connected City Corridor.”

Innovation group US Ignite, which was established in cooperation with the National Science Foundation and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, designated the area a “Smart Gigabit Community.”

The nonprofit group will work with MDG, which has also developed a partnership with Pasco County, on the project.

Mike Lawson, Director of Land Development for MDG, praised the project for being “the first of its kind in the country.”

Lawson, who is working together with MDG VP of Operations Kartik Goyani to lead the “Connected City” team, “values the opportunity to work with US Ignite” to plan the project.

The “Connected City Corridor” will be located between Wesley Chapel and San Antonio in southeast Pasco County. Preliminary development work for the new community, located in a special planning area bordered by State Road 52, I-75, Curley Road and Overpass Road, began in late 2015.

Areas called Epperson Ranch, Cannon Ranch and Ashley Groves will be built up as residential developments part of the new community.

The Connected City project will be unique from the few other “Smart Gigabit Communities” in the U.S.  because those cities, such as Kansas City and Cleveland, were retrofitted with Gigabit Internet access; the new Florida community will be planned around a fiber network that provides Gigabit Internet access from the start.

“This project gives Metro Development and Pasco County the possibility to create a better future that will accommodate what's next in connectivity,” Lawson says.

Additionally, Lawson says, the Connected City Corridor is expected to “create economic development for the area, with new businesses and residents moving to the area.” 

Based on results in other connected cities, the area is poised to attract businesses, retailers and residents. Along with new services and Gigabit applications, US Ignite will work with MDG and Pasco County officials to make the new community visible to tech-savvy companies who may be looking for a new location.

“Gigabit technology is transforming the business landscape around the country, and this new community will be one of Florida’s top destinations for companies looking for the advantages this connectivity can provide,” Goyani said in a press release.

Golfers tee up at newly renovated courses around Tampa Bay

As the weather cools, and snowbirds and year-long residents alike get ready to hit the tees, Tampa Bay area golf courses are sprucing up their greens for tee time.
 
Rocky Point Golf Course
 
Golfers are now able to enjoy the newly renovated Rocky Point golf course in Tampa, as it reopened last week, after a seven-month renovation to the course.
 
“The major renovation includes all new TiFEagle greens, new tee boxes, Celebration Bermuda grass that surrounds the new greenside and fairway bunkers,” says Bobby Silvest of the Tampa Sports Authority (TSA), which operates the course for the city. “The renovation also includes enhanced features, such as new retaining walls and landscaping.”
 
Silvest says these renovation plans have been years in the making. The $700,000 investment to the course is expected to bring in more traffic.
 
“All of these changes combine to make Rocky Point a course that is challenging and enjoyable, as well as very aesthetically pleasing.”
 
Copperhead at Innisbrook

The PGA golf course in Palm Harbor, best known for hosting the annual Valspar Championship, is scrambling to complete its $4.5-million restoration project before the big event in March 2016.

Renovations to Copperhead golf course include replacing all 18 greens and fairways with new grass, as well as a new drainage system, and improvements to sand traps. Wadsworth Golf Construction Company was brought in to do the mammoth project and is also installing a state-of-the-art sprinkler system that will conserve water usage.

Twin Brooks Golf Course

Located in St. Petersburg, south of downtown, Twin Brooks reopened recently after its $1.5 million-renovation. The course, which has been under city ownership for more than 40 years, had its grand opening celebration in November.

Through its renovations, the design went from an 18-hole course, to a 9-hole, par three course, which offers golfers more yardage and larger putting space. A new drainage system was installed, as well as a 7,000-square-foot platinum Paspalum putting green and a covered driving range.  

“The goal was to create a more open course that is playable and enjoyable for golfers of all levels, with quality putting surfaces, for a great value,” stated Jeff Hollis, St. Petersburg Golf Courses director in a news release from the city. “An improved practice area, along with a covered driving range tee will make for one of the finest practice facilities in Pinellas County.”

Einstein Bros. Bagel, Caribou Coffee opening new concept store in Tampa

Looking for a new place for that morning or afternoon pick-me-up? Try the new concept store created as a result of a partnership between Einstein Bros. Bagels and Caribou Coffee. A location recently opened in Sarasota, and another will be opening in North Tampa on December 9th.

While Einstein Bagel locations have been a part of the greater Tampa Bay area for many years, the new concept store offers the bagels customers have always known, along with the introduction of Caribou Coffee.

“It just made sense to bring these two great items together,” says Candyce Hedlund of Einstein Bagels. “In addition to offering bagels and other food items customers have come to love from Einstein, there will now be more drink options as well. The new stores will offer handcrafted drinks, specialty coffees from Caribou. It's a complete partnership with Einstein Bagels and their food and Caribou Coffee and their drinks.”

According to Hedlund, the idea to bring Einstein Bagels and Caribou Coffee together happened earlier this year, and together the team has opened 15 concept stores around the country since September, with four more opening before the end of the year.

To celebrate the Tampa store opening, the 2,400-square-foot location will be holding a grand opening. The first 50 people in line will receive a coupon booklet, which contains weekly coupons for free coffee, bagels and schmear for a year. Doors open at 5 a.m.

The new Einstein Bagels and Caribou Coffee concept store is situated at 10802 North Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa.

Hyde Park Village adds more retailers, new restaurant

Retailers and customers continue to flock to Hyde Park Village as the shopping center continues to grow. Three new retailers and an upscale restaurant will soon be calling Hyde Park Village home.  
 
In 2015, Hyde Park Village has become home to eight new retailers and restaurants. Gabby Soriano, who works on the development team for Hyde Park Village explains the draw for incoming establishments.
 
”Our location is very unique in that it’s not only a beautiful place to shop and dine, but we are also surrounded by a gorgeous neighborhood that is very community oriented,” she says. “We also have fantastic conversion rates. Our guests are quality customers that are more likely to shop than browse.”
 
The latest additions include Suit Supply, a Dutch retailer, which sells upscale suits for men (scheduled to open spring 2016), The Shade Store, a home décor company specializing in unique window treatments (scheduled to open spring 2016), Vineyard Vines, a clothing store selling items for men, women and children (scheduled to open summer 2016).
 
The restaurant that will be opening in 2017, Meat Market, will be an upscale contemporary steakhouse. With locations in Miami Beach, San Juan, Puerto Rico and Palm Beach Florida, this is the first location in the Tampa Bay area.  
 
Each of these additions have other locations throughout the U.S. or even around the globe, however, the location in Hyde Park will be each store's first appearance in the Tampa Bay area.
 
“Hyde Park Village has always offered beautiful and charming surroundings, which our guests appreciate and often prefer compared to the atmosphere you get in the mall,” Soriano says.  "Now, we have several local and first-market retailers and restaurants which will really excite and draw a lot of interest from the community.”
 
Soriano goes on to say that while the village does not keep track of how much traffic goes through Hyde Park Village daily, merchants have absolutely noticed an increase since the redevelopment started earlier this year.

Downtown New Port Richey begins anew on Main Street Landing Project

Current and future residents of downtown New Port Richey have a lot to look forward to with the latest development project, Main Street Landing. The project, which began several years ago was put on hold, but has been resurrected due to the improved economy.

“The project was originally a higher-end mixed-use project to support the urban core downtown but then with the collapse of the economy the developer got stuck and couldn’t move forward with it,” says Mario Iezzoni, Economic Development Director with the city of New Port Richey. “Recently, with the economy getting stronger, I got with the city manager and we decided it was time to move forward again with the plans.”

Those plans include three towers covering a city block. Iezzoni says the project calls for 93 residential units that are approximately 2,200-square-feet. The first tower will be a mixed-use building with commercial space on the first floor and 14 residential units above. Towers two and three will be residential only.

“We are already getting inquiries on the commercial space in tower one, which is really great,” Iezzoni says.

Downtown New Port Richey is experiencing quite a bit of redevelopment, in addition to the Main Street Landing project, renovations to the historic Hacienda Hotel and Sims Park are also underway.

As for the future of the Main Street Landing Project, Iezzoni is very optimistic.

“We are not sure whether the units will be condos or apartments, however, the developer we are working with has worked on very successful projects, we figure the development will completed in two to three years,” he says. “Downtown New Port Richey is a great place to live and we can’t wait for more people to discover it.”

Florida homebuilder plans 11 new communities by mid-2016

A Sarasota-based private home building company is finding great success, currently on track to beat an all-time company home sales record, with plans to build more communities in the Tampa Bay area.

Neal Communities, which is owned by Pat Neal, a graduate of the Wharton School of Finance and former state senator and house member, has overseen the growing company through its success.

With eight communities opening around the Tampa Bay area in 2015, and three slated to open in 2016, the future of the company continues to look bright, with several factors playing into this success.

“In the market, there are historically low interest rates and 40-percent of home buyers are paying cash,” says Leisa Weintraub of Neal Communities. “Plus a low unemployment rate equals a strong Southwest Florida market. We have grown our market coverage by building homes from Hillsborough south to Collier County.”

The new communities built in 2015 include: Woodland Trace in Sarasota, River Wind in Bradenton, South Fork in Riverview, Magnolia Point in Sarasota, Indigo in Lakewood Ranch, MiraBay in Apollo Beach, Waterset in Riverview, and Oaks of Estero in Estero.

Weintraub goes on to say that the company's “emphasis on style and architectural details, which are classical and timeless designed around the feel of being in Florida,” is what she attributes to the business’s success.

In 2016, Villa Amalfi and The Provence will open in Sarasota as well at The Ridge at Crossing Creek in Bradenton.

“Our homes are light and bright and reflect the lifestyles of our home buyers.”

For more information on the communities mentioned or other communities around the state built by Neal Communities, visit their website.

SPC receives funding for Bay Pines STEM Learning Center

With funding from the state in the amount of $2.5 million, St. Petersburg College (SPC) is building a new learning center for students interested in science, technology, engineering and math.

Last year, SPC received money to fund the new building from the Florida Legislature Public Education Capital Outlay to complete the college's Bay Pines STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) Learning Center in the Madiera Beach area. It is close to both the Bay Pines VA Hospital and Madiera Beach Fundamental School.

The $4.7 million building will serve many purposes for the community.

“The center will have SPC classes, professional development activities for Pinellas County school teachers and others, community group activities, marine and environmental independent research being carried out by SPC students, secondary school students, and students from other colleges around the area,” says John Chapin, Dean of natural sciences at SPC. “It will also be the site for summer camps for various groups underserved in the STEM areas, and a site to partner with other colleges/universities in the area on STEM related projects.”

According to Chapin, SPC's Bay Pines STEM Learning Center will be 10,000-square-feet. It will have two multipurpose lab rooms each holding 24 students, three independent research areas and one large multipurpose room that will seat up to 100 people.

“The lab rooms are very flexible and will support both lab-based and classroom-based activities.”

The building is scheduled to undergo construction in December and is expected to be completed by the end of next year.

HART, St. Pete College team up on sustainability project

HART and St. Petersburg College are teaming up to find innovative solutions for more sustainable living. The initiative created by HART is part of the company’s Environmental & Sustainability Management Program (ESMS). Together with students from St. Petersburg College’s (SPC) College of Business the team has already started to implement a solid waste recycling program.
 
“The initial goal of the recycling project is to increase the landfilil diversion rates at two facilities from zero to 10 percent, and reduce the solid waste management costs at those facilities by 10 percent,” says Sandra Morrison of HART.
 
Morrison explains that the project is also part of the “Design for Six Sigma” HART project, which uses Lean Six Sigma techniques and tools to find solutions for the great amount of solid waste the company produces.
 
To meet all of these goals, college seniors from SPC enrolled in the Sustainability Management degree have been recruited to work on this project. Together HART environmental staff and SPC students are developing innovative ways to decrease solid waste management costs, quantify how much waste is disposed by passengers and improve resource optimization.
 
According to Morrison, HART not only has its doors opened to students for this current project, but will continue to accept students for future projects as well.

“Any individual student or group of students who are in the capstone course at St. Petersburg College’s College of Business can use our operations to conduct their senior projects,” she says. “HART has electricity, carbon, water, and waste reduction initiatives currently underway so there are plenty of opportunities for students to apply their skills in a real-world context.”

Foodie alert: cantina, brewery opening in Safety Harbor

Residents and visitors to downtown Safety Harbor are in for a treat as two new foodie establishments open this month. The downtown area of this small Pinellas County city is known for its quaintness and charm, which is why these new businesses should fit right in.

Coastal Cantina

Aaron Stewart, long-time resident of Safety Harbor and owner of the city’s popular Southern Fresh restaurant, will be opening Coastal Cantina at the end of November. The new restaurant will go where the former Harborita Cantina used to be.

“The cantina is about 2,500-square-feet, with a bar inside and outside,” he says. “The food will be Florida coastal with Latin fusion. We will also have flagship drinks from various countries on the menu and will be doing a lot of fun things with mixology. I think people will really enjoy it.”

Stewart, a graduate of Countryside High School, says unlike other chefs he chose to learn first-hand from chefs he worked under in the restaurant business as opposed to going to culinary school.

With the huge success of Southern Fresh, an old-Florida home turned kitchen serving southern favorites to a packed house for three years now, it seems he made the right choice.

Coastal Cantina will be located at 519 2nd Street South in downtown Safety Harbor.

Crooked Thumb Brewery

Off a winding road lined with oak trees off the beaten path of Main Street in downtown Safety Harbor is a large warehouse that used to be an auto body and paint shop, but will soon be home to Crooked Thumb Brewery.

The 6,000-square-foot space will house a 15 barrel brew system, tasting room, bar and garden.

Why the name? It is because the brewery is located in Pinellas County, which has been said to hang off the west coast of Florida like a crooked thumb.

The brewery will serve only beer, wine and cider; however, patrons are encouraged to order from local restaurants.

The grand opening has yet to be announced, and for now the Crooked Thumb is open on weekends only with limited hours.  For more information visit the brewery’s website.

Crooked Thumb Brewery is located at 555 10th Avenue South in Safety Harbor.

St. Pete College invests in St. Peterburg's midtown

The future looks brighter for the mid-town area of downtown St. Petersburg with the purchase of two large buildings by St. Petersburg College (SPC). The $1.2 million investment has been years in the making, and aims to help reinvigorate the struggling neighborhood by providing scholarships and economic opportunity to public housing residents.

“The purchases will help stabilize the neighborhood,” says Bill Law, President of SPC since 2010.

Law intends to turn both structures into community resources for the area, which is seeing a rebirth of economic activity. One of the buildings, currently known as the Cecil B. Keene Center for Achievement, is a 10,556-square-foot structure located at 22nd Street South; the other an 11,136-square-foot gymnasium at 1201 22nd Street South. Both were previously owned by the St. Petersburg Housing Authority.

As for plans for the future of the two buildings, that is still to be decided.

“People in mid-town have been waiting to get this done, so we can take the next steps,” says Law. “SPC will revisit the community dialogues it's been having with the midtown community. Our goal is to present our Board of Trustees with new ideas on next steps to support the community within the next 60 to 90 days.”

As part of the agreement to purchase the buildings from the St. Petersburg Housing Authority, SPC agreed to provide five students from public housing with $1,000 scholarships each per year for 30 years to enroll at SPC. The college also agreed to provide 10 $250 textbook scholarships per year for 30 years and five surplus computers per year for 30 years to public housing residents enrolled at SPC.

First pop-up store in Hyde Park Village opens in time for holidays

As the holiday season draws near, Hyde Park Village, will open its very first pop-up store selling toffee treats to customers.

Tampa Bay-based, Toffee to Go, a specialty holiday shop exclusively at Hyde Park Village, will open on Thursday, Nov. 19, is best known for being one of Oprah's Favorite Things in 2013.

“We wanted to bring in a pop-up store that would be a perfect fit for the holidays, and felt that Toffee to Go would be a perfect holiday gift for everyone to enjoy,” says Gabby Soriano of WS Development, which manages Hyde Park Village. “They have an incredible reputation in Tampa, they are locally owned and their product is absolutely delicious.”

Toffee to Go will be located at 1607 West Snow Circle next door to Color Me Mine and Carlton Ward Photography.

The pop-up store will open "just in time for our annual Enchanted Tree Lighting event on November 21st," says Soriano. “Their last day will be on Thursday, December 31st.”

Soriano goes on to explain the Enchanted Tree Lighting event, is free to the public and includes craft brews, food trucks, kids fun zone, in-store events, live music from Late Night Brass, visit with Santa and the lighting of the tree.

There will also be other holiday events at the Village including National Shop Small Business Day.

“On Saturday, November 28th, we will be celebrating National Shop Small Saturday with a 'Show Your Love for Local' event with live music in the village circle, in-store events and special promotions and giveaways all day," Soriano says.

There will also be visits with Santa throughout the month of December, for a calendar of events, visit Hyde Park Village's website.
 
While Toffee to Go will only be temporary, it joins permanent stores that recently opened at Hyde Park Village, including make-up store Bluemercury, furniture store Blue Moon Trading Company and clothing store J. McLaughlin.

Revolution Ice Cream Company plans move to Seminole Heights, Tampa

Fans of Revolution Ice Cream Company will no longer have to drive to Brandon to buy a scoop or two of their favorite flavors. 

The local, independent ice cream parlor that is popular for its unique flavor blends (such as pumpkin-spiced RumChata) is opening its second store in the trendy Tampa neighborhood of Seminole Heights. 

The new store is slated to open at 6701 North Florida Avenue in Tampa in mid-December. 

“Seminole Heights seems to be the place for food,” says Bill Workman, owner of Revolution Ice Cream. “It’s a neat, tightly knit community.”
 
Workman opened the innovative ice cream parlor at 220 W. Brandon Boulevard during March 2013 with his wife, Leslee, after growing a thriving ice cream business from their home. 

“I started making different flavors of ice cream in our kitchen using a Cuisinart, and soon we were filling orders for friends’ parties. We had people pulling up into our driveway, leaving their cars with cash in hand, and walking out of our house carrying brown paper bags five minutes later.” He laughs, “It’s a good thing the cops were never called on us!”
 
Revolution Ice Cream, which carries about 20 flavors – roughly a dozen regulars and eight seasonal flavors – would seem to be the brainchild of a master chef with training in a multitude of confectionary cooking disciplines. Not so. Revolution Ice Cream represents Workman’s first foray in the restaurant business. 

“People ask me how I come up with these flavors, but I don’t know. It just happens – it’s a God-given talent.” 

Workman mentions his mom was a dietician and prepared meals for him when he was growing up that none of his friends ate. 

“I guess you could say I was a foodie before ‘foodie’ was even a term,” says Workman, who is in his early 40s.
 
For Workman, running an ice cream parlor is just one of the many hats he’s worn in his eclectic career. 

“I’ve worked in insurance, mortgage lending, and big box retail,” he says. “I took a few college classes but didn’t graduate, so I guess you could say I went to the School of Hard Knocks.”
 
So how did he venture into making a smorgasbord of ice cream concoctions with names like “Pomegranate Rosemary,” “Eurotrash” (Nutella ice cream and Biscoff cookie crumbles), and “Porky’s Delight” (vanilla with bacon and bacon brittle)? 

“I get inspired when I walk through the grocery store and say ‘I want to make an ice cream flavor out of that.’” 

Meanwhile, the concept for the hip ice cream hangout came from a trip the Workmans made to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 

“I came across a store called Oh Yeah! Ice Cream & Coffee. I thought it had a cool vibe and neat flavors of ice cream,” he recalls. “When we came back to Florida, we couldn’t find anything like it here.” 

The couple launched a Kickstarter campaign and later took a chance by offering free ice cream for the first four days the new store was opened. “On Day 5, we started charging, and people still came.”
 
In addition to the Brandon storefront location, Workman also operates a Revolution Ice Cream food truck, which draws a crowd wherever it stops. Revolution Ice Cream has more than 5,500 followers on Facebook and a Yelp* rating of 4.5 with over 100 ratings. It’s therefore no surprise that Workman expects good things for the new location in Tampa. “I think Seminole Heights will blow Brandon out of the water!”

Reed at ENCORE! Tampa is completed, fully occupied

The Reed at ENCORE! Tampa, a new senior building between downtown Tampa and Ybor City, is now complete and fully occupied. 
 
The Reed is part of a larger designed community encompassing 28 acres and expected to cover 12 city blocks. Plans include a variety of housing for all ages, including low income as well as market rate rentals and sales. 
 
Though the near $30-million Reed at ENCORE building already houses more than 150 seniors, there are some final touches to be completed.
 
“There is a design element remaining to be installed, the maestro’s baton, which is a large public art element, which will grace the front entry way of the building,” says Leroy Moore, COO for the Tampa Housing Authority.
 
According to Moore, the Reed building has special significance to the area.
 
“Reed is our second senior building and the third building overall to open at ENCORE,” he says. ‘The building is named after Essie Mae Reed, a local pioneer in women’s rights and public housing, and Tampa’s first black female to qualify to run for city council.”
 
To honor the late-Essie Mae Reed, a bust was revealed at the ribbon cutting, which was attended by U.S. Congresswoman Kathy Castor and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn. During the event, Castor read a proclamation she read on the floor of Congress honoring Ms. Reed several years ago. The mayor shared memories of times he spent with the pioneer. The Reed family shared their emotional comments about how profoundly honored they feel to have such a remembrance of their family member.

Waterline: New resort coming to Anna Maria Island, Bradenton

Waterfront suites, water activities and signature restaurant are just a few luxuries that will be included in a new resort coming to Anna Maria Island just off the Gulf coast by Bradenton in Manatee County.

The Waterline Resort, which will open in fall 2016, is the latest project for the Mainsail Lodging & Development team. The team is also known for their work on the Epicurean Hotel in Tampa.
 
This new project on Anna Maria Island, which is located just minutes from Bradenton, will offer guests both luxury and excitement.
 
“The resort will feature 37 stylish 1,100-square-foot, two-bedroom suites with gourmet kitchens, says Joe Collier, President  of Mainsail Lodging & Development. “Waterline’s separate beach club will offer exclusive beach access with kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, lounge chairs, umbrellas, beach toys and a ‘desalination zone’ for guests to cool down and relax.”
 
Collier, a graduate of Florida State University, says the resort will also offer 2,000-square-feet of meeting space, a signature restaurant and bar and a 50-slip marina.
 
“The Waterline marina will be the center of aquatic activity at the resort with boat slips for guests who arrive by water, charter boats for family outings, eco-tours, guided fishing excursions, sailing adventures and daily sunset cruises,” he says.  
 
Collier also notes that Waterline has already formed a partnership with the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium.
 
“Based on a shared commitment to environmental stewardship, Waterline is looking forward to establishing a unique, strictly educational partnership with the world-renowned Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium,” he says. “The educational partnership is planned to include a variety of eco-experiences and will enhance and enrich the overall destination experience for Waterline guests and locals alike.”
 
The Waterline Resort will be located at 5325 Marina Drive in Holmes Beach on the East shore of Anna Maria Island. For more information, visit the resort’s website.

BayCare signs deal to acquire Bartow Regional Medical

BayCare Health System signed an agreement in mid-October to acquire Bartow Regional Medical Center. The 72-bed Bartow facility and its related physician clinics and outpatient care facilities are currently owned by the for-profit Community Health Systems.

The transaction, which is expected to close by the end of the year, will give Clearwater-based BayCare its second hospital in Polk County.

“Winter Haven Hospital, which was established in 1926, integrated with Baycare on August 30, 2013," says Amy Lovett of BayCare Health System. “This agreement provides us the opportunity to have a second hospital in Polk County, which helps us anchor other health services needed by this large and growing county.”

 While Lovett would not go into detail about what kind of financial impact this transaction will have on BayCare, according to a news release from the healthcare organization, connecting Bartow Regional Medical Center with Winter Haven Hospital and South Florida Baptist Hospital in Plant City, a triad of BayCare hospitals offer a continuum of broader community health services in Eastern Hillsborough and Polk County.

BayCare currently has 13 hospitals and hundreds of physician clinics and outpatient care facilities throughout the Tampa Bay and central Florida regions. Founded in 1997, with 23,600 employees, the not-for-profit healthcare system runs local hospitals including Morton Plant in Clearwater, Morton Plant North Bay in New Port Richey, St. Anthony’s in St. Petersburg, St. Joseph’s in Tampa, St. Joseph’s North in Lutz, St. Joseph’s South in Riverview, Mease Dunedin and Mease Countryside near Safety Harbor. 

5 new restaurants pick Westshore area of Tampa to call home

Five new restaurants are about to be calling the Westshore area of Tampa home. Three of the restaurants are going into International Plaza, making for a night out for foodies a cinch if you want to try all three in one trip.
 
YO! Sushi
 
One of the most innovative concepts coming to International Plaza is YO! Sushi. The sushi joint has become popular and well-known for its unique ordering process.
 
“To make ordering fun and easy, dishes are served via the “kaiten” otherwise known as a conveyor belt, with color and price coded plates ranging from $3 to $7 dollars,” says Darren Wightman, VP of Operations for YO! Sushi.
 
In addition to ordering off the “kaiten,” guests can order other dishes using an airline style call button.
 
Wightman, who graduated with a degree in catering and hospitality from William Angliss College, with a certificate in wine studies from the UK Wine and Spirit Education Trust, says the restaurant serves a variety of sushi including sashimi, maki hand rolls, spicy tuna rolls and vegetarian options. Yo! Sushi also provides a variety of wine, beer and sake.
 
This will be the second location in the Tampa Bay area, with the other being located at The Mall at University Town Center in Sarasota.
 
“We love the Florida market,” Wightman says.  “Due to our recent Sarasota opening and the positive response, the Tampa market was a natural next step for the brand. It is a vibrant market, with a diversity of cultures.”
 
Yo! Sushi will be having a grand opening celebration when they open October 28th.
 
TAPS
 
Also located at International Plaza is TAPS, an upscale bar nestled in the heart of Bay Street across from Bar Louie and The Blue Martini. TAPS had its grand opening in September.
 
With flat screen televisions located both inside and outside the establishment, this is a great place to go to watch games and drink craft beer. In addition to the wide variety of beer, wine and spirits, the restaurant also has a reputation for great food. Known for their house-baked meatballs and Tuna Crudo, which is served at their other locations throughout Florida, it is a staple for the brasserie. Other menu items include short rib ragu, steak fritz and burgers.
 
Doc B’s
 
The third International Plaza newbie is Doc B’s Fresh Kitchen. Named in honor of the owner’s father, who always said ‘Everything in moderation,’ this restaurant is one of the healthier choices for foodies.
 
Options include kale salad, roasted chicken and salad -- all made from with ingredients from local farmers. There are also more indulgent offerings including burgers, crispy chicken sandwichs and filet-mignon. Remember what Doc B says? Everything in moderation.
 
Doc B’s Fresh Kitchen is scheduled to open in November.
 
 Lucky Dill
 
The former Boizao Steakhouse location at 4606 West Boy Scout Boulevard, will soon be transformed into the Lucky Dill Deli. Lucky Dill already runs a deli and bakery in Palm Harbor.  
 
Lucky Dill is a New York-style deli offering soups, salads, flatbreads, sandwiches and an array of entrees. Favorites include matzo ball soup, corned beef sandwich and Coney Island Potato Knish. The restaurant is also known for its breakfast menu and bakery, especially when the weekend rolls around.
 
Lucky Dill in Westshore is expected to open by end of 2015.
 
Thai Prime
 
Located in the MetWest retail and office complex across from the International Plaza mall you will soon find Thai Prime. The restaurant is a concept from the owners of Thai Samurai in Trinity. Like the established restaurant in Pasco County, Thai Prime will serve authentic Thai cuisine.
 
With 2,613-square-feet, the restaurant will also feature a full liquor bar and outdoor seating.
 
Thai Prime at MetWest is expected to open in December.

Moving to Tampa: New luxury apartments coming to Westshore

The Westshore area of Tampa, long known as a thriving business district, continues to grow as a residential community with the addition of The Westly, a new luxury apartment complex under construction. The 262-unit apartment complex joins other new developments including Grady Square and the Crescent, also under construction.

The Westly is a multimillion dollar project that the Framework Group is developing, and was formerly known as the 4310 Spruce project. The decision to build a complex on Spruce was a strategic one based on serving the needs of the existing Westshore area.

“We chose to build in Westshore because we wanted to target young professionals, and Westshore has the largest employment base in the Tampa region,” Framework President Phillip Smith says. “We also liked the proximity to retail and restaurants in the area.”  

Apartments range from approximately 600-square-feet for a studio to over 1,600-square-feet for a three-bedroom. Smith says what sets this project apart from other developments is the amenities.

“Apartments on the top floor feature ten-foot-high ceilings, each unit has high-end appliances, the bathrooms feature rain head showers, everything is high-end,” he says.

He goes on to say that the complex will also feature a clubhouse with a sauna and massage rooms, a pool and courtyards, and a gaming room with a golf simulator, multiple televisions, putting green, pool table and casual seating.

Smith, who received his master’s degree from Harvard and bachelor’s degree from Auburn, has several other projects in the works including a 21-story building on Harbour Island and a 220-unit development in downtown Sarasota.

Plans call for the first units at The Westly to be available in June of 2016.

Plans call for 800 new homes in west Hillsborough River neighborhood

More homes are being added to the plans for the West River redevelopment project being designed by the Tampa Housing Authority. Another 800 homes are now envisioned as part of the 1,600 already included in the $500 million redevelopment project.

The West River redevelopment project is part of the city of Tampa’s plans to transform a 194 acres of land along the Hillsborough River into a mixed-income neighborhood. The plan to add 800 new homes was made after re-evaluating the project.
 
After a more complete market study of the urban area affected, "it just made sense to add these additional homes,” says Leroy Moore, COO for the Tampa Housing Authority.  “The opportunity was there, and the market study showed that with the higher number of units being there, the market would support it.”

With the new plan, the 2,400 homes will be mixed-use, but also mixed-income meaning there will be a combination of public housing and market-rate units.

“This is a mixed-income project,” Moore says. “By mixed-income we mean housing that is affordable to persons below 80-percent area medium income being housed in the same building with units that are at market rent as well, so that the diversity of income is all within one building.”

As for when the units will be ready, Moore says it could take time depending on when funding comes through.

“It will be a phase development, which could mean it would be five to 10 years before the units are complete,” he says. “But we could have buildings starting as early as late next year. We are pursuing funding this year to try to get this project underway as soon as possible.”

New outlet mall opens in Wesley Chapel later this month

Tampa Premium Outlets is getting ready to open later this month in Wesley Chapel.

Simon Property Group, which operates 86 outlets around the world, designed and will manage the new Wesley Chapel mall.

“The Tampa outlet is beautiful,” says Les Morris, spokesman for Simon. “It has a Key West feel to it with palm trees and fountains. I think people are really going to enjoy the atmosphere, in addition to the many shops the outlet has to offer.”

With 90 stores opening, Morris offers a list of some of the store names including: Ann Taylor Factory Store, Bass Factory Outlet, Calvin Klein, Columbia Sportswear, Michael Kors, Polo Ralph Lauren and Vera Bradley.

The 441,000-square-foot shopping center will also feature a food pavilion with diverse dining options to choose from.

With the new outlet opening, hundreds of jobs have been created as well.

“Many of the jobs have been filled, but between part-time and full-time positions we expect to employ about 800 people,” Morris says. “That number doesn’t include the jobs that were created during the construction phase. This project has and will create a lot of jobs for the Tampa Bay area.”

Tampa Premium Outlets is scheduled to have its grand opening October 29th.  The grand opening will include a weekend of special activities and giveaways, along with a guest appearance by television personality Bethenny Frankel.

The new outlet is located at 2398 Grand Cypress Drive in Wesley Chapel. For a complete list of stores visit the outlet’s website

De Soto National Memorial undergoes renovations, tech upgrade

The Visitor Center at the De Soto National Memorial near Bradenton, built as part of the National Park Service Mission 66 initiative, recently underwent its first major renovations since its construction in 1969. 

The renovation project took six months to complete and includes fresh paint and updated fixtures, the installation of a new welcoming station and front desk in the Visitor Center, and upgrades to the audio-visual system that plays the National Memorial’s park movie — a feature that Lead Park Ranger Daniel Stephens says is central to the park’s mission.  

Stephens describes the renovation as a “top-to-bottom thorough cleaning and across the board audio-visual upgrade.” The newly enhanced lighting, sound system, and 75-inch LCD television, Stephens says, is a “huge technological improvement” from the outdated projection system that was replaced in the renovation. 

De Soto National Memorial, 5 miles west of Bradenton, Florida, commemorates the 1539 landing of Hernando de Soto and the first extensive organized exploration by Europeans of what is now the southern United States.

During peak season, in the months of November through April, the park receives up to 50,000 visitors, many of whom Stephens says are seasonal residents who return to the park annually. 

“Several visitors said to us, ‘this place needs to clear out the cobwebs,’ and that was a wakeup call to us. While we’ve done so much to change the outward appearance of the park grounds, we’d never looked at the Visitor Center,” Stephens says.

“A national park is not a static entity. These renovations give the sense that this is not an old space: we do listen to visitor feedback, and we do change.”

Visitor Center renovations were completed with $5,000 in fundraising from the nonprofit group, Friends of De Soto National Memorial; $5,000 in matched proceeds from Eastern National, a cooperating partner supplying the park’s bookstore, and with funding from “America the Beautiful,” part of the Federal Lands Pass recreation program, which provided over $6,000 for the project.

Gonzmart seeks food service contract at Tampa Convention Center

One of Tampa’s most notable restaurateurs has announced his intentions to provide food service to the Tampa Convention Center.

Richard Gonzmart, most well known as being a co-owner of the Columbia Restaurant group, is teaming up with Lutz-based Spectra by Comcast Spectacor on the project. While there is currently no request for proposals for a food and beverage contract for the Tampa Bay Convention Center, that is not stopping the determined Gonzmart.

“I always said I wanted to be in the convention center,” an enthusiastic Gonzmart said to media gathered along the Tampa Riverwalk on a bright afternoon this past week. “And when you see what we’re going to do, you’re going to say, “Wow, why didn’t somebody else think of that?”

The company Gonzmart is teaming up with, Spectra, is a food service company with service contracts in casinos, sports arenas and other convention centers around the U.S.

While the pair did not give any details about the type of cuisine they plan on serving, Ken Young, founder and president of Spectra assured it would be quality food.

During the press conference, Gonzmart mentioned that jobs would be created should his bid be accepted.

“There will definitely be a positive economic impact,” he saya. “With that will be job creation, it will be a very exciting time for the area. There is so much potential here, and we already have the most beautiful setting with the center located right here on the Hillsborough River. You can take a boat over to Harbour Island, there is this great Riverwalk, it’s a great location.”

Request for proposals on food service bids will be sent out in the next few weeks. Proposals are due in the first quarter of 2016.

Contemporary townhomes rising in North Hyde Park

North Hyde Park will soon have some Cuban flavor as new townhomes are built with the inspiration of the small country less than 100 miles south of Florida. The Las Azoteas townhomes will be located at 405 North Oregon Avenue.

“We came up with the name Las Azoteas because loosely translated it means rooftop, or rooftop terrace, which these townhomes have,” says Michael Mincberg, president of Sight Real Estate. Sight teamed up with local entrepreneurs Renier and Michelle Gobea on the project. “I don’t know of any other townhome in Hyde Park that has a rooftop terrace, which is a shame because we live in Florida, and people should have the ability to enjoy some outdoor living space.”

There will be 39 units total when the project is completed at the end of 2016. Each unit is between 1,700-square-feet and 2,000-square-feet. There are two- and three-bedroom options, as well as one- or two-car attached garages.

“We wanted to provide ample living space for people who want to live in this part of town,” Mincberg says. “There is this urban renaissance going on, where people are moving back to the urban core, and North Hyde Park has more to offer when you look at other neighborhoods, such as the proximity to downtown, being within walking distance to great restaurants, even being zoned for Plant High School. People love that about North Hyde Park for the resale value, even if they don’t have kids.”

In addition to the location, Mincberg says he believes the townhomes will be a hit due to the price point, which will begin in the low $300,000s.

“It is very hard to find a product like this for a price point that low,” he says. “I think this is a product people are starving for, there is nothing like it in the area.”

Hacienda Hotel, Sims Park undergo renovations in downtown New Port Richey

An iconic hotel from yesteryear along with a popular park in downtown New Port Richey are both getting revitalized as the city focuses on making downtown a more livable and walkable area.

The Hacienda Hotel, built in 1929 in the center of downtown, most recently served as an assisted living facility, which closed in  2006. The once lively rooming quarters has been sitting vacant ever since.

“We plan to re-open the Hacienda as a historic boutique hotel,” says Mario Iezzoni, Economic Development Director for the city of New Port Richey. “Work on the hotel will begin in December, and is expected to be completed by April of next year.”

Iezzoni goes on to say that the city is looking at different plans for the 34,000-square-foot hotel, however, a 40-room layout seems to be ideal. What is of most importance is keeping the historic elements of the hotel intact, he says.

“There is a generational connection with the Hacienda Hotel,” he says. “Being built in the 1920s, people have moved in the area throughout the years, and many have a strong connection to the hotel. Whether they had their prom there, or they had a parent work there or even a loved one living in the nursing facility when it was used in that capacity, many of the residents have some kind of connection.”

Sims Park, which is located next to the Hacienda Hotel, is getting upgrades thanks to funds from Pennies for Pasco. The park, which hosts many events throughout the year, will have its renovations completed by the end of 2015.

Upgrades at the park include a new playground, splash pad and more walkways.

According to Iezzoni, the $2-million dollar project will is expected to pay off as its economic impact on the community will be great.

“We reached out the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council to help us with some analysis, and they told us on an annual average basis we would see a $4.5-million dollar economic impact to our urban downtown area per year,” he says. “It’s important we invest in these projects, because it really is the centerpiece of downtown.”

Clearwater Beach's Pier 60 Park undergoes renovation

Visit Clearwater Beach, and chances are you will see Pier 60 Park as it greets visitors arriving off the Memorial Bridge. The city of Clearwater is expanding the popular tourist destination in an effort to improve the flow of pedestrians and visitors, as well as maintain the continuity of the completed Beach Walk.

“We wanted to improve the aesthetics of the area so the look and feel of Beach Walk continued throughout the park area,” says Anna Hancock of the City of Clearwater. “The team also seeks to open up the recreational space giving more space for visitors to enjoy the park and improve the pedestrian traffic in the area.”

Specific plans include extending Beach Walk beyond Pier 60, removing nearby retaining walls, and installing benches around the playground area. Construction is expected to be completed by February 2016.

“The total cost of the project is $500,000, with this being the last phase of the overall project,” Hancock says.

The overall project included constructing a flag plaza featuring each branch of the military in the park, as well as improved lighting and construction of a new welcome sign.

Future plans for Clearwater Beach are also in the works, including renovating and increasing the number of restroom stalls in the Barefoot Beach House, which is expected to be completed by March 2016.

Priatek Plaza name stands tall in St. Pete

One of the most notable high-rise commercial buildings in downtown St. Petersburg has been renamed. One Progress Plaza is now known as Priatek Plaza.
 
The building is named after one of the tenants, Priatek, a performance-based digital signage company.
 
Known for its “UGot2Play” kiosks, which can be found in malls, stores and airports, the media company offers clients advertising through prize promotions via the kiosks.
 
“I came up with the name Priatek as sort of an acronym for prize and advertising technologies,” says Milind Bharvirkar, president of Priatek. “Also, Pria, which is my second daughter’s first name, means beloved, so when you put it together Priatek really means beloved technology.”
 
For Bharvirkar it really is beloved technology, as Priatek was a brainchild built out of his home in Lutz and now is a successful business venture that employs 15 people and occupies 8,000-square-feet on the tower’s 23rd floor.
 
So why did Bharvirkar choose St. Petersburg for his headquarters? The answer is simple: competition and job candidates.
 
“The Tampa Bay area is a media mecca with Nielsen, HSN and Clear Channel, to name a few,” he says. It gives us the opportunity to compete and even partner with these companies. Also, there is a tech movement happening in this area, and with that brings great talent.”
 
Talent is something that Bharvirkar will be looking for as he plans to expand his empire. He says the space where the company currently resides can accommodate up to 50 people, which means adding to the headcount will not be an issue.
 
“I don’t have a timeline at this point, we will make adjustments and hire when we need to, however I do foresee us growing and hiring in the near future,” he says. “As we grow, there will be a need for jobs here in engineering, media, sales, operations and administration. Job creation is definitely on the horizon.”

Westchase foodie alert: New restaurants opening

For all you foodies out there, the Westchase area is serving up two unique options to try the next time you dine out. One is a local favorite expanding and opening a second location in the Tampa Bay area, the other an innovative twist on a new trend.

Tampa Bay Brewing Company

Known for being one of the first craft breweries in the Tampa Bay area, Tampa Bay Brewing Company  (TBBC) has had digs in Ybor City for nearly two decades. So it was time for the company to do what most of us do at some point in our lives and move to the suburbs.

The second location at 13937 Monroe’s Business Park, is a 17,400-square-foot beer haven with a brewing operation on-site, as well as 4,300-square-feet of restaurant space serving everything from typical pub fare to steak and salmon. The site also features a 3,500-square-foot patio with an outdoor bar and plenty of outdoor seating.

“We wanted to be on the west side of Tampa for our second location,” says Michael Doble, whose family founded TBBC and still runs the company today. “Westchase and the surrounding areas hit the target demographic we are looking for, we had to make some adjustments to the menu to compete with neighboring restaurants, but it’s a friendly competition.”

The restaurant and brewery opened in mid-August and offers brewery tours by reservation on Saturdays.  

 Fat Beet Farm

The farm-to-table trend has been growing rapidly as more people become conscious of not only what they are putting in their bodies, but where it comes from. But imagine actually seeing the farm from your restaurant table?

That is the innovative concept that co-founder of Bonefish Grill, Tim Curci, is bringing to Westchase. Fat Beet Farm, which has not announced an opening date yet, will be located at the intersection of Tampa and Racetrack Roads. Plans are underway for the property to be a nine-acre working farm that will supply two restaurants.

In addition to the restaurants, Fat Beet Farm will offer a Saturday Farmers Market, a commissary and Florida agriculture student internships with housing.

For more information on Fat Beet Farm, visit their website.

Downtown Temple Terrace redevelopment plans back on track, meeting on Sept. 17

Downtown Temple Terrace will have a new look in the future as plans to redevelop the area are underway, and the city wants feedback from the public as it proceeds with the project. A series of public meetings to educate residents on the city’s plans and receive input is scheduled for the evening of September 17th.

“There has been a master plan for the downtown area dating back to the 1920s that included row houses and alley ways, retail and generally a more walkable area,” says Grant Rimbey, City Councilman and Vice-Mayor for the city of Temple Terrace. “It was never carried out due to the depression, then other projects got funded over the years, and finally in 2005, we got a master plan. But then due to the economic downturn in 2007, again the project got put on hold.”

Rimbey says this time is different, the project is progressing under a timetable approved by the city council, and a request for proposals (RFP) document is expected to be issued in December.

“We are looking forward to getting the project back on the radar and start cranking it up again,” he says. “The current strip mall that exists doesn’t really tie in with the downtown area; we have a lot of ideas based off of the 1920s master plan that we can work with.”

According to Rimbey, those plans include a performing arts center, new multi-family housing units and small business retail.

The public meetings will be held on September 17th from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Temple Terrace City Hall, 11250 North 56th Street, inside the council chambers located on the first floor. There will be a total of four short presentations at 5:45, 6:15, 6:45 and 7:15 p.m.

Walmart Neighborhood Market, restaurants open in Oldsmar

Drive along Tampa Road in Oldsmar, the main artery through this suburb of Tampa, and you will see the signs of new construction and renovations happening. From new retail to trendy restaurants, this small but mighty city is attracting businesses of all sizes.

Walmart 

A Walmart Neighborhood Market is scheduled to open this fall at the intersection of East Lake Road and Tampa Road, in the location that the Sweetbay Supermarket used to occupy. The market, a smaller version of Walmart superstores, carries the same goods found in a typical grocery store.

The Walmart Neighborhood Market in Oldsmar is currently hiring in preparation for the upcoming opening. The store plans to hire 95 employees, including both full and part-time associates. Interested applicants can apply online.

Rawk Star Café

With more people ditching burgers and fries for healthier options, the owners of Rawk Star Café saw a need to expand from their 1,600-square-foot location in Palm Harbor to a larger space in Oldsmar. The café, which has been in business for five years, moved to the new digs in Oldsmar in July.

“We love this location because it’s in the middle of everything, so not only do we get to keep our customer base that we developed in Palm Harbor, but we used to live in Westchase and we know a lot of people in East Lake, and we wanted to draw people from Tampa too, so this location is great because we are centrally located for all of our customers,” says Karen DiGloria, co-owner and operator of Rawk Star Café. “Tampa Road is so easy; people come through here a lot on their way to work, so it’s great.”

The café offers organic, raw, vegan, gluten-free dishes and smoothies. Menu items include raw versions of chili, pizza, even a burger. All of the menu items are made with organic ingredients and superfoods.

“We are honestly one of the only places in the area that is 100-percent organic,” DiGloria says.

Rawk Star also features a nutritional store where you can purchase everything from vitamins to shampoo. DiGloria offers nutritional counseling to customers, as she and co-owner Adam Kantrovitz are passionate about healthy eating.

“People want to know how they can live a longer life, and the answer is through eating a plant-based diet,” Kantrovitz says. “We want to help people feel better and live healthy lives, and we do all we can here every day to make that happen.”

Craft Street Kitchen

Seriously fun food, is how operating Partner Danielle Becker of Craft Street Kitchen describes the concept of the new restaurant opening just south of Tampa Road.

“We make everything in-house from scratch using local farms and farmers whenever possible,” she says. “We are serious about our ingredients but serve them in a fun, unpretentious way.“

This will be the second location for the growing restaurant. Their first location in Trinity opened in 2013, serving items like short rib sweet potato tots, French philly and espresso rubbed ribeye, along with 64 taps including those from local breweries.

Becker says the Oldsmar location will open the first week of November, and her team is excited to be in the neighborhood.

“We chose the location because of the small town feel, close-knit community and a city that is really investing and putting great efforts into the future of keeping Oldsmar incredible,” she says. 

Courtney Campbell sports new palm trees as part of beautification project

If you drive, walk or bicycle along the Courtney Campbell Causeway, you will notice the addition of newly planted palm trees lining both sides of the causeway as the Florida Department of Transportation continues its Bold Beautification Program.

The scenic span that connects Tampa and Clearwater has had quite a year, opening a parallel pedestrian and bike path in June. The causeway, also known as State Road 60, is a well-traveled thoroughfare for commuters, visitors and residents of both Hillsborough and Pinellas. In addition to providing spectacular views of the Bay, crossing over the causeway now includes views of a variety of palm trees from bismarck palms, cabbage palms, Chinese fan palms, date palms to Washington palms.

The nearly $856,000 landscaping project will be maintained by contractor SFM Services, Inc.

“The project is complete, however, the establishment period [with SFM] began February 26, 2015 and will be running for two years,” says Kristen Carson, with the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT).

The Bold Beautification Program helps the FDOT meet its goal set by the Florida Legislature wherein just over one-percent of its statewide construction budget is to be spent on the FDOT's contractor SFM Services, Inc.

In addition to the palm trees planted, according to Carson, there are more beautification projects in the works for the causeway.

“There will be more landscaping added to the Pinellas County side of the Courtney Campbell Causeway,” she says. “It is currently in the planning stages, therefore no work has started yet.”

City of Clearwater seeks public comment on future of North Marina area

Tucked away just blocks north of downtown Clearwater is a neighborhood with vacant retail spaces, a former elementary school and commercial real estate waiting to be leased. Called the North Marina area, the neighborhood now seeks a promising future with help from the city and a Tampa consulting firm.
 
The area, 64 acres from Clearwater Bay to the Pinellas Trail between Cedar Street and Eldridge Street, is most notable for being the home to the Francis Wilson Playhouse, the Seminole boat launch and the historic now vacant North Ward Elementary School.
 
In order to revitalize the area and transform it into the neighborhood residents want it to be, the city of Clearwater is hosting three meetings to get feedback on their North Marina area master plan.  
 
One of the ideas the city is proposing is taking advantage of the waterfront, and making the area more boater-friendly.
 
“The access to the water that is already there is something we really need to capitalize on,” says City Planner Katie See at the city of Clearwater. “There aren’t too many public access areas for boats along the Clearwater harbor, so it would be nice to expand that area and have places for visitors and boaters to go to once they dock.”
 
See goes on to say that community input is a very important to the process. Therefore, participation from residents at the three meetings is essential.
  
The schedule for the community meetings is as follows:
  • Aug. 26 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Refreshments will be provided.
  • Sept. 16 from 5:30 to 8:30 pm. The second meeting will be a planning and design charrette/public workshop. Heavy appetizers will be provided.
  • Oct. 20 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Refreshments will be provided.
All of the meetings will be held at the North Greenwood Recreation Center, 900 N. Martin Luther King Jr. Ave.
 
“All of the meetings build upon the other,” See says. “So while it’s not mandatory that people attend all three meetings, it helps to understand the process if you can attend all the meetings. We made sure to schedule them in the evening so they wouldn’t get in the way of work or school.”
 
The first meeting will be a town hall style community meeting, with all of the data and analysis given to the attendants. There will also be a survey where participants can provide feedback. The second meeting, will be more interactive with the Tampa consulting firm Stantec on hand to facilitate work sessions with citizens on the design and development. During the final meeting, Stantec will present all of the information and recommendations to participants to create a plan.

New England style brownstones being built in St. Petersburg

If you are in a New York state of mind but reside in the sunshine state, the Brownstones of St. Petersburg offer an appealing alternative designed for buyers in search of a unique housing option.

“Being from New York myself, I know there are a lot of people who live here, who are originally from New York and Boston, so I figured why not bring brownstones to St. Pete,” says Steve Gianfilippo, owner and founder of the Brownstone of St. Petersburg.

In addition to 4,000-square-feet of living space, homeowners can also enjoy a detached garage with an apartment, which allows owners the option to rent out space if they would like.

“The real selling point is the apartment over the garage to rent out if buyers wish, this is an option you won’t find in a condo community,” Gianfilppo says. “On top of that, you don’t have the exorbitant condo fees and assessments that come with living in a condo building downtown. Providing that option for people really differentiates us from the other properties being built in the area.”

The main buildings of the brownstones are four-stories, each level approximately 800 square feet, and each unit has its own elevator. The properties are one block from walkable Beach Drive's restaurants, museums and shops.

“Being in downtown, and so close to Beach Drive, buyers will really get to experience the urban lifestyle,” Gianfilppo says.

Gianfilppo is very familiar with the area, having his hands on various projects in and around downtown St. Petersburg, including Cordova Inn and Station House restaurant as well as the Barefoot Beach Hotel in Madiera Beach.

The brownstones will be on the market ranging in price from $1.4 million to $1.8 million, depending on the proximity of the property to Beach Drive.

For more information on the Brownstones of St. Petersburg, visit their website.

Duckweed welcomes artisan chocolates, plans to open new grocery in Channelside

Downtown Tampa residents accustomed to running into the Duckweed Urban Market to grab a sandwich, salad fixings or a bottle of wine now can also grab gourmet chocolates as they peruse the shelves of the beloved grocery.

When Ashworth Artisan Chocolate closed its doors last month, Duckweed Owners Michelle and Brent Deatherage opened their's to the chocolate company. The owners of the two businesses had met through the Tampa Bay Partnership and bicycle friendly business meetings, as well as being customers at each other’s stores.
 
The idea to move Ashworth’s business into Duckweed is a strategic one designed to benefit both parties.
 
“After having been in business for over eight years, Ashworth Artisan Chocolate has a loyal following of thousands of customers, many of whom may have never been to Duckweed before,” says Jessica Moore, Manager of Duckweed. “Now when Ashworth customers come in for their chocolate fix, they'll be introduced to everything Duckweed has to offer and might leave with a nice bottle of wine or a bouquet of fresh flowers to go with their box of chocolate truffles. By combining our customer bases, we are certain we will increase sales for both businesses.”

Duckweed, which started in 2011, in a 500-square-foot spot on Polk Street, has grown quite a bit to its current location in the Element building. Just as its name signifies, it has small but mighty roots.
 
“Duckweed itself is a teeny-tiny aquatic plant found throughout Florida, and is actually known as the smallest flowering plant, but it provides a large amount of nutrients to the aquatic life that feeds on it,” Moore says. “So we decided to name our tiny little store that brings nourishment to the people of downtown after the tiny plant. Since we have grown, we have thought about changing it, but customers and employees alike are too fond of our quirky name, so it has stuck.”
 
Soon the downtown location will not be the only Duckweed in Tampa. Plans for Duckweed in Channelside are underway, with a scheduled opening at The Place this winter.
 
“The store owners are residents of the Channel District, so they're acutely aware that their neighbors and residents such as themselves are lacking easily accessible groceries,” Moore says. “With Channelside's promising future on the minds of many locals, we felt that would be a great spot for the next installment of Duckweed.”
 
Duckweed at The Place in Channelside will also feature Ashworth Artisan Chocolate. 

Tampa Bay area college campuses create new spaces for start of school

It's that time of year when college students trade in their sunscreen and towels for pens and paper (writing enhances memory!) and hit the books: yep, it’s back to learning, lectures and labs.

In preparation for the fall semester and upcoming school year, local colleges and universities are finishing up construction and campus improvements just in time for students to take their seats.

Hillsborough Community College (HCC) is opening up a new science building on its SouthShore campus. The new $9.8 million building features laboratories, classrooms and faculty offices.

“The new building allows us to give students the classes they need and want,” says Dr. Allen Witt, HCC SouthShore Campus President. “Our campus is disproportionately higher in the sciences, especially in the biological sciences, with students going on to paths in nursing, medical and other health-related sciences, so this building gives us the capability to offer more classes in those disciplines.”

The LEED-certified building is two stories tall and encompasses over 36,000-square-feet. Witt says he is proud to say that the faculty was very involved in the construction process.

“The building process was unusual in that the teachers were involved every step of the way,” he says. “It really is a building built by teachers for teachers. Black boards fill two walls in order to complete mathematical equations, small windows were used so there wouldn’t be too much light for the use of projectors and computers, students enter from the back of the classroom so as not to disrupt the class, they thought of everything.”

Over at the University of Tampa (UT), there is also a new building opening for the fall. The Innovation and Collaboration building is a multipurpose space that includes classrooms, laboratories, faculty offices, an entrepreneurship center, a Starbucks coffee shop, meeting and study areas and a headquarters for campus safety.

“As the university’s student population has increased, so have the needs for academic and administrative space, as well as space for students to study and socialize, says Eric Cardenas, director of public information and publications for the University of Tampa. “Also, our entrepreneurship program has grown and become more nationally renowned and multifaceted, so it was determined that it needed a dedicated space, this building addresses those needs.”

UT’s Innovation and Collaboration building is a candidate for LEED Silver certification.

McKay Hall at UT also got a makeover this summer, and renovations will be completed in time for the fall semester. The residence hall, which was built in the late 1950s, received several improvements including new restrooms, an upgraded common room and a second laundry room.

Eckerd College also renovated its residence complexes, and built a new sailing center on Boca Ciega Bay. The $1.6 million Doyle Sailing Center includes floating docks with 26 slips. Eckerd’s sailing team is comprised of 32 members.

T.J.Maxx, new restaurants sprouting up in south Tampa

New restaurants and a popular discount retailer are moving into the South Tampa neighborhoods of Palma Ceia and SOHO/ Courier City.

After months of construction and speculation about what was going into the former Eckerd Drug store space on Henderson Boulevard, T.J. Maxx has announced it will be going into the shopping center between Fresh Market and First Watch. The 26,000-square-feet will be the discount clothing store's 10th location in the Tampa Bay area, but the first in south Tampa.

Its main competition for retail shoppers looking for discounted brand name clothing will likely be the stores already occupying Britton Plaza, about three miles south at Dale Mabry Highway and Euclid Avenue. Stores in Britton Plaza include Marshall's, Bealls Outlet, Burlington Coat Factory and the ever-popular Stein Mart. (Publix is currently rebuilding its space in Britton Plaza.)

Food town opeings

For foodies, the selection of restaurants in South Tampa continues to grow, with new concepts opening in new or renovated spaces nearly every week. Here are just a few of the restaurants that are creating buzz:

Four Rivers Smokehouse

With the successful launch of its location in Carrollwood, Four Rivers Smokehouse, will be coming to south Tampa later this year. Truly a 'home cooked'-inspired restaurant, Four Rivers got its start in the owner's garage after a fundraising cookout to support a family who had lost their young daughter to cancer. The barbecued food the owner made that day was very well received, so he opened up the Carrollwood restaurant and today proceeds still go to the 'Barbecue Ministry.”

Food at Four Rivers includes sandwiches, ribs, smoked chicken and brisket. The new restaurant will be located at the corner of Swann and MacDill Avenues, and is expected to open this fall.

Craft A'Fare Social Kitchen / Cask

Co-owned by Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Vincent Jackson, Craft A'Fare Social Kitchen, or just Cask as locals call it, is a comfort food haven with cornmeal crusted snapper, cider braised pork with beer battered onions as well as shrimp and grits, this restaurant is southern food meets chic fare.

Cask recently opened and provides lunch and dinner, with brunch on Sundays. You can experience Cask at 208 South Howard Ave.

Acropolis Greek Taverna

If you are looking for something other than American fare, Acropolis Greek Taverna south Tampa will be opening soon. This Greek restaurant with locations in Ybor, New Tampa, St. Petersburg and Riverview, will be opening a south Tampa location this fall. Take your tastebuds on a journey at Acropolis by trying their ouzo mussels, octopus appetizer or Greek lamb chops.

Acropolis Greek Taverna will be located at 3023 West Kennedy Boulevard.

“I believe south Tampa has become a foodie paradise,” says Kelly Flannery, president and CEO of the south Tampa Chamber of Commerce. “There is a great selection to choose from with all these new restaurants, and its a great walkable community right here in the middle of south Tampa.”

New townhomes coming to Downtown St. Petersburg

There has been a lot of buzz about rising condos and apartments in downtown St. Petersburg, but for those interested in a different housing option, Regent Lane townhomes may be the cat's meow.

These new construction luxury townhomes are in a small private gated community with 20 units total. Each townhome is four-stories with a British mews theme, and over 2,300-square-feet of living space. The three-bedroom, three-and-a-half bath residencies each feature a private rooftop deck terrace.

With the property located less than two blocks away from Beach Drive, residents of Regent Lane can also enjoy all that downtown St. Petersburg has to offer, and having it all within walking distance.

“I believe the potential for an urban lifestyle that has been established in downtown St. Pete will be easily accessible to the homeowners of my project,” says Neil Rauenhorst, president of NJR properties investment, LLC.

While Regent Lane is unique in its design, and its townhome offerings, it joins a long list of residential properties coming to downtown St. Petersburg including: Bliss Over Beach Drive, Beacon 430, The Salvador, The Hermitage and One St. Petersburg.

Rauenhorst says what sets his project apart from the others is the townhome community.

“It’s a secured gated community, with private space for each homeowner,” he says. “Complete with a two-car garage, and private elevator.”

Reservations for Regent Lane are being taken now; construction is expected to be completed in summer 2016.

To view floor plans, make a reservation or get more information, visit Regent Lane’s website.

Old Raytheon site in St. Pete purchased

The former Raytheon site in St. Petersburg that has been vacant for years has been purchased, and will be redeveloped into retail, multi-family housing or mixed use, as the Commercial Development Company (CDC), which bought the 29-acres of land makes final plans for its use.

Commercial Development Company has a strong track record of bringing underutilized sites back to productive use,” says John Kowalik of CDC.  

While the company is eager to get started on the project, environmental issues that have plagued the site had to be dealt with first. According to Kowalik, Raytheon has remediated the issues, making the site suitable for redevelopment.

In order to maintain environmental compliance, Raytheon will also remain on site of the property to ensure that the groundwater treatment and recovery system (GRTS) they installed in 2014 operates efficiently.

The property located between Tyrone Square Mall and the Azalea Park neighborhoods is densely populated, which Kowalik says is great for vertical development. The company has already been contacted by potential tenants and developers showing interest in the property.

While plans for what exactly will be going in the area will not be determined for another few months, Kowalik says the area is prime for even more growth, which is why the company chose to invest.

“We seek to invest in areas where we see the most potential for growth, and the St. Petersburg market is already in a growth-phase and we are eager to see the economic and social benefits this redevelopment brings to the area.  

New Pasco community opens first model homes

Starkey Ranch, situated on more than 2,400 acres along State Road 54 and close to conservation and wildlife preserves in Pasco County, is now open for potential homebuyers to take a look at model homes.

The planned community spans just east of Gunn Highway to Starkey Boulevard. With plans to become a full community, complete with a grocery store, retail and restaurants, Starkey Ranch recently opened its first four model homes for future residents to tour.
 
According to Matt Call, Project Director at Starkey Ranch, the model homes vary in sizes from three bedrooms to five bedrooms, with some homes overlooking the water or conservation areas, and others close to a new community park.
 
“Starkey Ranch provides residents with a unique opportunity to live close to nature and walk or hike, there are so many outdoor options being next to the preserve,” he says.
 
In addition to the natural elements the community offers, Call says the neighborhood will also have a lifestyle manager who will help residents get to know their neighbors, as well as plan events for the community. 
 
“We will be having monthly events moving forward, but for the month of October, we are having weekly events each Saturday during what we’re calling Fun for Fall,” he says. “Anyone is welcome to come to these events to see the community, and get a feel for what we’re all about.”
 
Homes in the first neighborhood, Whitfield Park, start in the mid $200,000s and go up to $1 million. Whitfield Park features a community lawn, dog parks, a playground, picnic pavilions and a neighborhood pool opening next spring.
 
All of the homes throughout Starkey Ranch will be designed to meet or exceed national green building standards with energy efficient appliances and natural gas service.  
 
“Green is more than a just a philosophy for us,” Call says. “It’s very important to us to be good stewards of the environment, especially given the surroundings where the community is located.”
 
Model homes and the Starkey Ranch Welcome Center are open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 6 p.m. For more information on monthly events, or to view home plans visit the Starkey Ranch website.

SkyHouse Channelside adds to hip, urban scene in downtown Tampa

Breathtaking views of downtown Tampa on one side, a view overlooking Ybor City and Port Tampa Bay on the other. An infinity edge saltwater pool, lounge and clubroom complete with billiards, a catering kitchen, flat screen TVs and a terrace with fireplaces, grills and outdoor seating.

Sound pretty good? Well, that is just the rooftop of the new SkyHouse Channelside, a luxury apartment tower along the eastern waterfront in downtown Tampa.

SkyHouse Channelside, on 12th Street between East Whiting Street and East Washington Street, is the latest tower to open in an ongoing development trend happening downtown.

Earlier this month, New York investor Larry Feldman filed plans with the City of Tampa to build a 52-story mixed-use project on the infamous Trump Tower site at the intersection of Ashley Drive and East Brorein Street, which could feature somewhere between 200 and 300 residential units.

Other properties in the works are The Arts and Entertainment Residences (AER), a 350-unit apartment complex that is planned next to the Straz Center, and The Martin at Meridian in the Channel District, a 24-story tower offering 316 units.

SkyHouse Channelside, which is already at a 40-percent occupancy rate, offers studios up to 3-bedroom units. Its builder says it is that assortment, plus the amenities that will draw people to the tower.

“People are looking for the new feel, and the amenity level of the rooftop terrace. With the rooftop saltwater pool, along with the variety of units really make this a great fit for millennials or those looking to downsize,” says Tom Underwood, project executive with Baston-Cook, which built SkyHouse Channelside.  “The units range anywhere from 900-square-feet to over 1,500.”

Other amenities throughout the luxury tower include 24-hour concierge, controlled access parking garage, and wi-fi accessibility throughout common areas.

In addition to the luxurious amenities, SkyHouse Channelside and other planned downtown Tampa residential towers and complexes offer residents an opportunity to live without a car or at least use their car less often -- another example of the city's growing urban scene.

Monthly rent at SkyHouse Channelside ranges between $1,000 to over $3,000 a month. For more information on the tower, visit the SkyHouse Channelside website.

Unique theater prepares to open in West Tampa

West Tampa is experiencing a great amount of change as development plans by the city are underway, and in response to all the change, a new theater company is moving into the neighborhood to offer a place of peace, thoughtfulness and innovation.

The Space at 2106 Main, an old restaurant, is being revitalized into a theater that will house performances from band and vocal representations to one-person shows to full-blown Broadway acts. The theater company’s goal is to bring a variety of art to the area.

Before becoming executive artistic director for The Space at 2106 Main, Jared O’Roark, was working with youth for over a decade at Ruth Eckerd Hall. He even gained national attention for his work in the documentary Project: Shattered Silence, which won several awards and even a Emmy nomination.

“After working at Ruth Eckerd Hall for 14 years, the owner of The Space at 2106 Main, Robert Morris, came to me and told me about this building, and when we went inside, he asked me if I saw potential for a theater, and I said, 'yes'.”

O’Roark goes on to say that the theater will be immersive, meaning actors and acts will be moving around the whole theater, even in the audience, unlike traditional theater that all takes place on a stage.

“Everything in the room can move, so every time you walk in the room it should look different,” he says. “The chairs can move, tables can move, the booths can move, so immersive also means whatever the director has in mind, he can do without being tied down.”

O’Roark says this project is also important to him due to the fact that he is able to work with a diverse group of people in a diverse community.

“We are really pushing diversity, and we are not just saying it, the three of us at the top are all minorities. Robert, the owner is Lebanese, I myself am gay, and Erica Sutherlan, the managing artistic director is African-American. We want to not only present art for people outside the community, but we want to do stuff that involves the community. We want people in the community to know that we are not keeping them at arm’s length. This is their place too. This is a diverse community, and we welcome that diversity.”

The Space at 2016 Main will open its doors in September, for a list of upcoming shows check out their Facebook page for updates.

Development of Westshore area continues as latest luxury apartment complex rises in Tampa

The Westshore area of Tampa continues its development boom as another luxury apartment complex rises from the ground. Grady Square, a $56-million luxury apartment community, is being built at the site once occupied by the former Without Walls International Church.

The new project joins The Crescent, the new Hampton Inn & Suites at Avion Park, the World of Beer and Laser Spine Institute on the list of latest developments under construction in the Westshore area closest to Tampa International Airport and International Plaza.

The 300-unit community, situated along North Grady Avenue near West Columbus Avenue, will offer studios, one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments ranging from 574- to over 1,600-square-feet. It will be comprised of four stories surrounding three tropical courtyards, as well as a parking garage and elevator. Innovative amenities include a yoga/spin studio, meditation lounge and tech center. Other offerings include a hotel-inspired two-story clubhouse and fitness center.

The Richman Group of Florida is doing the construction on Grady Square.

“Our site is in the heart of the Westshore business district, which is not only the largest employment center in Tampa Bay, but it is the State of Florida's largest office market,” says Todd Fabbri, Executive VP for the Richman Group of Florida, Inc. “We believe Westshore will continue to see healthy employment growth over the next several years. In addition to employment, our site enjoys close proximity to the best shopping options in the region, [including] International Plaza, just one mile west of the property.”

As construction continues on the project, Fabbri says there will be more job creation in the district.

“We estimate about 316 construction jobs will be created in the construction phase,” he says. “This does not account for any indirect jobs that would be created as well.”

Once the complex opens in summer 2016, Fabbri anticipates approximately seven to eight full-time positions will be created at the complex.

Construction begins on redesign of historic downtown Tampa park

Historical culture meets the future at the new Perry Harvey Park being constructed near ENCORE! Tampa just north of downtown at the intersection of Harrison Street and Central Avenue.

The $6.95 million project is being funded through a federal Choice Neighborhood Grant obtained by the Tampa Housing Authority for redeveloping the neighborhood.

“The $30 million dollar choice neighborhood implementation grant included a $2 million allocation for the renovation of Perry Harvey Park because the neighborhood lacked adequate recreational amenities to support the planned ENCORE! and surrounding community,” says LeRoy Moore, COO for the Tampa Housing Authority. “Parks and recreational amenities are essential to good community planning and promote wellness, cultural awareness and community building.”
 
The park's design celebrates the history of Central Avenue and its culture. The area was settled after the Civil War, when freed slaves were relocated to an area northeast of downtown Tampa. As time went on, the area became a successful African- American residential and business community. Many legendary artists, including Ray Charles, Cab Calloway, Ella Fitzgerald and James Brown, were drawn there to perform to growing audiences.

“After the public participation process of three public meetings, an advisory committee of community leaders was appointed to develop the program for park elements to ensure the park reflected the historical culture,” says Brad Suder, Superintendent in the city of Tampa’s planning design natural resources division. “This included granddaughters of Perry Harvey, Sr. and descendants of business leaders who grew up in the community. The idea was to capture important milestones, events and facts. The city selected four different artists to showcase the cultural history in different parts of the park, including a southern gateway into the park, a leaders row, a history walk and a statue of Perry Harvey, Sr.”

In addition to the artwork, the park will feature an interactive fountain, concert/festival space, improvements to the basketball courts, picnic shelters and a skate park.

Construction on the park is expected to be completed in winter 2016.

Pinellas County plans to replace aging bridges

Many of us drive across the local bridges on a daily basis, whether going to work, school or leisure, without a second thought to when they were built or what condition they might be in today. Pinellas County government, however, is taking into consideration the aging infrastructure of local bridges and working toward a solution for improvement.

“We have a systematic rating for bridges in Pinellas County, which we monitor pretty closely,” says Mary Burrell, Public Information Manager for Pinellas County.

Burrell says two bridges in particular are on the county’s radar: San Martin Boulevard Bridge in St. Petersburg, and the Dunedin Causeway. Both bridges were built in the early 1960s, with  life expectancy of about 50 years. Now that time is running out, it is time to address the aging spans.

“The San Martin bridge has some structural rating deficiencies that warrant it being evaluated for future considerations, she says. “It has been rehabilitated over the years and now it is time to decide whether rehab or replacement is warranted.”

Burrell goes on to say that while there are rating deficiencies, construction on the bridge would be no sooner than 2018 due to a lack of funding.

“We are in the study phase, it’s an 18-month study, and the purpose of that is to seek funding from the highway administration. We currently have what could be considered matching funds from ‘Penny from Pinellas’ county funding for fiscal year 2018 and 2019, which is very much predicated on our ability to obtain matching funds from federal highway administrations.”

As for the Dunedin Causeway, it is going through the same process, although Burrell says it is moving approximately six months ahead.

“With the new technology available today, we are shooting for a life expectancy of about 75 years, compared to 50 as when these bridges were built,” she says. “The bridges are safe, there are just some ratings that warrant it to be in our radar, and make sure we have funding in place when timing is appropriate.”

NorthStar Bank opens new branches in South Tampa, downtown St. Pete

Technology has changed so much of what we do, and how we do it, including banking. For those, who desire or need to have the face-to-face exchanges with another human being, NorthStar Bank is opening up two additional branches.

The bank has had a presence in Tampa since it opened its main office in the Sykes building in downtown Tampa back in 2007. Today, NorthStar employs approximately 40 people with another office in Belleair Bluffs, and two new spaces: a branch on MacDill Avenue in Tampa and a loan production office in downtown St. Petersburg.

“The south Tampa branch is set to open in August,” says David Stone, President and CEO of NorthStar Bank. “We just opened the St. Petersburg office earlier this month.”

Stone says the St. Petersburg office will be strictly a loan production office, meaning no deposits can be taken; only business involving loan activity will occur. The loans will mostly be commercial loans for business owners, although home and auto loans will be offered.

“We have been debating whether to have a presence in the St. Pete market, and we decided it would make sense to have a loan production office because it’s a smaller investment to begin with,” Stone says. “A full service branch, you are looking at 2- to 3-million dollars.”

While the bank does offer online banking, Stone says it is important that customers get human contact.

“I’m sure you have read a lot of about branches closing with the bigger banks. That doesn’t mean there is not a need for a brick-and-mortar presence. The type of customers that we target want to talk with somebody,'' Stone continues. "We target professionals, doctors, lawyers, accountants, CPAs, those who have established small businesses, so when they have a banking need, it’s a little bit more complex than something you can do over a machine. That is why a face-to-face relationship is so important.”
 

Website ranks Tampa Bay area near top on 5 lists

Local residents have something to cheer about as the recently released 2015 Best Places to Live rankings by Niche places the Tampa Bay area on five of the website’s top lists.

Niche, which uses data from the U.S. Census Bureau as well as data taken from residents, measures factors such as livability, local schools, safety, jobs and housing in cities across the country.

“We collect our data from the U.S. Census and National Center for Education Statistics, which helps us define and classify cities and towns", says Alex Caffee, business and marketing analyst. “We also get survey data from our users who log onto our site and give feedback on their community, which also makes up part of our data set.”

So how did the Tampa Bay area measure up?
  • Oldsmar came in #11 on the list’s ‘best suburb to buy a house in Florida’
  • South Highpoint (#1) and Bradenton Beach (#3) for ‘suburbs with the easiest commute in Florida’
  • South Highpoint came in at #51 on the national list of ‘easiest commutes in America’
  • Oldsmar wins again with its #14 ranking for ‘best suburb to raise a family in Florida’
  • Hillsborough County takes the honor for its #10 ranking for ‘best counties to raise a family in Florida’
The site asks members to assess their communities by answering questions on topics ranging from crime rates and school ratings to grocery stores and libraries.

“Niche.com helps people decide where they are going to go next in life,” Caffee says. “We want to help individuals and families decide where they want to live, and assist them with that decision by giving them the data.”

Newest plan to give Historic Belleview Biltmore Hotel new life

After years of sitting vacant and falling into disrepair, the historic Belleview Biltmore Hotel and surrounding properties are set for new development. JMC Communities has taken the reins on the project, which will be known as the Belleview Inn & Place.
 
“We will save and renovate the original 1897 hotel lobby, and surrounding rooms of the Belleview Biltmore Hotel, which will be re-opened as the Belleview Inn,” says Mike Cheezem, developer and CEO for JMC Communities. “The 35,000-square-foot Inn will host 33 well-appointed guest rooms and recreate social venues such as Maisie’s Ice Cream Parlor, St. Andrew’s Pub and an event lawn for neighborhood gatherings, weddings and other occasions.”
 
Cheezem goes on to say that the development plans for Belleview Place include 104 luxury condominium residences in four mid-rise buildings, and 28 carriage homes, which range from 1,900 square-feet to 3,200 square-feet.
 
The $125 million dollar project is projected to take three years, with construction slated to begin early 2016 on the new inn. Work on the condos and homes will follow.
 
While the original Belleview Biltmore Hotel will be missed, Cheezem says he is doing what he can to restore the buildings history. Many celebrities and dignitaries were guests at the historic hotel from President Gerald Ford to President Barack Obama, Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, baseball greats Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio and entertainers Tony Bennett and Bob Dylan.  
 
“The historic hotel has been an integral part of the Belleair community and Florida since 1897, when Henry Plant first opened it to entertain his friends wishing to spend the winter season in Florida,” Cheezem says.  “Generations have enjoyed time spent there ever since, and will continue to create new memories in the spirit of its rich past.”
 
JMC plans to salvage materials from the carefully deconstructed hotel building, including heart pine, stained glass and other fixtures. Schiller’s Salvage in Tampa is offering salvaged items to the public. Cheezem says items saved will be incorporated into the design and decor of the restored Belleview Inn, so that its history will live on.

Stantec receives award for Amazon center in Ruskin

Stanec, a Tampa-based architectural and engineering firm, was recently recognized for its work on the Amazon fulfillment center in Ruskin. The firm received the 2015 planning award from the Florida Planning and Zoning Association (FPZA) for “Outstanding Development,” based on the project’s innovativeness and implementation.
 
“The FPZA Award recognized the project for its overall success as a large scale and complex project, successfully delivered into a master planned park on a fast track basis,” says David Kemper Sr. principal with Stantec.
 
The 1.1 million-square-foot facility, which is located on an 80-acre parcel off I-75 in southeast Hillsborough County, was a $200 million investment for Amazon. The building is used to pack, ship and store goods for Amazon, and has also brought 2,500 jobs to the community.
 
According to Kemper, it was that economic impact that contributed to Stantec receiving the award,
 
"The Amazon project was an extremely important and impactful project from an economic development perspective," he says. "The extent of new job creation and related economic impact was and is substantial.” 
 
Kemper goes on to say that it was a team effort between his company, Ryan Companies, which was the business park developer on the project, and USAA real estate company, which bought the property under the direction of Seefried Industrial Properties. He also credits the Hillsborough County government and the Tampa-Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation for adhering to an aggressive schedule for permitting.
 
“We received approval for permitting within three and a half months,” he says. “The Amazon project was completed in approximately 15 months; from commencement of design to completion of construction.”
 
The Amazon fulfillment center is at 355 NE 30th St. in Ruskin.

Urbanism on Tap open mic event: Let's talk about role of arts in Tampa's urban scene

Tampa's Urban Charrette and the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) Tampa Bay will host Urbanism on Tap at the Independent Bar and Cafe, 5016 N Florida Ave., in Tampa on July 14 starting at 5:30 p.m. 

Urbanism on Tap is a recurring open mic event focused on generating constructive conversations within the community about current ideas and trends that are shaping our city.

Every event is open to the public, and moderators and attendees are invited to share their views and stories related to the topic of the day. The intention of the event is to generate a lively exchange of ideas, which will enhance our ability to make Tampa a more livable city.

The July event is Urbanism on Tap's final discussion in the Arts and Urbanism series, which explores the various connections between the urban environment of Tampa and urban design, artists and art organizations.  

“Community through Art, Art through Community” will focus on how art can be used to strengthen communities and how communities can in turn support artists and their work. To engage with these topics, participants will look at case studies from around the nation to discuss how other communities are handling these issues. 

Additionally, local artists and arts organization representatives will be invited to the event to share insights on how these issues are playing out in the Tampa area. 

In what ways does an urban arts scene create vibrancy in a place and how can it actively engage with the general public? Should governments and citizens ensure a place in the community for artists and arts organizations, and what are the best methods used to retain artists? What support do artists need to thrive? The audience and invitees will have the opportunity to talk about these questions and more.
 
The event organizers -- the Urban Charrette and CNU Tampa Bay -- encourage people to share their opinions on this topic by visiting Urbanism on Tap’s online Facebook page before and after the event. 

Venue: Independent Bar and Café, 5016 N Florida Ave, Tampa, 33603
Date and Time: July 14, 2015, from 5:30 to – 7 p.m.

New hotel, World of Beer coming to Westshore in Tampa

The Westshore area of Tampa is getting a new hotel near Tampa International Airport to house visitors and tourists, says the McKibbon Hotel Group. Completion of the new Hampton Inn & Suites on Avion Park Drive is planned for late summer 2016.

The group, which manages several hotels in the Tampa Bay region, including the Hilton Garden Inn (Westshore), Homewood Suites by Hilton (Westshore) and TownePlace Suites by Marriott (Westshore), is especially pleased with the location.
 
“Avion Park, which is named after our Owner John McKibbon's father’s first motor lodge in Georgia, is situated in an ideal location for guests who are traveling for both business and leisure,” says Erik Rowen, McKibbon Hotel Group's VP of Development. “Between the easily accessible beaches and downtown entertainment, fine dining and two shopping malls, there is endless opportunity for all guests at any time of the year.”

Another factor in building the new hotel is its proximity to the Laser Spine Institute coming to Avion Park, which Rowen says will give patients and their families a place to stay as they receive services from the medical facility. Also, it will provide the institute a place to house meetings and conferences.  

The new Hampton Inn & Suites Westshore will be 110,250-square-feet with 177 guest rooms. It will also be within walking distance to the new World of Beer, which is also set to open next year.

The development means new job offerings when the Hampton Inn & Suites Westshore opens in late summer 2016.

“We expect approximately 50 jobs will be created as a result of the hotel opening,” Rowen says.
 
Hampton Inn & Suites Westshore will be situated at 5315 Avion Park Drive. Groundbreaking takes place June 29th. 

Heritage Village in Pinellas upgrades its paths with innovative, sustainable pavement

The pathway through yesteryear that winds in and around Heritage Village is now environmentally friendly, thanks to a company based out of Pinellas and its trademarked product.
 
KB Industries (KBI), recently installed its signature product known as Flexi®-Pave, a porous pavement made of recycled tires that allow for water to flow through the material. This process eliminates standing water, which reduces pollution from storm water run-off while also controlling erosion.
 
KBI Founder and CEO Kevin Bagnall explains just how well the product can process water.
 
“We allow water to go through our materials at a rate of 3,000-gallons-per-square-foot-per-hour, and we make sure the water does not come back up or crack, it is very stable,” he says.
 
Bagnall, who moved to this country from England in 1992, has been in the industry for nearly 30 years. His company, which is headquartered in Pinellas Park, employs 15 full-time employees at the corporate office, and over 150 employees worldwide, with more growth to come.
 
“This year we expect to add six more employees at our corporate headquarters, as well as contracting positions around the country to install our products,” Bagnall says. “We plan to add a chief mechanical officer, national sales director, an internal sales position and some technical sales positions as well.”
 
He goes on to say that the need to create more jobs is related to more projects including plans to do work at Yellowstone National Park, and other projects out West. There are also plans to open an office on the west coast.
 
As for Heritage Village, the park that attracts tourists, students and families, the sustainable pavement provides a solution for their need to meet ADA requirements, while blending in with the historic landscape.
 
“The Pinellas County chief engineer contacted me because the pavement they had before was cracking and did not meet the ADA requirements,” Bagnall says. “With our product not cracking, and also being sustainable and flexible for use around trees, we fit the bill.”
 
To see Flexi®-Pave at Heritage Village, you can visit the park at 11909 125th Street North in Largo. For park hours, visit their website.

For Good: Home ownership program helps low-income families

The American dream of home ownership is becoming a reality for low-income families because a local nonprofit helps people help themselves become homeowners.
 
Florida Home Partnership, a program that has served Hillsborough and Pasco counties for the past 21 years, has assisted over 700 families, veterans and seniors in achieving their goal to become homeowners.
 
“There are a lot of people that are shut out of the chance at home ownership,” says Earl Pfeiffer, Executive Director for Florida Home Partnership. “Our program is not a handout, it is a hand up.”
 
Pfeiffer explains that the program, which has built communities in rural areas throughout Hillsborough and Pasco counties, helps those who otherwise would not have the chance to own a home.
 
“The first criteria an individual or family must meet, is that they be under 80-percent of the area median income,” he says. “In Hillsborough and Pasco counties, for a single person that income cannot exceed $33,050, and for a family of four it cannot exceed $47,200.
 
In addition to the income level, individuals and families must have good or repairable credit, a reliable source of income and be willing to work on their own home.
 
“This is a self-help program,” Pfeiffer says. “Families in the community work on the homes they will be living in, and are required to work a minimum of 600 hours on skilled tasks.”
 
The innovative program is funded by a variety of sources. Program funding comes from the Department of Agriculture, as well as both Hillsborough and Pasco counties. Funding for the homes, comes from Congress in the form of the Section 502 loan, as well as down payment assistance from the State of Florida.
 
“As a real estate agent myself, I see how the rates are going up, it can be very difficult to buy a house,” Pfeiffer says. “We all want to be a part of the American dream, and this program helps people achieve that dream.”

Bliss: Unique condo sets itself apart from others in St. Pete

Soon to be overlooking Beach Drive in St. Pete, a unique 18-story condo building is under construction, and will join a growing list of apartments and condominiums popping up in the city.

Bliss joins other developments including ONE St. Petersburg, The Salvador, Rowland Place, Beacon 430 and The Hermitage.

Unlike its counterparts, which are comprised of up to 250 residences, Bliss will have just 29 units. According to Dave Traynor, VP at Smith and Associates Real Estate, there is a great benefit to having a small number of residents.

“There will only be two condos per floor,” he says. “At any neighboring wall you actually have about 30-feet of separation in between the condos, which is the stairwell and the elevator, which is very unique in the design. You have the benefits of a single-family home, while also having the benefits of a condo.”

Traynor says the building contains 28 units of 2,140-square-feet each with 3-bedrooms, and one two-story penthouse that is approximately 3,700-square-feet.

In addition to the unique layout of the building, there is another feature of Bliss that sets it apart from other condos.

“Bliss is the first condominium in the Tampa Bay area to have a vehicular elevator, where an elevator will take your car to your parking space in the parking garage,” Traynor says.

The building also features a sky lounge with a viewing terrace, as well as a fitness center and pool on the ground level.

The average price of a condo unit in Bliss is just over $1 million, and currently there are still three residencies available. Construction is underway, and is expected to be completed by end of 2016.

Bliss' home address will be 330 Beach Drive in St. Petersburg.

Trail along Courtney Campbell Causeway opens for bicycling, walking, running

Driving along the Courtney Campbell Causeway taking in the waterfront views of Tampa Bay is one of the perks to living in the region. Now bicyclists, walkers and runners can enjoy that same breathtaking view while commuting or visiting on a new separate trail that runs parallel to the Causeway.

The $23 million project connects Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. The trail is designed for non-motorized vehicles and transports, with the exception of motorized equipment for people with disabilities.

“The trail is approximately 12 miles,” says David Botello with the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT). “It starts in the vicinity of Rocky Point in Tampa and ends at Bayshore Boulevard in Clearwater.”

The trail was funded by a combination of state and federal funds, and was a priority project for both the city of Clearwater and the city of Tampa.

“The Courtney Campbell Causeway project was identified in the city of Tampa's greenways and trails master plan that was adopted in 2001, as a potential off-road trail connection providing a regional link in a larger trail system,” says Karla Price, Landscape Architect with the city of Tampa.

Parking is available on the Tampa side of the trail at Ben T. Davis Beach. On the Pinellas side, parking can be found at the Courtney Campbell Causeway beach, located on the south side of the causeway near Damascus Road in Clearwater.

According to Botello, the city of Clearwater will host a grand opening of the Pinellas side of the trail, on Monday, June 22nd. For more information on the event, visit the city of Clearwater's Facebook page.

Madison Street Park coming to Channel District

Channel District residents will soon have a new park in their downtown Tampa neighborhood, thanks to plans by the City of Tampa to develop new recreation spaces.

Madison Street Park, which is expected to undergo construction in 2016, will feature a dog park, event space, water features, a putting green and recreation courts for volleyball and pickleball. There will also be plenty of space to relax and enjoy the outdoors.

“Madison Street Park is a neighborhood park,” says Laurie Potier-Brown, of the city's parks and recreation department. “As a neighborhood park, its purpose is to provide recreational opportunities for the neighbors that are within a walkable distance.”

The park will be located next to the proposed Martin at Meridian site, between Grand Central at Kennedy and Bell Channelside. The developer of Martin at Meridian, Ken Stoltenberg of Mercury Advisors, donated a portion of the land he purchased for the property to the park.

“The Park provides the respite of a natural green space in an urban area,” Potier-Brown says. “The benefits of Madison Street Park will be improved health and well-being for the neighborhood.”

The city recently held three meetings to get community feedback on park designs, and specifics of what they want in their neighborhood park.

“We always prefer to begin design of a park with a blank slate, however, we want to gather the residents from the surrounding neighborhoods to listen to their ideas and desires,” she says. “After all, we want the park to meet the needs of the community.''

New luxury apartments coming to Westshore in Tampa

The growing Westshore area of Tampa will soon see a new 374-unit apartment complex near International Plaza.
 
Crescent Westshore will be at the corner of West Boy Scout Boulevard and Lois Avenue. The developer of the project, Crescent Communities, says the proximity to retail and business makes the development attractive.
 
“Westshore is Florida’s largest office community, but it’s also home to some of Tampa’s best restaurants, shopping destinations, hotels and residential neighborhoods,” says Jay Curran, Senior VP of Crescent’s multifamily group.  “The location of Crescent Westshore at a major intersection will help enhance the walkability of a growing area and provide community residents easy access to all the area has to offer.”
 
Crescent Westshore, which is expected to be a $45-million project, will span over 300,000-square-feet total, with each apartment unit averaging a little over 800-square-feet. Curran says the apartments will include studios, as well as one-, two- and three-bedroom units.
 
“Residents will enjoy features such as quartz countertops, stainless steel appliances, up-market lighting and premium cabinets,” he says. “Other amenities will include two resort-style, saltwater pools along with a state-of-the-art athletic center and contemporary two-story lounge with an outdoor patio overlooking the main pool deck.”
 
Rent is expected to range from $1,100 to $2,000 a month.
 
Curran says, in addition to the walkability of the area, the location is also convenient for other modes of transportation.
 
“Because the I-275 exit to Lois Avenue is located just one mile north, residents will also be able to quickly reach destinations such as downtown Tampa and Clearwater Beach,” he says.  “Also, quick access to Tampa International Airport provides residents convenience should their travel needs demand it.”

Crescent Communities is also the builder of Crescent Bayshore, luxury apartments near Tampa General Hospital and downtown.

BLUE Ocean Film Festival opens new headquarters in St. Pete

As waves lap the Gulf of Mexico shoreline less than two miles away, the BLUE Ocean Film Festival and Conservation Summit opens its new global headquarters in the heart of St. Pete. The main office at 646 2nd Ave. S. is already abuzz with activities surrounding preparations for the city to host the 2016 BLUE Ocean Film Festival.

The annual festival sheds light on problems plaguing the world's oceans and solutions for conservation by showcasing the best in ocean filmmaking and scientific research. The seven-day event moved to St. Petersburg in 2014 from Monterey CA, will be hosted by the government of Prince Albert II in Monaco in November 2015 and then will return to St. Pete in November 2016.

The nonprofit works year-round to educate people on the importance of ocean life and conservation. From summits and conferences to workshops and educational outreach programs, the organization tries to teach as many populations as possible.

“It’s always been a part of our long-term strategy to use film as a tool to raise awareness,” says Debbie Kinder, CEO and co-Founder of BLUE Ocean. “We have always wanted to have workshops, activities and mentoring to show that conservation work is a great career option.”

The organization’s “Blue on Tour” program travels the world showcasing its films and engaging conversations on the global value of the oceans.

“We need one strong home base and St. Pete is it,” Kinder says. “We would love for BLUE to be associated with St. Pete the way that Sundance is associated with Park City.”

The 6,000-square-foot headquarters that Kinder refers to as ''home base'' is being leased, though the nonprofit is getting a temporary break on rent.

“There is a long-term lease, however, early on there are no rent payments due,” says Robert Glaser, President and CEO of Smith and Associates. Glaser did minor renovations on the property, although he says the building was in excellent shape and did not need much done. Long-term, when the festival is more financially sound, he anticipates collecting rent for use of the building.

The Heights undergoes major redevelopment, Armature Works gets 1st tenant

The Tampa Heights neighborhood is beginning to experience a rebirth as redevelopment takes place along the Hillsborough River, up North Franklin Street and across Palm Avenue.

At center stage is The Heights, 40-plus acres bordering the northern edge of downtown Tampa, including the Armature Works Building and its first new tenant.
 
SofworX, an “idea lab” led by U.S. Special Operation Forces from MacDill Air Force Base, moved in May into a 3,000-square-foot space inside the historic 68,000-square-feet Armature Works building. Plans call for the renovated structure to become home to local start-up companies, schools and inventors.
 
“SofWorX fits within our vision for the community as a beginning to develop more creative space,” says Chas Bruck, Principal of Tampa-based SoHo Capital LLC, which is leading the redevelopment project.
 
The entire Armature Works building will go through a restoration process, Bruck says, with the first phase being completed by January 2016, and the second phase a few months after. The project is a massive undertaking that will cost a minimum of $10 million in investments.
 
“The city’s Architectural Review Commission approval was key for us to begin work restoring the structure and bringing our vision to life,” he says.
 
In addition to the Armature Works building, Bruck has big plans for the rest of the neighborhood, including 317 new apartments, 23,000-square-feet of retail along Palm Avenue, 340,000-square-feet of office space and 240 hotel rooms, as well as making the area more pedestrian friendly.
 
“We have plans for master infrastructure improvements for the entire community, including the extension of the Riverwalk to Boulevard Bridge,” he says.
 
With The Heights project in its infancy stage right now, Bruck has plans to see his vision through, taking the dormant area into a thriving new hot spot with historic-themed independent restaurants, shops, offices and residential areas.

Old Seminole Heights attracts innovative restaurants, shops

More new creative shops and restaurants are moving into the Old Seminole Heights neighborhood of Tampa.

“I can tell you a lot of young people are moving to this neighborhood,” says Debi Johnson, President of the Old Seminole Heights Neighborhood Association. “The younger population wants the breweries and restaurants to come in, and the establishments do because they know it is good for business.”

Some of the newer establishments to open in Old Seminole Heights over the last year or so include a pizza and burger joint called Hampton Station, an upscale twist on comfort food restaurant known as Fodder & Shine, The Bourgeois Pig and Red Star Rock Bar.

One of the most talked about lately restaurants coming to the neighborhood is Ichicoro, a Japanese noodle soup restaurant, otherwise known as Ramen Ya.

“We are Tampa Bay’s first Ramen Ya restaurant,” says Noel Cruz, owner of Ichicoro, which will be situated at 5229 North Florida Avenue.

While restaurants like Ichicoro are widely popular in other cities, including New York, where Cruz owns another Ramen Ya restaurant, Old Seminole Heights gets to boast that their neighborhood was chosen for the restaurant’s location, which opens in June.

Another innovative concept coming to the neighborhood is the Jug & Bottle Dept. located at 6201 N. Florida Ave. It's a specialty store that will feature coffees, teas, gourmet food items, fresh flowers and cigars, among other specialty items. What will set this store apart from the rest is its world class beer and wine, says co-Owner Veronica Danko, who owns The Independent Bar and Café.

“Over the years, my staff, friends and customers have all discussed the fact that the neighborhood needs a specialty retail store,” Danko says. “The Independent does not have a package license, so a couple of us decided to open the store ourselves, and use our knowledge and passion for beer and wine to make it work.  We are very excited about the project and cannot wait to get it open next month (June).”

Oldsmar builds professional BMX supercross facility

The new BMX Supercross Facility under construction in Oldsmar is not for the faint of heart. With its titled “Elite Ramp” nearly three stories high, this hair-raising track is sure to draw crowds when it opens.

“We expect the project to be completed by late July,” says Ahmad Erchid, President of Tampa Bay Construction and Engineering, Inc, whose team is working on the $2 million project.

The completion of the project is timed for hosting "Gator Nationals'' in October, the inaugural North American BMX Supercross series by USA BMX. Oldsmar is one of only four American cities selected to host the event October 16-17th.

Funding for the quarter-mile track and facility was obtained through a $1.2 million grant to the city of Oldsmar from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. The rest of the funding for the project is coming from the city itself.

For those driving or walking by the track, located at 3120 Tampa Road, it is hard not to notice the gargantuan size of the ramps as construction moves along.

"This is completely unlike any other project we’ve done, but it’s been really exciting so far,” says Erchid.  “This is definitely one of the most engaging projects we have ever tackled, and it’s awesome to think that the national supercross tournament will be held in it in just a few months. We’re just as excited as the rest of Oldsmar to finish the track and look forward to serving our community with our best product.”

For more information on the supercross series you can visit the USA BMX website

3 new shops opening in downtown Tampa

As downtown Tampa grows as a work-live-play environment, new residential and commercial properties will soon include three new shops designed to take care of the personal needs of residents, workers and visitors. 

Pearl Salon

Pearl Salon is aiming to be an oasis for clients with 4,200 square feet in Park Tower at 400 North Tampa Street. The salon will offer nail care, waxing, eyelash extensions and massages as well as a blow dry bar for professionals on the run.

The owner of Pearl Salon, Kim Nguyen, an entrepreneur from Miami, strategically picked the downtown location.

“There are so many workers in the downtown area, as well as the University of Tampa, however, there is currently nowhere for people to get their beauty treatments done,” she says.

The $700,000 investment will create at least 25 jobs according to Nguyen.  It is scheduled to open in early June.

Uncommon Finds

Uncommon Finds is a niche perfume storefront that enables customers to discover unique scents.

“Niche perfumes are a growing product,” says owner Rob Atkins, a self-acclaimed ‘scent junkie.’

"They are much different from your typical perfume, which only has one layer of scent; ours has three, so if you put some on in the morning you should still smell it in the evening. Also we use essential oils in our product, as opposed to synthetic ingredients found in other perfumes, therefore those who have allergies can wear our products“

The store's 300 square feet of space will be located within Studio K, 406 N. Morgan St.

Uncommon Finds is scheduled to open in mid-June.

Doxa Design Lab and Gallery

Doxa Design Lab and Gallery is approximately 500 square feet of interior design services.

“We are offering full interior design services, fine art as well as custom upholstery, vintage furnishings home accents, lighting, art and design books, textiles and industrial designs created by renowned architects and product designers,” says Jaime Rogers, Senior Partner of Doxa. “We offer products for as little as $30, or as much as $20,000.”

Doxa’s opening will create jobs including a general manager, part-time bookkeeper and part-time design assistant.

The Gallery will be located at the base of SkyPoint, 777 North Ashley Drive. It also is expected to open in June.

South Tampa's Hyde Park Village attracts new shops, restaurants

Four retail vacancies at Hyde Park Village in South Tampa will soon be filled with new restaurants and shops designed to attract workers on lunch breaks and visitors leisurely strolling through on weekends.

“Hyde Park Village offers a unique sense of place for a variety of exclusive shopping, dining and entertainment for our patrons and retailers alike in a charming, family-friendly atmosphere,” says Gabby Soriano, who works on the development team for Hyde Park Village.

One of the restaurants opening soon will be Goody Goody on the corner of west Swann Avenue and South Dakota Avenue. The historic restaurant known for hamburgers topped with an infamous secret sauce, first opened in downtown Tampa in 1930 and then closed in 2006. Owner Richard Gonzmart plans to revive much of the popular old menu for the new Goody Goody to open later this year.

The other restaurant is Bartaco, which opened its first location in the Tampa Bay area on Snow Drive, across from the Village Green. With locations in New York, Connecticut and Georgia, the restaurant marries upscale Mexican street food with an open-air environment in an effort to recreate a rustic beach resort-like setting.

As for shopping, cooks will rejoice at the news that Sur La Table will be going into the former Restoration Hardware Store, next to Anthropologie. Sur La Table began in 1972 in Seattle, and today has more than 100 stores featuring culinary tools and products. This is the retailer’s first store in the Tampa Bay area and will open this fall.

Lastly, for those needing invitations or announcements, Paper Source will open its first location in Tampa this summer. The papery and gift retailer offers greeting cards, gift wrap, party supplies and personalized stationery and stamps.

Soriano attributes the success of the revitalization to the Hyde Park community and surrounding neighborhood.

Hyde Park Village is located in the heart of the community and supports local events, arts and other community happenings, which is a great drawl to retailers.”

Clearwater designs investment in U.S. 19 corridor to stimulate local economy

The City of Clearwater is adopting new zoning standards along U.S. 19  in an effort to make the Pinellas County transportation corridor more economically attractive for businesses and residents. The corridor runs seven miles from Belleair Road to the south to Curlew Road to the north, and includes a portion of Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard to the east.
 
"The primary intent of the project is to support the transition of the U.S. 19 corridor from its historic status as an unlimited access major arterial, to something that is economically viable in the context of the limited access like a freeway environment,'' says Michael Delk, Director of Planning and Development for the City of Clearwater.
 
The project is being funded by federal stimulus funds in the amount of $350,000 from the Obama Administration and has been rolled out into three phases. 
 
"The first phase was the greenprint, which was set towards sustainability issues, one component of which, was trying to promote more transit,'' says Delk. "We followed that with the plan of the U.S. 19 corridor, and now we are in the third phase, which is the implementation phase.''
 
The purpose of the project is to get more people living along the corridor, increasing employment opportunities, and promoting a greater reliance on transit as an option along the corridor.
 
"Clearly I don't need to describe the brand that is Westshore,'' he says. "When someone hears the words 'Westshore,' they know where it is and what it is. It s a huge area and it's got its own brand, and I think in the longer term, U.S. 19 has the potential to be something of similar importance in terms of economic development.''

ONE St. Petersburg tops city's building boom

There is no denying downtown St. Petersburg is undergoing revitalization. There are new shops, new restaurants, new hotels, and soon lots more new homes for those wanting to live in the center of it all. As development booms in downtown, developers have moved in with construction crews ready to build anew on some of the city's most prime real estate.

Sometime in 2016, several new condos and apartment buildings are scheduled to complete construction: The Salvador, Beacon 430, Rowland Place and The Hermitage, just to name a few. One of the condo buildings set to open early next year that is unique from the rest is ONE St. Petersburg, located on First Street and First Avenue North. Unique because it combines real estate, hotel space and retail in one location.  

"The building encompasses a whole city block,'' says Dave Traynor, VP at Smith and Associates Real Estate. "This includes 253 luxury tower residencies and approximately 16,000-square-feet of retail. A separate building, but on the same block, will be a 174-room Hyatt Hotel.''

ONE St. Petersburg will be 41 stories and just over 450 feet high, giving residents a great view of downtown and the water. According to Traynor, the $280 million investment is slated to be the tallest building in downtown. While in the pre-construction phase at the moment, units have already been sold.

"We are in the process of selling units right now,'' says Traynor. "The Kolter Group will be handling the construction.''

The condo building, a contemporary design by internationally acclaimed SB Architects of San Francisco and Miami, will feature one-, two- and three-bedroom units, plus nine penthouses. Prices for the units start at $500,000 and go up to over $3 million. Amenities such as a fitness complex, resort-style pool, lounges and game room are expected to attract residents.

Residents will be able to walk outside for lots of choices in shopping and dining.

"There will also be a combination of spectacular restaurants with unique shops,'' he says. "We are very excited about this project.''   

Redevelopment plan for West Tampa looks to brighter future

In the heart of the historic West Tampa neighborhood, residents, business owners and community leaders congregated together on two separate nights in April to discuss the redevelopment plan the city has put forth.

Sitting in fold-out chairs facing a PowerPoint presentation in the MLK Community Center on Oregon Avenue, the city laid out its proposal for revitalizing the traditionally lower income, working class neighborhood. The new community redevelopment area (CRA) in west Tampa encompasses the west side of the Hillsborough River to Armenia Avenue on the west, up to Columbus Drive to the north and Kennedy Boulevard to the south.

While this part of Tampa has a rich history, city planners believe that updates need to be made. According to one study, 56 percent of the roads in the area are in need of improvement, 33 percent of roadways have a pavement condition index of "failed,'' more than 50 percent of housing units were constructed before 1959, and more than 60 percent of the area lacks sidewalks.

"I think the people that live here, and do business in west Tampa have waited a very long time to catch up with some of the other areas that have been redeveloped,'' says Jeanette Fenton, Urban Development Manager for the city of Tampa.

The CRA includes provisions for numerous tasks including new affordable housing, façade and building improvements, pedestrian access, road improvements, as well as beautification projects.

Those in attendance at meetings held on April 14th and 30th were able to give feedback and input to the city as to what they would like to see happen in their community as this process moves forward. It was explained by Fenton that the next step in the process includes her team putting together a strategic action plan for approval, including input from the community.

As for the cost of this project, that is undetermined at this time.

"We have not run the revenue projections yet,'' Fenton says. "That will be the next step once the plan is approved, then there will be an analysis of all the taxes of the property and what the revenue will be.''

The deadline for the Urban Development team to present its strategic action plan is July 1st.  

City of Tampa seeks proposals for downtown public arts projects

As plans for the final phase of the Tampa Riverwalk project and a park move forward, the City of Tampa is looking to install a couple of new public art pieces designed to attract local residents and visitors to enjoy the beautiful waterfront walkway along the Hillsborough River.
 
The first piece would grace the final segment of the Tampa Riverwalk itself; and the other is for the Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park located at 1001 N. Boulevard. The Riverwalk project has a projected budget of up to $200,000 and the park $400,000. The City of Tampa is open to all ideas and artists.
 
"We do open calls to artists whenever possible in order to reach the broadest, or widest range of artists,'' says Robin Nigh, Manager of the City of Tampa's Art Programs Division. "This helps raise the city's visibility in the arts, while also providing diverse options and creative solutions that otherwise might not have been considered.'' 
 
The final segment of the Riverwalk has two sites; one located under the Laurel Street Bridge and the other under I-275. 
 
"I do not think there is any preconceived notion about what the art should be,'' Nigh says.  "From the technical and practical side, it needs to be safe and appropriate for the environmental conditions. Conceptually, the art needs to be impactful, contribute to the overall space and place, as well as provide an engaging experience where residents and visitors want to be, return to, and recommend to others.''
 
The Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park is set to be the largest event park in downtown Tampa. Therefore, the city is seeking innovative artists to create artwork such as entrance gateways, an arrival plaza and other public art displays.
 
Artists interested in submitting an application can visit the city's website

Foodie alert: 5 new restaurants open on 4th Street in St. Pete

If your palette is hungry for a new taste, head down to 4th Street in St. Petersburg, where five new and globally diverse restaurants have opened since February.
 
Experience Thai food at JusThai, a new juice bar called Gush Juice, diving deep for sushi at Hook’s and adding some spice at Pericos if you’re in the mood for Mexican food — seemingly something for everyone.
 
Or sit down at one of the more innovative restaurants to open in the Tampa Bay area, PieTopia, known for their “meter pizzas.’’ Taking over the 2,500-square-feet location that used to house World of Beer, this “Farm-to-table’’ restaurant is not your typical pizzeria. 

“We have very high quality pizzas made with double zero flour, so it is ultra refined with no GMOs and no preservatives,’’ says Edward Ehlers, GM of PieTopia. “We also have 35 wine selections; many of them are imported from Italy, and a good selection of organic wines.’’

While the pizza is good for the body, you can also get a good bit of it. The restaurant’s most notable pizza, the “Meter Pizza,’’ feeds anywhere from eight to 10 people according to Ehlers and starts at $15. 

“We do have a meter pizza that is $125, which includes caviar as a topping.’’

Several more restaurants are set to open over the next few months on 4th Street; and Pietopia’s owner Joe DiBartolo says the location is a great spot for his investment.
 
“The location is strategically placed,’’ he says. “It’s easy to get to; Trader Joe's and The Fresh Market are up the street, which has a similar clientele that is looking for organic options, which we provide.’’
 
From now until the end of April, the restaurant will be hosting a grand opening celebration. As part of the celebration, Ehlers says any two-guest party that spends at least $25 will be entitled to a complimentary bottle of imported organic wine as well as an antipasto sampler platter of imported meat, cheese and farm fresh vegetables. 

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.

SPCA Tampa Bay to open St. Pete vet hospital

SPCA Tampa Bay will open a full-service veterinary hospital and spay and neuter clinic in St. Petersburg by mid-2016.

St. Pete's new vet hospital and clinic will be located at 3250 5th Ave. N, in a 12,500-square-foot former medical office building purchased by the Tampa Bay chapter of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in early 2015.

"What a way to kick off our 75th anniversary year!” says SPCA Tampa Bay president Martha Boden. 

Providing pet owners with accessible veterinary care for their pets, promoting humane care, and reducing pet overpopulation are the SPCA Tampa Bay's main goals in opening the new veterinary clinic in St. Petersburg.

According to Boden, access to care is a challenge for some pet owners, leading some animals to end up in shelters. A new location, she explains, could help to alleviate the problem of overpopulation or homeless shelter animals.

“Purchasing this property in St. Petersburg allows us to expand beyond our Largo campus to bring services to more pet owners in Pinellas County,” Boden says. “We're dedicated to caring for animals and supporting a community that cares about its pets.”

Renovations will begin in coming months. The St. Pete veterinary hospital and clinic is expected to open  mid-2016.

"We expect to add 20 – 25 jobs when we’re fully up and running," Boden says. "Up to seven of those jobs will be for veterinarians, so advanced degrees will be required. Other jobs include veterinary nurses, assistants and receptionists."

Hiring should begin in early to mid-2016. Educational requirements vary depending on the position.  

SPCA Tampa Bay board chair Marilyn Hulsey and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman announced the purchase in a news conference at the future facility.

The St. Petersburg veterinary hospital will provide medical, surgery and general care services for dogs and cats. The spay and neuter clinic will “help prevent unplanned litters, reducing the number of homeless and unwanted dogs and cats in the community,” Boden says.

Veterinary hospital visits and spay and neuter services will be available to any pet owners during extended weekday hours and weekend appointments. 

SPCA Tampa Bay will be hosting a networking social March 18th. RSVP here.

Contact SPCA Tampa Bay by visiting the website or calling 727-586-3591. To donate to the SPCA Tampa Bay online, follow this link.
     
SPCA Tampa Bay’s 10-acre animal sanctuary and Wellness Clinic is located at 9099 130th Avenue N in Largo. Hours are Tuesday - Friday, 1pm to 7pm; Saturday, 10am - 6pm; and Sunday, 1pm - 5pm. SPCA Tampa Bay’s Wellness Clinic is open Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, from 8am-noon.

Downtown Tampa quiet zone silences train horns with FDOT grant funds

Downtown Tampa and Channelside residents will rest a little easier in coming months, thanks to a $1.35 million grant from the Florida Department of Transportation.

Trains travel through Tampa on a daily basis, and their horns “are a nuisance,” says Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

Train horns are sounded in compliance with federal rules and regulations, which require a train to blast its horn for 15 to 20 seconds at any public crossing. As a result, the loud but legally mandatory horns are “bouncing off the buildings throughout downtown, bothering residents and impacting our economic opportunity as our urban core continues to densify," Buckhorn says.

In fact, the sound of train horns in downtown Tampa has been such a sore subject among residents that some have turned to a Facebook page, called “Help Tampa Sleep,'' to address the topic in a public forum.

Back in August 2014, the city contracted King Engineering Associates to study the development of a “quiet zone” in downtown Tampa.

Buckhorn’s staff reached out to the FDOT to seek information about quiet zones after learning that Florida Gov. Rick Scott was to include quiet zone funding in the state budget. The funds, awarded to the City of Tampa through FDOT’s Quiet Zone Grant program, will be used to create the “quiet zone” along CSX railroad tracks throughout downtown Tampa -- meaning trains will no longer blare their horns in the middle of the night as they pass through town.   

State funding will not cover the entire cost of creating a “quiet zone” in the middle of downtown Tampa -- the anticipated cost for the projects is $2.7 million. FDOT grants will provide up to half the cost of creating quiet zones. The projected improvements are expected to begin in summer 2015.

To silence train horns in downtown Tampa, the City of Tampa must meet “quiet zone” safety requirements established by the Federal Railroad Administration. The project will include the upgrade of nine public highway-rail crossings through downtown Tampa -- from North Jefferson Street to Doyle Carlton Drive -- with additional gating, street medians and signage. 

“Downtown residents and businesses can coexist with the trains, and a quiet zone allows us to strike that balance,” Buckhorn says.

Some citizens are concerned with the solution, however. Gasparilla Interactive Festival Executive Director Vinny Tafuro, a downtown resident, says that he is "hopeful that the project successfully quiets the horns," but is also "concerned with the aesthetics of how the crossings will look, and the reality of the CSX engineers actually following the guidelines and not blowing the horns."

"As a fan of innovative technology, I would prefer a long-term solution that improved on a loud horn as a warning," Tafuro says. "Seems archaic."

In fact, the Train Quiet Zone rules do stipulate that a train horn may be blown in a "quiet zone" during emergency situations.

To view the grant application and award, please visit the City of Tampa’s website or click here. To learn more about the Train Horn Rule as well as Train Quiet Zones, visit the Federal Railroad Administration's website.

Architectural photography contest open in Tampa

Calling all architectural photography artists!

The American Institute of Architects Tampa Bay along with the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts present the annual 2015 Architectural Photography Contest.

Top Tampa Bay entries will be exhibited at FMoPA during the museum’s National Architecture Week and beyond, from April 12th-May 3rd, 2015.

All Florida residents are invited to enter the 2015 Architectural Photography Contest. Photo subject matter must have an architectural theme or must contain some element of the built environment.

The competition, which is eligible to amateur photographers and the general public to compete for cash prizes, includes two juried categories: Amateurs and Professionals. 

 Amateur category cash awards are:
  • First Place - $300
  • Second Place - $200
  • Third Place - $100
Entry fees: $40 for AIA members and FMoPA members; $50 for non-members, and $25 for students.

Professional photographers, meanwhile, are not eligible for prize money. However, professional photographers are welcome to participate for the chance to have their work displayed at FMoPA, a popular downtown Tampa destination for the arts.

Contest entrants may submit up to five photos per entry fee, via Dropbox upload. Entrants are also required to submit one image for the Architectural Photography Show. See contest rules for details.

Entries must have been taken and owned by the entrant. Registration must be completed by 5 pm on March 27th.

Digital file upload and printed image drop-off must be completed by 5 pm on April 1st at the AIA Tampa Bay Chapter Office, located at 200 North Tampa Street in Tampa, Florida.

For additional information visit AIA’s website or call 813.229.3411. 

Luxury condo, The Salvador, headed for ground-breaking

Tampa-based developers, with DDA Development, are one step closer to a construction start on the 13-story luxury condominium, The Salvador, after closing on a 1-acre property in downtown St. Petersburg.

Three existing buildings on the property, at the intersection of Second Street and Fifth Avenue South, will be torn down in February in preparation for an anticipated March construction start. Buyers likely can move into their new condominiums by summer or fall of 2016.

Sales prices for one- and two-bedroom condos range from a low of about $350,000 to about $800,000 at the top tier. Two spacious three-bedroom penthouses are expected to sell for about $1.2 million to $1.4 million.

The condo project is bucking a trend toward more downtown apartment construction. But the market is there and so far about 30 percent of 74 luxury units have pre-sold, says David Moyer, director of sales in the development services department of Smith & Associates Real Estate.

"Everything is going really well," Moyer says. "It's an exciting start for this market place. We're pretty much on track with what we anticipated."

Among buyers are young professionals but also older couples who are empty-nesters looking to downsize, and anyone who wants to enjoy an urban lifestyle. 

Mesh Architecture is creating an "art-influenced" design. Balfour Beatty Construction is the contractor for a building that will be green-certified with the latest in energy-efficient technology.

The luxury condos will have private balconies, stainless steel appliances, wine coolers, gas cook tops and European-style cabinets. An 11,000 square foot amenity deck on the third floor will house a spa, heated saltwater pool and fire pit and a fitness and yoga room. A full-time concierge will be on duty in the 2-story lobby with large gathering areas.

The Salvador also is in a prime spot near the campus of the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, the Mahaffey Theater and The Dali Museum. Within walking distance there is a Publix grocery store and many of downtown's popular restaurants including Z-Grille and Red Mesa Cantina.

McAlister's Deli will add Tampa/Hillsborough County restaurants

McAlister's Deli plans to open as many as 30 new restaurants around the country in the next four years. About 10 to 12 of those restaurants will open in Tampa and Hillsborough County in Florida.

The chain restaurant specializes in sandwiches, spuds, soups, salads and desserts and features its McAlister Sweet Tea. In Tampa current locations for McAlister's franchises include 11402 N. 30 St., near the University of South Florida, and 4410 Boy Scout Road in the Westshore Business District. The Westshore site opened in 2013 as part of the retail portion of the Modera Westshore apartment complex.

The Westshore area is expanding rapidly with new apartments, retail and restaurants. It also is home to the Westshore Business District which includes about 4,000 businesses and about 95,000 employees.

McAlister's looks for "rooftop" communities as well as office districts that can do a big lunch business, says Jeff Sturgis, the company's chief development officer.

Tampa and Hillsborough County are seen as areas with "robust growth" that are rebounding from the economic downturn, he says. "There is a demand for new (dining) concepts where old concepts aren't doing as well anymore."

Additional restaurants could open in Carrollwood, Brandon, Westchase, Citrus Park and New Tampa.

"We're actively looking for sites," says Sturgis.

McAlister's added 19 new restaurants in 2014 including a location in The Villages, FL. In 2015 expansion plans will focus on states such as New York, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Georgia and Florida. 

McAlister's offers dine-in and take-out options as well as catering. Menu items include Cajun Shrimp Po Boy, Four Cheese Chili, Horseradish Roast Beef and Cheddar sandwich, McAlister's Club and a variety of meat, cheese and vegetable toppings for its spuds.

Founded in 1989, the brand has more than 335 restaurants in 24 states.

Franchise Business Review named McAlister’s one of its “Top Franchises” in the Food and Beverage category in 2015 and 2014 based on franchisee satisfaction. In 2014, Nation’s Restaurant News named McAlister’s the top limited-service sandwich chain in its Consumer Picks Survey.

Hablo Taco opens in downtown Tampa's Channel District

Holy guacamole. A new tequila bar and taco lounge opens its doors in Channelside Bay Plaza in downtown Tampa on Wednesday (Feb. 4). 

Hablo Taco is the first business to open in the plaza since Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik announced a plan to invest a staggering $1 billion in Tampa’s downtown Channel District over the next five to seven years.

The Hablo Taco food menu is a mix of bar food, like burgers, and Mexican-inspired staples, such as nachos, tacos and Mexican street corn, along with four variations on guacamole. The restaurant’s bar menu focuses on margaritas and frozen cocktails along with a variety of tequilas.
 
“We like the menu options and we believe the management is developing a fun, welcoming environment that will offer something for everyone,” says Bill Wickett, EVP of Marketing and Communications for Tampa Bay Lightning.
 
The 6,000-square-foot restaurant sits across from Hooters and will boast a 50-ft outdoor bar. Hablo Taco will be run by Guy Revelle, the operator of the plaza’s Splitsville Lanes bowling alley, as well as previous plaza tenants Stumps Supper Club, Howl at the Moon and Tinatapas.
 
“Once Hablo Taco opens, we will focus on driving exciting events (like the upcoming Gasparilla Film Festival) into Channelside,” Wickett says, “which we believe will appeal to residents in the Channelside and downtown neighborhoods, thereby bringing more traffic to the existing businesses in the mall.” 

Vinik, along with Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, welcomed Hablo Taco, 615 Channelside Drive, with a ribbon cutting in late January.

“We are excited to open Hablo Taco and we believe it will become a destination, not only for Lightning fans and Amalie Arena guests, but for Channelside residents and employees of our downtown businesses,” Wickett says.

Franklin Street, a family of full-service real estate companies, manages Channelside Bay Plaza. For more information on Hablo Taco, or to explore job opportunities, visit the restaurant’s website.

Will work for food? Try Harbor Dish Community Cafe in Safety Harbor

Harbor Dish Community Cafe is a restaurant where people can eat healthy foods for whatever price they can afford to pay. And they may leave with something more enriching than a good meal.

They'll feel themselves as part of a caring community.

"There is something for everyone at the cafe, not just food," says Christina Sauger, founder and director of the nonprofit Harbor Dish, Inc., and the community cafe at 123 4th Ave. South in Safety Harbor.

The cafe is awaiting approval from the city of Safety Harbor for its permit.  Sauger anticipates opening in late March or early April.

Harbor Dish will rely on volunteers, grants, donations and a handful of paid staff members including a chef, volunteer coordinator and cafe administrator. Patrons will dine buffet-style and pay the suggested discount price or whatever amount they can afford.

People also can "pay it forward" for another person. Or volunteer for one hour and get a meal voucher.

Not all of the volunteer work must be cafe-related. Educational programs and mentoring also are part of Sauger's broader goal of helping the working poor, seniors, people with disabilities, veterans and at-risk youth.

"Whatever skills people have they can share," says Sauger.

Harbor Dish already is holding "pop-up" events and working with other nonprofits and social agencies in the community.

A job training program, culinary training for disabled veterans, Bright Future scholarship hours, life skills for children aging out of foster care and gardening classes are among future enterprises that could be supported by Harbor Dish. An event stage and a community garden also will bring the community together for family-oriented activities.

The model for Harbor Dish is the national nonprofit, One World Everybody Eats community cafe movement. About 40 cafes are operating across the country with about 20 additional restaurants preparing to open, Sauger says.

The most well-known of the cafes is Soul Kitchen in New Jersey supported by the Jon Bon Jovi Foundation.

One World Everybody eats recently held its 2015 summit at the Safety Harbor Resort and Spa.

Sauger visited five community cafes in New Jersey, Tennessee and North Carolina before organizing in Safety Harbor. The cafe's location is the former home of her great-grandmother.

Renovations at the house began in October 2013. A new roof, paving stones, a stage and a fence are among donated items. Sauger is covering basic costs of mortgage and utilities but once the cafe is up and running, it is expected to become self-sustaining.

The cafe is in need of commercial kitchen appliances and capital funding. Sauger estimates about $10,000 to $15,000 is needed to open.

Sauger has two engineering degrees and worked as a real estate broker for 25 years. But her care giving began at age 15 when she brought homeless people home for her mother to feed. 

She carried that over into her adult life.

"I was feeding people out of my house because I saw there was a need," she says. She was particularly touched by the struggles grandparents have caring for their grandchildren.

"We wanted to take this to the next level," Sauger says. "We want to see what we can do in a bigger way."

Waypoint Homes aids restoration at Tampa Heights youth development and community center

For more than four years volunteers have shown up weekend after weekend to put in sweat equity to salvage the historical Faith Temple Missionary Baptist Church for a new mission. By March the church is expected to be ready for its debut as the Tampa Heights Youth Development and Community Center.

The final push to complete the makeover is coming from Waypoint Homes and its WIN (Waypoint Invests in Neighborhoods) Program. On successive Thursdays in January a dozen or so WIN team employees work room by room to hang doors, install drywall, put up light fixtures, and finish up trim work. 

The single family rental company owns property throughout Tampa Bay including in the Tampa Heights neighborhood. As part of its WIN program, Waypoint Home sponsors a number of projects to give back to those communities. 

"We search out projects," says John Rapisarda, regional property manager. "We love to do something where we impact the neighborhood where we rent and own  homes."

Company officials are offering materials and company volunteers to finish renovations at the community center for its March opening. Some of it vendors also are contributing materials and labor including Sherwin Williams which is providing flooring.

Waypoint Homes employees will install the flooring.

"It was perfect for us because in addition to contributing financially we want our team to contribute their time," says David Diaz, Waypoint Home's regional director.

The Tampa Heights Junior Civic Association, which is spearheading the renovation project,  provides free youth programs year-round, including after-school and summer activities. The renovated church will include a computer lab, art classroom, recording studio, dining/kitchen area, 300-seat auditorium and performance stage.

"We like everything about this program," says Diaz. "They follow the kids from kindergarten to make sure they graduate from high school."

Over the years national chains, such as Sears, and local businesses, such as CGM Services: Air Conditioning and Heating, have contributed labor and materials to the project. Nonprofit Rebuilding Together Tampa Bay and Richard Gonzmart of the Columbia Restaurant Group also are contributors. 

The total in donations and volunteer labor  likely is close to $1 million, says Lena Young-Green, president of the Tampa Heights Junior Civic Association. Once Waypoint Homes completes its work, the last step is finding a vendor and materials to replace the roof, Young-Green says. 

The Beck Group is helping with this search.

Local architect John Tennison, with Atelier Architecture Engineering Construction, has supervised the volunteer work and guided restoration efforts. 

"It's been enlightening working with people who come by to help," he says. "It's surprising how many people want to give their time and effort. It's a great program and people see that."

Tampa invests $30M in water lines, cycle track

The city of Tampa will invest nearly $30 million in three infrastructure projects that aren't likely to stir up the kind of excitement that comes with news of a new residential tower or hotel in downtown.

But those projects, mostly out of sight and below ground, are part of a long-term effort to expand and upgrade the city's aging water lines to meet the demand of a growing urban population.  Among the benefits are increased water pressure and fire hydrant flows.

Construction will begin on all projects in January and last approximately 18 months. Each project costs slightly under $10 million.

"It's not something shiny and flashy but it's something equally important," says Tricia Shuler, a construction engineer for CH2M Hill, the engineering firm hired by the city to oversee the projects.

Former Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio started the expansion and upgrades to the city's utility infrastructure nearly six years ago in East Tampa. Since then, various Utility Capital Improvement Projects (UCAP), also by CH2M Hill, have replaced and extended water and sewer lines into the downtown area and South Tampa.

One noticeable change will be the conversion of Cass and Tyler Streets from one-way to two-way streets and the construction of a cycle track where bicyclists will be separated from vehicular traffic by a concrete barrier.

"It's going to become a very appealing asset through downtown," Shuler says. "People will feel like they live in a big city."

The changes to Cass and Tyler are part of Invision Tampa, a blueprint that emerged from Mayor Bob Buckhorn's efforts to redevelop the downtown core and surrounding neighborhoods. The goal is to restore the downtown's street grid which for years has been dominated by one-way streets.

CH2M Hill also will bury box culverts to ease flooding along Rome Avenue and Cypress Street. This will set the stage for future storm water projects.

Work will continue on installation of a 36-inch water transmission line from David L. Tippin Water Treatment Facility to South Tampa.  In December CH2M Hill completed construction of a 500-foot tunnel across the Hillsborough River to minimize the impact of pipeline installation on the environment.

Additional work will extend the pipeline from North Jefferson and East Cass streets, then along Tyler to Fortune, west across the river and end at North Boulevard and West Cass.

Bus riders get new transit center in Pinellas Park

Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority is setting ridership records and filling a need for a growing urban population in Pinellas County. Two express routes also carry riders to and from downtown Tampa.

Now the new Pinellas Park Transit Center at 3801 70th Ave. is filling a "huge hole'' in customer services for riders in the middle of the county, according to Brad Miller, PSTA's chief executive officer, who spoke at the center's grand opening on Jan. 13.

The transit center is the first Customer Service Center in 13 years. The last was opened at Grand Central Station in St. Petersburg in 2002. Riders at the new transit center can buy tickets, figure out bus schedules or get a quick question answered by a PSTA employee.

The facility replaces the former transit center behind the Shoppes at Park Place. Boulder Venture South, a commercial real estate company with offices in Clearwater, donated the land. CHTR Development, LLC, built the transit center after winning the contract with a low bid of about $360,000.

"This is the first public/private partnership in our system," says Bill Jonson, PSTA'S board chairman. "It turns out to be a welcome one."

The transit center has public restrooms, a 2-station customer service booth, security cameras, an ATM machine, a new sidewalk and a raised traffic table for safer pedestrian crossings.

In November 2014 voters rejected a "Greenlight Pinellas" proposal 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. 

"PSTA is in sort of a transition phase right now, looking beyond Greenlight Pinellas, looking at ways we might be more efficient and provide the best services," says Miller. "No matter what our funding status, our size or growth, we have to maintain our (commitment) to our customers."

In fiscal year 2013-2014, riders boarded PSTA buses about 14.5 million times or about 35,000 more boardings than the previous fiscal year, according to PSTA records.

Fitlife Foods opens in Downtown Tampa, offers meals to go

Fitlife Foods is ready to offer office workers and downtown residents what they want in healthy "grab-and-go" prepared foods along with what owner David Osterweil calls "cravable" eatables.

The on-the-go concept for breakfast, lunch and dinner is located in a 500-square-foot slot on the mezzanine floor of the Bank of America building at 101 Kennedy Blvd. It is the seventh Bay area Fitlife Foods to open since the restaurant's launch in 2011 on Dale Mabry Highway in the Carrollwood neighborhood.

A second Dale Mabry location in South Tampa also is open as well as locations on South Howard Avenue and in Brandon, Clearwater and St. Petersburg.

"We want to be where our customers are and downtown Tampa is a growing, thriving part of our community," says Osterweil.

At least five new residential towers in downtown and the Channel District are expected to be under construction within the next couple of years. New hotels, restaurants and shops are on the horizon. And the Channel District is poised for an explosion of new development following the announcement from Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik of plans for a $1 billion investment into Tampa Waterfront District with new residential, dining, entertainment, office and hotel developments.

Brian Bern of Franklin Street and CBRE Group Inc. negotiated the lease. Architect Richard Hartmann of Hartmann Architecture is the store's designer.

Fitlife Foods takes a new approach to the fast-food market.

Customers can purchase one meal and go or during a busy week opt to buy multiple meals to take home. The goal is to save time and eat healthy, says Osterweil.

A top menu item is Tampa Bay BBQ Beef and Mac 'n Cheese. Other items include Feel Good Chicken Tenders and a spicy eggplant Parmesan. About 70 percent of the menu is gluten-free. There also are Paleo and vegetarian dishes.

To help in menu selection, Fitlife Foods provides information on calories, allergens, carbohydrates and sodium.

"We cater to a lot of the specialties," Osterweil says.

Operating hours are 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday-Thursday, and 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Friday. Within a month Osterweil anticipates starting a delivery service.

Big Brothers Big Sisters moves national headquarters to Tampa

The welcome mat is out for former Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio. But Iorio is the one bearing a welcome home gift for the Tampa Bay region -- the national corporate headquarters for Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.

In April 2014 Iorio took on the top job at the 110-year-old nonprofit headquartered in Irving, TX. She was Tampa's mayor from 2003 to 2011. As chief executive officer of Big Brothers Big Sisters, she spent her weeks in Texas and weekends at home in Tampa.

Effective March 31, the commuting ends and Big Brothers Big Sisters moves into 6,900-square-feet of office space at Corporate Center One at International Plaza in the Westshore Business District. The rent is free for five years courtesy of Parkway Properties.

The Beck Group is donating the carpets, paint and other materials to make the offices move-in ready. Bill Adams of ROF is providing furniture and design services. And an anonymous Tampa donor is paying moving expenses.

"From a civic stand point, I couldn't be more proud that Big Brothers Big Sisters is calling Tampa home," says Iorio. "I couldn't be more optimistic about the future of the organization in Tampa."

A corporate headquarters in Tampa comes as a plum prize in a city, and a region, that is awash in on-going and soon-to-happen construction for residential towers, shops and restaurants in the urban cores of Tampa and St. Petersburg.

"Wow. This is a really a big deal," says Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman. "We are getting ready to explode in this community. I'm glad, Pam, you and your organization have decided to spark the fire. They are going to bring their company here. There is such a spillover for that."

Iorio and Murman spoke at a gathering at the Tampa Convention Center to announce the relocation. About 150 people attended, including Joseph Lopano, chief executive officer of Tampa International Airport and Kanika Tomalin, deputy mayor of St. Petersburg. 

The move from Texas is expected to bring 20 jobs to the community. While a few employees from Texas might opt to re-locate, Iorio says most jobs will be filled locally.

As national headquarters, Tampa will host board members and staff from 331 affiliate organizations across the country for meetings and conferences. That translates, city leaders say, to more hotel beds filled and more money flowing into the local economy from dollars spent at area restaurants, shops and entertainment venues.

"This is how you become known as a headquarters community," says Rick Homans, CEO of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation (THEDC).

Iorio says she had committed to two years as chief executive officer of Big Brothers Big Sisters. A request that she consider a longer commitment led to the decision to relocate.

The THEDC served as facilitator, pulling together a business plan in about two months to sell Tampa and the Bay area as a good move. Iorio says she told her organization, "Even if you take me out of the equation, Tampa Bay is a great place."

Dallas had been corporate headquarters for the organization for only about a year following a move from Philadelphia.

Pinellas and Hillsborough counties have merged their Big Brothers Big Sisters organizations into one of the largest affiliates in the country. Iorio says 3,500 children are served in the Bay area and about 1,000 are on a waiting list to have a Big Brother or Big Sister as a mentor.

IBM retiree Alan Cohen is a Big Brother to 13-year-old Sir.Giogio (last name unavailable) who is the middle child of a single mother. For the past six years, Cohen has taken Sir.Giorgio to sports venues, Busch Gardens and tutors him once a week.

"I know I am able to make a difference in one person's life," says Cohen. "I have a friend in Sir. Giorgio."

Holiday Inn Express will be first hotel in Trinity in West Pasco County

Pasco County is looking toward an active 2015 as new residences, restaurants, offices and shopping malls go vertical. Among the newest announced projects is the Holiday Inn Express -- the first hotel in the Trinity neighborhood of West Pasco.

The 86-room hotel will open in late 2015 at Trinity Corporate Center, off State Road 54 and within proximity of the Medical Center of Trinity. Wells Fargo Advisors is the anchor tenant for the 21,000-square-foot corporate center.

"This is a growing area with lots of new retail, new hospitals, a lot of rooftops, meaning more homes and that will mean more weddings ... graduations," says Michael Holtz, owner of St. Petersburg-based MPH Hotels, Inc . Holtz has developed more than 150 hotels in 20 states.

Synovus Bank is backing the approximately $9 million investment. The hotel's design is by Dunedin-based David L. Wallace & Associates. Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Florida Properties Group is the broker of the sale and purchase of the property.

The Holiday Inn Express that will soon be under construction is the new prototype of the hotel chain, Holtz says.

It will have a contemporary look, 17 suites, a spacious lobby, high-speed and wireless Internet access, a fitness center, board room and conference room, and a swimming pool and hot tub.

There also will be an outdoor patio with barbecue pits. "It's a whole new concept where guests can meet and get to know each other better," Holtz says.

Though this is Trinity's first hotel, there is room for more, he adds.

"I think Pasco County is being aggressive now and there are other opportunities coming along," Holtz says. 

Fodder & Shine and Bourgeois Pig open in Seminole Heights

More restaurant doors are open in the Seminole Heights neighborhood of Tampa, and the eclectic dining choices just keep growing.

Fodder & Shine, at 5910 N. Florida Ave., is serving a dinner menu of delectable Florida cracker-style cuisine from grilled frog legs and fried liver and gizzards for starters to grilled smothered quail and roasted pork for the main courses. In between table mates can devour a diverse array of sides from crackling cornbread to cathead biscuits. The bar serves craft beers, cocktails and wine.

Breakfast and lunch menus are on the way.

The Bourgeois Pig, at 7701 N. Nebraska Ave., is bringing Bohemian chic with an old world flair to the neighborhood. A menu of "adult comfort food" offers starters of softened goat cheese spread and olive oil poached yellow fin tuna; entrees of beef stroganoff on the bone, lamb osso buco, and Brittany fish stew. The Oz bar is stocked with craft beers, hand-crafted cocktails and craft liquors, and a selection of "old world" wines.

Chef Chris Juers is a California transplant.

The Pig welcomes the well-behaved pooch. Morning coffee and lunch will begin in February.

"It's pretty awesome," says co-owner Lysa Bozel. "We've had a good response from the public. The neighborhood has been very supportive."

Bozel and her husband Michael Bozel restored a 1920s bungalow, putting their personal design stamp on each detail including a fireplace and 4-foot chandelier in the main dining room. The Bourgeois Pig sign outside and the Oz bar top are the work of artist Dominique Martinez of Rustic Steel Creations in Tampa Heights.

The Bozels also operate Mockingbird Vacation Rentals with several rental homes in Tampa neighborhoods.

Fodder & Shine is the second Seminole Heights' restaurant for owners Greg and Michelle Baker. Nearly four years ago, the couple opened The Refinery, at 5137 Florida Ave. The Florida-centric restaurant changes menus three or four times a week. In 2014 Southern Living magazine placed The Refinery among the top 100 restaurants in the South. Chef Greg Baker is a four-time James Beard semi-finalist. The Bakers have built a national reputation for fine dining and shone the spotlight on Seminole Heights as an emerging foodie neighborhood. 

Among restaurants and bars attracting patrons to Seminole Heights are Rooster and the Till, Ella's Americana Folk Art Cafe, Independent Bar and Cafe, The Mermaid Tavern, Angry Chair Brewing, Florida Avenue Brewing Co., San Carlos Tavern & Grill, El Rincon Catracho, Reservations Gourmet to Go, The Front Porch Grill and Bar, and Cappy's Pizza.

TGH opens second primary health care center in Pasco County

Tampa General Hospital continues its expansion into Pasco County with the opening of the Tampa General Medical Group Family Care Center in Wesley Chapel.

The medical facility opens Jan. 7 at 2324 Oak Myrtle Lane, on the north side of State Road 56, off Cypress Creek Boulevard. Operating hours are from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday - Friday. This is TGH's 13th Family Care Center and the second in Pasco County.

"We're trying to find our sites where growth is high," says Jana Gardner, VP of physicians practices operations. "The area is growing like a weed, kind of like Brandon."

The interchange of I-75 and S.R.56 is a booming area for new development in the Wesley Chapel area including the planned master-community of Cypress Creek Town Center, Tampa Premium Outlets mall and the Cypress Creek Ice & Sports Complex.

Tampa General opened a family care center, for patients age 18 and older, in the Trinity area of Pasco in October.

The Wesley Chapel facility has two doctors, Stephanie Talton-Williamson and Cheryl Roberson. They will offer health care to patients age 12 and older. Services include physicals, immunizations, illness visits and management of chronic health conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

Talton-Williamson is board certified in internal medicine. She completed her residency and earned a medical degree from Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans. Roberson is board certified in family medicine. She completed her residency a the Via Christi Hospital St. Francis in Wichita, Kansas. Her medical degree is from the University of Kansas in Kansas City.

The family care center also is the address for Tower Radiology Center which will be a convenience for physicians and patients, says Gardner.

 TGH officials plan to open a 14th Family Care Center in Fishhawk community in LIthia in late January.

Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik plans $1B Investment in Downtown Tampa

Game changer may be a cliche but it seems to fit Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik's vision of a $1 billion investment to create a "live, work, play and stay" neighborhood in downtown Tampa's Channel District that will propel economic growth in Tampa for decades.

"We have a virtual blank canvas of 40 acres ... to develop an entire district to revitalize downtown and change this area for an entire generation," says Vinik.

In the last four years Vinik's real estate team, Strategic Property Partners, quietly amassed vacant lots surrounding the Lightning venue, Amalie Arena. Vinik compares the purchases to the under-the-radar land deals made decades ago for Disney World in Orlando.

For many, his vision for Tampa holds the promise of being a seminal moment in the city's history.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn tags Vinik as a "city builder."

"We are on the precipice of something absolutely amazing. ... This is a day they will look back on and they will say this is where it started," says the mayor.

On Wednesday Vinik and his creative team presented their vision plan for the  district and Channelside Bay Plaza to an overflow crowd at Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina. Among dignitaries were Buckhorn, University of South Florida President Judy Genshaft and Florida Commerce Secretary Gray Swoope.

Over the next five to seven years Vinik proposes to create the Tampa Waterfront District as a vibrant 18/7 retail, dining and entertainment mecca as well as a business center for corporations, entrepreneurs and innovators.

Plans are to add nearly 3 million square feet of commercial and residential development. Upon completion, estimates put annual economic output at about $900 million. About 3,700 direct jobs will be added to Hillsborough County's employment rolls with an average salary of about $78,000. Annual tax revenues will be boosted by as much as $35 million, based on projections by Oxford Economics.

Seattle-based Cascade Investment, founded by billionaire Bill Gates, is the funding partner. "We do have financing to complete the billion dollar project and hopefully go beyond when it is done," Vinik says.

On land donated by Vinik, USF plans to build new facilities for the Morsani College of Medicine and USF Heart Health Institute. Student housing also is a possibility. 

By summer of 2015 the first dirt will turn as work begins on infrastructure and a new street grid that will see Old Water Street expanded and some lesser streets vacated. 

"We hope USF follows shortly behind that," Vinik says.

The struggling Channelside Bay Plaza will see its west end torn away to open up views of the waterfront and Harbour Island. A bridge across Channelside Drive will link the dining and shopping plaza to an existing parking garage. A water taxi, ferry, wharf, a new park and boardwalk will connect residents and visitors to the district's prime asset -- the waterfront.

A new Mexican restaurant, Hablo Taco, will open in the plaza in January.

A mixed-use development on a vacant lot across from the Marriott will have a hotel, residences and a retail row that will connect Tampa Convention Center and Amalie Arena. Improvements to the Marriott, which Vinik recently acquired, also are planned.

The TECO Line Streetcar will be expanded.

Vinik emphasizes that he is working from a vision plan. A master plan is yet to come and he wants input from everyone in the community. A crowdsourcing website, TampaWaterfront20/20, invites comments and suggestions.

In 2015 Vinik says his team will concentrate on marketing Tampa and the Channel District's future.

The Lightning owner says people who've never been to Tampa often don't understand the potential of what the city can become. He recalls some questioned his decision to re-locate to Tampa when he bought the hockey team. "This is a great place to live, a great place to work, a great place to stay," he says. "The quality of life is second to none."

And Tampa is attracting millennials and young professionals, as well as empty nesters, who want to enjoy the urban lifestyle. "The millennials, they don't want to be in suburbs. They don't want cars anymore. They want to rent," Vinik says. "This trend is well documented. It's a reason we feel so confident in what we are doing." 

Channel District resident Sid Hasan moved to Tampa more than a year ago from Washington, D.C. He is a founder of CUPS (Channel District Urban Professionals Society), which is seeking to create a collective voice for Channel District business owners and residences.

Vinik's plan, says Hasan, "validates why I moved her from D.C. I thought this was a perfect place to re-invent myself. This is incredible." 

Historical figures honored on Tampa Riverwalk

A Jewish immigrant who became Tampa's first mayor and a West Tampa businessman and civil rights leader are among the latest group of trail blazers to be honored with bronze busts installed on The Tampa Riverwalk's Historical Monument Trail.

For the third year the nonprofit Friends of the Riverwalk revealed its six annual honorees. About 200 people came to see the busts unveiled in a ceremony outside the Tampa Convention Center. 

"I marvel at the courage, sacrifice and perseverance, the guts, that these people have shown," says attorney Steve Anderson, president of the Friends of the Riverwalk. "They are truly inspirational."

The busts, created by sculptor Steve Dickey, will recognize the accomplishments of Blanche Armwood, the namesake of Armwood High School, who was an educator and community activist; Herman Glogowski, a Jewish clothing store owner who became mayor of Tampa at its incorporation in 1886; Gavino Gutierrez, the "first citizen of Ybor City" who brought cigar magnates Vicente Martinez Ybor and Ignacio Haya to Tampa; Bena Wolf Maas, who founded the Children's Home and was the wife of Abe Maas of the Maas Bros. department stores; Hugh Campbell MacFarlane, the Scottish immigrant and attorney who founded West Tampa and nurtured its cigar industry; and Moses White, a prominent West Tampa businessman and civil rights leader.

They will join 12 other historical figures selected for the trail since 2012. As many as 30 people will be memorialized. Informational monuments also will be placed along the trail.

The Riverwalk is the city's waterfront promenade that is envisioned as an approximately 2.5 mile community connector as well as an entertainment and cultural mecca for residents and visitors. The last major segment of the walkway through downtown, a link under Kennedy Boulevard, is expected to be completed in early 2015.

Aloft Hotel, Ulele restaurant, the Tampa Museum of Art and the Straz Center for the Performing Arts are among the businesses and cultural centers already populating the Riverwalk. With a Riverwalk completed from MacDill Park to Water Works Park, the design is intended to attract restaurants, shops, hotels and special events to make the Hillsborough River a downtown destination.

Who else from Tampa's history deserves a bronze bust along the Tampa Riverwalk? Post your comments below. 

St. Pete's much anticipated Locale Market opens in December

Tampa Bay foodies are enthusiastic about the grand opening of Locale Market on Wednesday, Dec. 17, in downtown St. Petersburg’s upscale Sundial Shopping Plaza.  

The inspiration of well-known celebrity chefs Michael Mina and Don Pintabona, Locale Market will be a combination restaurant, bakery and upscale grocery store featuring many locally sourced food, including gator, seafood, produce and caviar from Sarasota, as well as handcrafted items, such as specialty soaps from Thrive Handcrafts in St. Petersburg.

Additional extras include three wood burning grills, fresh-squeezed juices, a 60-day dry aging room for beef, fresh-made pasta bar, bakery and open-air kitchens and cook stations where customers can watch food being prepared. There will also be indoor and outdoor seating. An opening date for the wine bar and a restaurant, FarmTable Kitchen, have not been scheduled, but both will be located on the second floor of the 22,000-square-foot new gourmet marketplace.

Locale joins the line-up of other new retail shops and restaurant at Sundial St. Pete, the former BayWalk shopping area that developer Bill Edwards, CEO of the Edwards Group, has been putting together for several years in downtown St. Petersburg. Local artist Mark Aeiling of MGA Sculpture Studio, in St. Petersburg created the life-size bronze sculpture of dolphins that are part of a dramatic courtyard art scene that also includes a giant sundial.

Celebrity chefs Mina and Pintabona have impressive credentials. Mina is a James Beard award-winning chef and restaurateur, while Pintabona is a cookbook author and served as the first executive chef for The Tribeca Grill, actor Robert DeNiro’s famed restaurant in New York City. 

The two are enthusiastic about Locale Market, which will officially open to the public at 3 p.m. on December 17.

“We couldn’t be more excited to share our culinary marketplace with an area that understands fresh ingredients, unique experiences and community gathering,” says Pintabona.

University Mall gets new owner, new future

University Mall is heading for a makeover.

New York-based RD Management is the new owner of most of the enclosed mall's assets. Hillsborough County records show the company paid about $29.5 million for the property, at 2200 E. Fowler Ave.

The anchor stores, Dillard's, Macy's, Sear's and Burlington Coat Factory, appear to be part of the mall's future and are not included in the purchase. New tenants are potentially a warehouse club, fitness center and a grocery store as well as medical offices or student housing. Hints of the mall's future are viewable in a conceptual plan posted on RD Management's website.

Among vacant retail space with big box potential is the nearly 159,000 square feet once occupied by J.C. Penney's. No word on what retailer might move in there, but other RD Management properties lease to BJ's Wholesale Club. One of the company's mixed use redevelopment projects of retail and housing is in Gainesville, next to the University of Florida.

The mall is in proximity to a ready customer base of nearly 47,000 students at the University of South Florida as well as 16,000 faculty and staff, according to RD Management.  But the University area also is close by four hospitals including Florida Hospital and H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center, Busch Gardens, office parks and more than 265,000 residents within five miles of the mall.

University Mall has been struggling in recent years to keep up with its competitors and facing growing vacancies. But in October, the mall got a burst of newness when Studio Movie Grill opened in the defunct Regal 16 movie house.

The 14-screen movie house offers restaurant-style dining in the theater, first-run movies, a bar and full lounge. Alternative programming and special events also are offered.

Studio Movie Grill representatives also cite the USF student population and the potential growth in the University area as reason for seeking out a lease at University Mall.

Gateway North brings luxury apartments to Largo

Gateway North is the newest luxury apartment complex in Largo, a city that is encouraging more large-scale residential projects with a moratorium on parkland fees.

The fees generally are collected from developers to offset the city's costs for upkeep and additional park amenities to accommodate residential growth. The moratorium is scheduled to end in May 2016.

Gateway North likely would not have been built without the moratorium and the savings to developers of about $1 million in parkland fees, says Anthony Everett, director of Central Florida's division of the Atlanta-based Pollack Shores Real Estate Group

"It was forward thinking of the city to take this positive step and prime the pump to get something going," Everett says.  

Gateway North, at 2681 Roosevelt Blvd., offers 342 one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments ranging in monthly rents from $945 to $1,619. The complex is the first large-scale, market-rate residential complex to open in Largo in at least the past decade. The economic downturn in particular put the brakes on residential development.

Amenities include a 2-acre lake with jogging trails, business and fitness centers, a resort-style clubhouse and pool, and trolley stops for the Clearwater beaches.

The complex offers access to shopping, entertainment, businesses and bus stops, off nearby U.S. 19. Among options are a new Walmart Super Center, WaWa's convenience store and gas station, the St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport and quick access to Tampa Bay bridges.

Pollack Shores Real Estate Group, which developed Gateway North, anticipates the residential community will have broad appeal to young professionals as well as people working in nearby county offices or in proximity to the airport.

At least 120,000 vehicles travel past Gateway North and area businesses daily. 

"I'm sure 300 people would prefer to live close to where they work," Everett says. "It's going  to be a very convenient place to live."

Largo is looking at additional residential construction that in total could put up to 1,200 apartments into the market.

Among current projects are The Boulevard, a 260-unit, market-rate apartment complex at 2098 Seminole Blvd., north of Largo Mall. The site is former home to an RV park. Broadway Apartments will have 288 market-rate apartments on 66th Street, near Ulmerton Road. And Bay Isle Landing is a project of 96 town homes on Roosevelt Boulevard near the Bayside Bridge.

"These are high quality market rate apartment projects," says Robert Klute, Largo's assistant community development director. "That's something we very much want to see."

2 major Tampa streets get new trees, flowers in $1 million makeover

Two gateways into Tampa will look prettier after a $1 million makeover from the city of Tampa and the Florida Department of Transportation.

The grant from the state's Landscape on State Roadways program will pay for new landscaping along Hillsborough Avenue from the Hillsborough River to Interstate 275, and along Dale Mabry Highway from Gandy Boulevard to MacDill Air Force Base. The landscaped design along Dale Mabry, which ends at the air base, will be a tribute to fallen soldiers.

“Just as we did throughout the urban core, we’re expanding our beautification efforts and working to transform our arterial roads to become the welcome signs they should be.  A community feels about itself the way it looks,” says Mayor Bob Buckhorn in a news release announcing the grant. “These roads are true gateways throughout our community.” 

The Hillsborough Avenue gateway runs through Seminole Heights, which is an emerging neighborhood that is home to a growing collection of premier dining destinations, boutiques and micro-breweries.

Nearly 10 years ago the area was spruced up with a landscaped median and a red-brick wall on Hillsborough Avenue between Central and Florida avenues.

"It's just a little tired looking," says Brad Suder, planning and design superintendent of the city's parks and recreation department.

Landscape architect Celia Nichols of Lutz-based Nichols Landscape Architecture will design new landscaping for the roadway, which Suder says will cost between $300,000 and $350,000.

Approximately $800,000 will be spent along Dale Mabry on a landscaped memorial leading to the entrance of MacDill that will honor fallen soldiers. Suder says the design, which is about 50 percent completed, is being done in-house by city employees.

These projects are part of the city's "Opportunity Corridors" efforts, which began in 2012. 

"We really want the city to look like a vibrant city that is open for business and positioned to encourage more business, and to have a better experience for visitors,"  Suder says.

Among the beautified roadways are Bayshore Boulevard, Ashley Drive, Franklin Street, Doyle Carlton Drive, Union Station and Interstate 275 ramps at Orange and Jefferson streets. More than 700 trees were planted in the downtown area along with lighting and irrigation.

Green is the color of Tampa's newest bike lanes

Tampa is adding a new color palette to its bicycle lanes.

Green-painted stripes will mark off designated bike lanes on two road projects that will re-surface portions of Cleveland and Platt streets. Both are major roads carrying heavy traffic loads into and out of downtown. Work is underway on Cleveland; crews will start on Platt on Dec. 8.

City officials say these will be the city's first green, protected bike lanes. More likely will appear as more roadways are re-surfaced.

Roads generally are striped in white and yellow. New recommendations from federal highway safety officials point to green as an attention-grabber for bike lanes when motorists and bicyclists are sharing the road.

Tampa Transportation Manager Jean Duncan says "conflict areas" on Cleveland and Platt will get the green stripes. "These are areas where we feel there is more weaving and merging going on and more chance for bicyclists to be in a precarious situation," she says.

The city also will reduce speed limits on Cleveland and Platt from 40 mph to 35 mph as part of traffic calming in the area. 

The addition of bike lanes using the latest in safety design is in keeping with the vision for the city's downtown residential and commercial growth. City officials anticipate more people pedaling along city streets. And, Coast Bike Share recently opened 30 bike-rental kiosks around the city.

Construction on Cleveland runs from the Hillsborough River west to South Armenia Avenue. The work will repair existing utilities and drainage. Energy-efficient street lighting and pedestrian ramps that meet federal disability rules will be installed.

A bike lane will be added on the north side of Cleveland with additional parking designated on the south side. Work on the approximately $2 million project will be done in phases by Ajax Paving. The project is scheduled for completion in April 2015.

“There probably isn’t a roadway as in need as Cleveland Street is, but we’re going in to fix the source, the problems you can’t see below. As the City moves forward to repair and improve our existing infrastructure on streets like Platt and Cleveland, it’s important that we make sure they are really serving all its users, including cyclists and pedestrians,” says Mayor Bob Buckhorn. “In this case, we are adding new bike infrastructure, the first of their kind in Tampa, but we’re already planning miles more.”

Platt will be resurfaced from Audubon Avenue to Bayshore Boulevard. One travel lane will be removed to make room for a bike lane and additional on-street parking on the south side. The approximately $1.4 million project also will be done in phases by Asphalt Paving Systems, Inc. Work is scheduled for completion in February 2015.

During construction, city officials recommend motorists use alternate routes to avoid potential traffic congestion. However, access to businesses and residences will be kept open.

Developer plans Warehouse Lofts in Seminole Heights, Tampa

If Seminole Heights is a destination you keep coming back to, why not make the neighborhood your home?

Local developer Wesley Burdette is betting young professionals will do just that when he opens The Warehouse Lofts in 2015. The 46-unit complex will re-purpose a vacant warehouse at the corner of Florida Avenue and Cayuga Street, just south of Osborne Avenue. There will be studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments, a zen garden, rooftop pavilion and a 3-story atrium.

"Seminole Heights is a hidden gem of what goes on in Tampa," says Burdette, a partner of Access Capital Mortgage.

The urban in-fill project is a rarity in a neighborhood known for its restored 1920s bungalows.  But that type of domicile is not always the first choice of upwardly-mobile millennials who are flocking to an expanding selection in Seminole Heights of eclectic dining spots, and cool hang-outs for wines and craft beers.

A sample list includes The Independent, the Mermaid Tavern, the Refinery, Front Porch Grille, Jet City Espresso, Ella's Americana Folk Cafe, Cappy's Pizza and the Rooster and The Till. Angry Chair Brewing is a new arrival. Fodder and Shine, the Florida-centric creation of the Refinery's owners, is under construction. The Bourgeoisie Pig and Delicious Surprise will debut soon.

"They don't have any other options," says Burdette of the neighborhood's residential stock.  "This is our destination. We go to the Independent, to the Refinery. We find this is where we hang out. Why don't we live here?"

Burdette expects construction on Warehouse Lofts to begin early next year. 

Wolf Design Group, which worked on the Victory Lofts in North Hyde Park, is handling the architectural design. Gabler Brothers is the general contractor. Sunshine State Federal Savings is providing most of the financing for the approximately $5 million project.

Depending on final design, Burdette says between 3,100 and 6,000 square feet might be available for retail or restaurant uses. He is not ready to market any specific ideas but a craft beer tasting room or a high-end bakery might be possibilities. Or even a little competition for Starbucks with a high-end roaster such as Buddy Brew, he adds.

"That would be a really nice fit."

Sarasota Architectural Salvage opens second location in Sarasota Design District

A little bit of rust and the occasional speck of dust are just part of the charm at Sarasota Architectural Salvage (SAS), where antique hardware and salvage from historic structures get a second lease on life in the form of quirky, upcycled home decor. 

Established in 2003, the SAS warehouse has been a favorite haunt for urbanites and design junkies for over a decade. Though no one has complained about the dust and rust to date, SAS is cleaning up its act as it carves out a home in its second location.

“I’m basically splitting my business into two divisions. The original warehouse space is where we have all of our parts and pieces -- the real architecutral elements, lumber, and raw materials. We’ve moved our home decor, our upcycled furniture, our collectibles, and our ‘wow’ pieces into the new location at SAS Mercantile,” says SAS owner, Jesse White.

In October, SAS began its move beyond the warehouse with the addition of the sleek, new SAS Mercantile gallery in the historic Old Ice House building, also located in the industrial outskirts of downtown Sarasota. Built in 1946, the Old Ice House has a colorful past as a ice and beer distributor, a motorcycle chop shop, and most recently, a contemporary art gallery owned by Sarasota resident and Businessman Ross Mercier.

White says that when he learned the art gallery closed, he seized the opportunity to rent the Ice House space for an undisclosed sum over the summer. 

“One of the things that most attracted us to this spot is that there are two air-conditioning spaces in the building--for products we might want to display in a more finished environment than the warehouse. We were able to basically step into a finished, workable space. The roof was done and the walls were all prepared, so we had a clear canvas to work with,” White says.

The fully stocked SAS Mercantile space opened its doors on Oct. 10, 2014. 

“In the warehouse location, someone might come in looking for a door they could take home and work on themselves to ‘D.I.Y.’ into a new existence. The new location is geared toward a customer who thinks, ‘OK, I want a headboard that’s got a cool history with a story and craftsmanship to it. I’m going to go to SAS Mercantile for a piece that’s ready to go,’” White says.

“Our aim is to really become a part of the Sarasota Design District,” he adds. “Through SAS Mercantile, we’re connecting ourselves with Home Resource, Sarasota Collection, Cabinet Scapes and the other businesses in this neighborhood that are helping to define this design-centric district.” 

SAS Mercantile will celebrate is grand opening in December, to coincide with the yearly holiday charity event hosted by Sarasota Architectural Salvage.

Hidden Springs Ale Works to open in Tampa Heights

Two avid home brewers plan to turn a vacant warehouse on North Franklin Street into a Tampa Heights' micro-brewery -- Hidden Springs Ale Works.

Partners Joshua Garman and Austin Good just closed on the warehouse building, next to 8-count Studios in the renovated Rialto Theater. The historic movie palace is re-imagined as an art and event venue for art and photography exhibitions, weddings, fashion shows and dance classes.

"We kind of love Tampa Heights and the stuff that's going on here," says Garman. "They need a place like we're doing to be a meeting place for the community."

In addition to 8-count Studios, the brewery is near Cafe Hey, also on Franklin, and the recently opened Ulele Restaurant to the east by Water Works Park.

The warehouse for now is a large empty space but Garman and Good are interviewing prospective contractors and architects for what they hope will be a tasting room and brewery with an industrial vibe.

Hidden Springs is the brewery's name because "we wanted something Florida sounding," Garman says. "We grew up playing in springs, like Florida kids did. It sounds refreshing."

The immediate next step is filing a zoning application with the city of Tampa, which Garman anticipates will happen within a week.

Owners of Coppertail Brewing Co. in Ybor City are providing advice and guidance along the way.

Hidden Springs will provide 15 brews plus five guest taps from local breweries such as Coppertail and Angry Chair Brewing. Among Hidden Springs' offerings will be a milk stout, IPA, double IPA, American amber and Berliner Weisse.

The target opening is in February though Garman says that is an ambitious goal. Initially Garman anticipates hiring a staff of four or five people.

Garman and Good have been home brewers for several years and have won medals in amateur competitions. Both had been thinking about opening a brewery.

"We decided to join forces," Garman says. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

LMB Boutique moves to trendy South Tampa

LMB Boutique will add upscale chic to South Howard Avenue in a neighborhood trending with eclectic restaurants, shopping options and the culinary-themed Epicurean Hotel.

And, for the first week following the Liz Murtagh Boutique's grand opening on Nov. 15, 20 percent of the shop's proceeds will go to the American Cancer Society.

"That's a program near and dear to my heart," says Owner Liz Murtagh who lost her mother and grandmother to cancer. "I'm trying to raise as much money as possible." 

The boutique, at 815 S. Howard Ave., will be the signature store for Murtagh's collection of haute designer clothes, jewelry, hand bags, shoes and accessories. One half of the 2,100-square-foot store will be devoted to furniture, home decorations and artwork. 

"It's everything a woman could want in one store," says Murtagh.

The shop is located in a 1940s art-deco style building close by Daily Eats and within blocks of the Epicurean Hotel and Bern's Steak House. The site was formerly occupied by Santiesteban & Associates Architects.

"It's a real treat for the eye," says Murtagh, whose background is in interior design.

The grand opening is 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Nov. 15. The celebration will feature food, wine, makeovers, drawings and free gifts to the first 10 customers. Models will stroll through the shop wearing the latest in trends from New York and California. Murtagh's style is described as free-spirited, vintage, bohemian and uncomplicated.

The boutique offers one of Tampa's largest selections of stylish, eclectic jewelry. Customers also can get professional interior design services for their latest home redecorating projects. For parties of five or more people, Murtagh will have a "girls' night out" with wine, food and after-hours shopping.

Parking is available behind the boutique and across the street.

South Tampa is a prime location that Murtagh has had her eye on for awhile. By the end of the year, she will close her 3-year-old shop in West Park Village in the Westchase master-planned community in northwest Hillsborough County. 

The South Howard location will nearly double the size of her former shop. 

"I love the community. I love all the people," she says of the Westchase area. "But I've always wanted to have a shop in (South Tampa) and own my building. I have the flexibility to do what I want."

ENCORE! Tampa to raise curtain on performance theater

The musically themed ENCORE! Tampa is setting the stage for a professionally operated performance theater at its newest residential building, the Tempo.

The 203-unit apartment building is under construction at the corner of Scott and Governor streets, adjacent to the city's Perry Harvey Sr. Park. Construction on the approximately $43 million project will be completed in 2015.

"We are going to go looking for an operator (for the theater)," says Leroy Moore, COO for the Tampa Housing Authority, which is developing ENCORE! as a $425 million master-planned, mixed income community of apartments, shops, hotel, offices and a black history museum. "We always wanted to be able to incorporate music and art into the park."

The 5,000-square-foot theater will add a new element to the overall music and art themes of ENCORE!, which is located just north of downtown Tampa. Encore replaces the former public housing complex of Central Park Village, which was torn down in 2007 as part of the city's revitalization efforts.

Moore says the theater is not envisioned as a community theater but as a privately operated business. He likens ENCORE!'s theater concept to the Stageworks Theater, which is located at the Grand Central at Kennedy condominium in the Channel District. 

Once the theater's management is in place, Moore says,  "They'll plan the theater's interiors."

In addition to plays, the venue could host small concerts, debates and oratory events. THA representatives are reaching out to members of Tampa's arts community for advice.

ENCORE! is spread across nearly 40 acres between Cass Street and Nebraska Avenue in a neighborhood settled by freed slaves after the Civil War. During segregation, nearby Central Avenue - known as "Harlem South" - thrived as a black business and entertainment district drawing legendary musicians and singers including Ray Charles, Hank Ballard and Ella Fitzgerald.

ENCORE! and the city's plans to redesign Perry Harvey Sr. Park honor the neighborhood's history and musical legacy. The first apartment building opened in 2012 as The Ella, housing seniors and named for Fitzgerald. The Trio, Encore's first multi-family apartments, opened earlier this year. Streets are named for Charles, Ballard and educator Blanche Armwood. Public art installed at ENCORE! is an homage to jazz and local history.

A former church on-site will be restored as a black history museum. A contractor will be chosen in the next week to handle a partial demolition and stabilization of the historical building's facade. Bids will go out early in 2015 for the project's construction contract of about $1.5 million.

THA and the Banc of America Community Development Corporation are development partners on the ENCORE! project. Bessolo Design Group is the architectural firm for Tempo. The general contractor is Siltek Group, Inc., which also is in charge of The Reed's construction.

The Reed, a second senior housing building, is under construction but is expected to have its first tenants in early January. Leasing is under way. "It is filling up incredibly fast," says Moore.

Work on a re-design for Perry Harvey Sr. Park is pending final approval from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Moore expects the green light in the next month or so.

Developers plan hotel/residences at Tampa's historic Kress building

The historical Kress Building may have found the right buyers for a makeover that will bring the iconic landmark back to life and propel a rebirth on North Franklin Street in the heart of Tampa's downtown core.

The Atlanta-based HRV Hotel Partners and a team of Tampa developers including EWI Construction Executives Sam and Casey Ellison, and partner Anthony Italiano; and Tampa developer Alex Walter of Walson Ventures are joining forces to re-develop the Kress building as a 22-story tower with a 190-room hotel and 58 residences. About 15,000 square feet is planned for "restaurant uses."

The former F.W. Woolworth and J.J. Newberry department stores, which sandwich the Kress building, are incorporated into the re-design.

A sales contract is pending the city's approval of the project, says real estate broker Jeannette Jason of DjG Tampa Inc. Realty Services. She and her father, Miami-based real estate broker and developer Doran Jason, are management partners in Kress Square LLC, which owns the property in the 800 block of Franklin, across from the Element apartment complex. An entry into Kress also is located on Florida Avenue.

"We still have due diligence. We have a ways to go,"  she says. "I'm optimistic that these guys can get the deal done. I think the community will like the new plan and design."

Jason declined to provide details, saying she would leave that to the prospective development team.

But the project will have about half the density of another project initially approved in 2005 that never got off the ground, she says. That project included two residential towers with about 400 units, a parking garage and nearly 85,000 square feet for retail, office and other uses.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn says the redevelopment of the Kress building is the last major structure that his administration had set its sights on. "This is a building we have tried for three-and-a-half years to get done. It was a grand old structure that needed to be restored," Buckhorn says. "We have pushed. We have prodded. ... I couldn't be happier. It's nice to hopefully bring this one in for a landing."

Buckhorn also is hoping developers will honor the Blake and Middleton High School students who held the lunch counter sit-in at Woolworth in 1960. Their efforts pushed the city to integrate its businesses. "People need to know what took place there," he says, adding that public art could be included in the project.

City planners will review plans submitted by Walson Ventures and determine administratively whether to approve the project.

Preliminary plans submitted by Alfonso Architects show nine floors each for hotel rooms and residences, a 2-story garage and an amenities deck. Four restaurants and a coffee/tea lounge for "grab and go" items also are shown. 

"We're ready to go," says Buckhorn. "I'm hoping we see a groundbreaking in the not too distant future."

He sees the demand for more downtown residences growing especially among young professionals. "They are flocking here and bringing their friends with them," he says.

Angry Chair Brewing ready to pour in Seminole Heights

Angry Chair Brewing is the latest micro-brewery to tap into the craft beer market in Tampa. It also adds to Seminole Heights' reputation as a destination place for eclectic dining and drinking choices.

Watch the brewery's Facebook page for the announcement on Angry Chairs opening, one day this week.

The only hold-up after two years of hard work and waiting on bureaucratic red tape is a taste test of the German Chocolate Cupcake libation. It is a brew tried out at Independent beer house with success.

"It had a lot of traction," says co-owner Ryan Dowdle, a former consultant for Cigar City Brewing Co.

He and co-owner Shane Mozur and brewing partner Ben Romano are eager to share this brew and four or five others that will be on tap in the tasting room along with "quest" taps from other Florida-only breweries.

Among the beer choices will be Round About IPA, Hoppy Ale and Gose, a tart German-style beer. German Chocolate Cupcake is a seasonal brew that will be offered two or three times a year along with a German-style seasonal of sour wheat with added tropical fruits.

Seminole Heights is the owners' location of choice, aided by an opportunity to remodel a 1941 block building at 6401 N. Florida Ave., across from San Carlos Tavern. Most of the interior was gutted but as much as possible of the building's old heart pine was salvaged for reuse.

Hartley + Purdy Architecture and LIVEWORK STUDIOS worked on the building design and interiors. 

"I like the synergy (of Seminole Heights)," says Dowdle. "I like its sense of community which is not present in other areas. I like the way everybody works together and supports one another. Creativity and imagination of  people around us makes complete sense. It's a thrilling time."

The Angry Chair is a place for people to get away from whatever is negative, whether it's being stuck in traffic or a bad day at work. "This is my celebration of it," Dowdle says.

He expects a very interactive relationship with customers whose opinions and tastes will determine which beers will be brewed.

Growlers will be available for take-home sale, and Angry Chair's brews will be offered at other locations including Independent and possibly Ella's Americana Folk Art Cafe. There is limited parking at Angry Chair but nearby businesses, including San Carlos, will open up parking spaces. And for those who walk or cycle to Angry Chair, discounts will be given.

Seminole Heights is seeing a lot of good business growth along Florida, including the under-construction Fodder & Shine restaurant and the expansion of Rooster & the Till.

And competition isn't a bad thing, Dowdle says.

"This is all good. We actually feed off each other," he says. "As long as we have people coming to Seminole Heights, we all benefit."

Urbanism on Tap invites you to discuss role of universities in urban design

Tampa's Urban Charrette and the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) Tampa Bay will host Urbanism on Tap at PJ Dolan's Irish Pub & Grille, North of USF on Nov. 18, 2014, starting at 5:45 p.m. 

Starting this fall, Urbanism on Tap organizers have moved north of Downtown Tampa to host a new Urbanism on Tap Series highlighting the “Role of Universities in Urban Design and Innovation’’ and engage the University of South Florida (USF) community in the conversation.  

Led by Urban Charrette and CNU Tampa Bay, Urbanism on Tap is a recurring open mic event, focused on generating constructive conversations within the community about current ideas and trends that are shaping our city.

Every event is open to the public, and moderators and attendees are invited to share their views and stories related to the topic of the day. The intention of the event is to generate a lively exchange of ideas, which will enhance our ability to make Tampa a more livable city.

The upcoming event, entitled “Town & Gown: Getting Along and Prospering,” is the second discussion of a three-part series focused on the relationship between universities and their host cities. 

In particular, the Nov. 18 event will look at how these traditional adversaries have become partners to spur development and model successful placemaking. Participants will have the opportunity to discuss various case studies of universities and cities from around the country that have collaborated to create prosperous and vibrant urban environments. They will also have the opportunity to share their experiences from their favorite university towns.

The discussion will then focus on how ideas from these case studies and experiences can be applied in Tampa to improve USF and its surrounding neighborhoods. Students, residents and neighborhood groups residing around the university area are encouraged to attend. 
 
The event organizers encourage people to share their opinions on this topic by visiting Urbanism on Tap’s Facebook page. People can also use the Facebook page and the UOT website to continue the conversation online, following the event. 

Venue: PJ Dolan's Irish Pub & Grille, North of USF (2836 E Bearss Ave Tampa, FL 33613); 
Date and Time: Nov. 18, 2014 from 5:45 p.m – 7:15 p.m
For any questions, email Ashly Anderson.

Goody Goody restaurant gets a new life

Goody Goody things come to those who wait.

After a nine-year (on-and-off) quest, Richard Gonzmart is holder of the secret sauce recipe spread on hamburgers grilled at one of Tampa's most iconic dining spots - the Goody Goody restaurant.

He purchased rights to the Goody Goody name, the secret sauce and a few pieces of furniture, including the Goody Goody sign, from former owner Michael Wheeler.

Plans are to "restore the luster of its storied past," says Gonzmart, who is owner of the Ulele restaurant on Tampa's Riverwalk and a fourth-generation co-owner of the Columbia Restaurant Group which includes the Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City.

A wrecking ball knocked down the Goody Goody restaurant on Florida Avenue one year after its closing in 2005, demolishing an 85-year-old landmark.

The restaurant opened in 1925 on Grand Central Avenue (now Kennedy Boulevard) and also later had a location in Seminole Heights next to a neighborhood movie house. In 1930 Goody Goody opened downtown at 1119 Florida Avenue.  It was Tampa's first drive-in restaurant, with male car hops hustling delivery orders to customers who waited in their cars. As World War II began, female car hops, known as the "Goody Goody" girls, took over.

Inside, customers sat side by side in metal chairs and schoolroom desks. The Goody Goody brand got its start selling barbecue at "pig stands" in the Midwest. 

Gonzmart is a long-time fan of Goody Goody hamburgers and its house made butterscotch pies. Leaving his office on Saturdays, he frequently phoned his pick-up orders for a bag of hamburgers with pickles, onions and secret sauce. 

"They didn't know who I was or my connection to the Columbia," he says in a press release announcing the sale agreement. "But they knew my voice and my order."

Once a new location can be found, Gonzmart hopes to re-open Goody Goody sometime in 2015. If all goes well, he might consider additional Goody Goody locations.

"He's actively looking for a site," says Michael Kilgore, chief marketing officer for the Columbia Group. "It's premature to give much detail."

YMCA plans 3-pool aquatics center in South Tampa

South Tampa swimmers of all ages can get ready for a new aquatic experience with a choice of three swimming pools for fun and wellness.

The Tampa Metropolitan Area YMCA will begin construction in November on the Carol Kennedy Aquatic Center at the South Tampa Family YMCA at 4411 S. Himes Ave. The center is named in memory of the daughter of David and Liz Kennedy who died in 1984. The Kennedys are long-time supporters of the YMCA and its mission.

The center's current pool, which is old and out-dated, will stay open during construction. Pending a capital fund-raising campaign, plans are to fill in the existing pool and expand the YMCA building.

The Carol Kennedy Aquatic Center will have a therapy pool, an activity pool with a focus on children, and a lap pool for families and training purposes. Construction costs are about $3.5 million. The center is expected to open in May 2015.

The YMCA offers a variety of aquatic fitness programs as well as swimming classes for adults and infants as young as six months. A 6-week IRS Self-Rescue course on survival swimming skills also is available for children age six months to four years.

One of the agency's priorities is drowning prevention. Florida annually has the highest number of drownings of children under the age of five.

The therapy pool will feature aquatic fitness classes and swim opportunities for seniors or people with disabilities, says Lalita Llerena, YMCA spokeswoman.

"(Aquatic exercise) is one of the softer opportunities for fitness," she says. "We're hoping to reach more active seniors with that."

For the YMCA 2014 has been an expansion year. Earlier this year a new, 11,500 square-foot gymnastics center opened on Ragg Road in Carrollwood as part of the Bob Sierra YMCA Youth & Family Center. Construction is under way on the first of three phases for the South Shore YMCA at Interstate 75 and Big Bend Road. The second phase is expected to include an aquatics center.

CSX terminal key to thousands of new jobs in Central Florida

Polk County and the city of Winter Haven are beneficiaries of a transportation, logistics and distribution hub that could bring thousands of jobs to the area over the next five to 10 years.

The terminal for the CSX Central Florida Logistics Center in Winter Haven, which opened in April, is the first step in developing about 7.9 million square feet of warehouse, distribution and manufacturing facilities, all located on about 930 acres surrounding the CSX rail line. About 300,000 containers of goods will be processed annually from rail to truck or truck to rail with state-of-the-art technology. 

Winter Haven Industrial Developers paid about $8.5 million for about 500 acres of the site, according to Polk County records. The remaining acreage will be part of a second phase of development.

About 30 employees oversee daily operations at the terminal which is a regional link to Tampa, Orlando and Miami, all within one-day truck trips from Winter Haven. CSX officials say they expect about 1,800 direct jobs and as many as 8,500 indirect jobs to be realized in the next decade.

The exact number of jobs will be tied to the kinds of businesses that locate around the terminal, says Bruce Lyon, executive director of the Winter Haven Economic Development Council.  He places job estimates in the range of 4,000 to 8,000.

"We are as a city and county well prepared to embrace any new development that occurs on the site," says Lyon. "The labor force is ready."

He points to the educational opportunities for a trained work force including Polk State College, a few miles from the CSX terminal. There also is the University of Central Florida in Orlando, and according to Lyon, a sometimes overlooked fact that Winter Haven has an immense amount of broad-band capacity coveted by the logistics industry.

"The logistics industry is very advanced in terms of technology," Lyon says.

And overall the industry offers higher than average paying jobs. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, logisticians' median annual salary in May 2012 was about $72,000 with the highest paid earning about $112,000 and and the lowest paid about $45,000.

Construction of the terminal took about two years and created about 200 jobs with the aid of Polk Works, the county's workforce development board.

The intermodal terminal is located on about 318 acres off State Road 60 at Logistics Boulevard. It has five 3,000-foot loading tracks and two 10,000-foot arrival and departure tracks. Three electric cranes load and unload containers.

"They are designed for noise reduction and are environmentally friendly," says CSX spokeswoman Kristin Seay. "It's huge. It's very efficient and uses the most advanced technology."

The containers carry goods from tee shirts to televisions, Seay says.

The terminal project is part of a legislatively-approved agreement in which the state of Florida  paid about $432 million for about 60 miles of CSX tracks. The deal morphed through several years of negotiations and controversy over cost and the potential impact of increased freight traffic through cities such as Lakeland.

Proponents see the deal as an economic boost to the region and a crucial link in plans for a SunRail commuter line through Orlando along CSX tracks. The agreement required CSX to "reinvest every dime in infrastructure in Florida," says Seay.

Holiday Inn brings its brand to Westshore neighborhood in Tampa

Holiday Inn Tampa Westshore Airport is the newest hotel brand to cater to business travelers, families and local residents who want an upscale getaway in the heart of the city's largest business district.

West Shore is at the center of new residential and retail growth with new apartments, restaurants and shops along Boy Scout Road and Westshore Boulevard. It also is located near International Mall, Tampa International Airport and Interstate 275.

An $8 million renovation at the hotel, at 700 N. Westshore Blvd., features two new restaurants, Market Place Coffee Bar & Cafe and Bar 700 Grille & Lounge. Marketplace will sell grab-and-go snacks, sandwiches and specialty coffee. Bar 700 will offer dinners, specialty cocktails and craft beers.

The hotel is placing special emphasis on giving "foodies" a different and local flair in their dining and drinking options, says Holly Clifford, president of press marketing for Holiday Inn.

Craft beers from Ybor-based Coppertail Brewing Co., and pastries from Pane Rustica Bakery & Cafe in Palma Ceia will be included in menus at the bar and cafe.

"(The bar) is a much more high end look and feel," says Clifford. "It looks very today and modern."

The renovations also improve on other amenities such as arrival and welcome services, guest room comfort and a redesigned logo. The hotel has about 15,000 square feet of meeting space with a newly added ballroom.

General manager Pam Avery is chairwoman of the board for Visit Tampa Bay. "This has been a phenomenal year for tourism," she says.

That translates to a high occupancy rate for hotels including the Holiday Inn Tampa Westshore, which has 262 guest rooms.

The hotel initially began operation as an independent hotel under the name of Quorum. It also operated as the Wyndham. Quorum still owns and manages the hotel but is now a franchisee of Holiday Inn.

Avery says Holiday Inn is a well-known brand that many people grew up with but it has become much more modern and edgy. "We think it's a perfect fit for us," she says.

But there are some Quorum traditions that won't change. 

Guests can still quench their thirst with fruit-infused water and grab a handful of M&Ms, peanut and plain, from dispensers.

Tampa General Hospital opens new food court; Prepares to build new hospital

Tampa General Hospital is in the midst of expanding and renovating in major and minor ways from building a medical campus on Kennedy Boulevard to redesigning the hospital's main entrance and food court.

Hospital officials are nearing a construction start for a rehabilitation hospital on the site of the former Ferman Chevrolet automobile dealership at 1307 Kennedy Blvd. Tampa City Council is expected to give is final approval to the project on Nov. 6.

Chief Executive Officer Jim Burkhart says some design tweaking is under way but he anticipates announcing the project within the next month.

City records show the project will have a 150-bed professional and residential treatment center, a 100-room hotel or motel, 53,000 square feet of administrative offices, 100,000 square feet for medical uses and 15,000 square feet for an employee day care. There also is a free-standing garage. The campus is planned in phases.

Residents in North Hyde Park are eager to see the project completed and expect an influx of "new young people" who want to live in new condominiums or houses in the neighborhood, says Wesley Weissenburger of the North Hyde Park Civic Association. He spoke in favor of the hospital's proposal at a public hearing before city council on Oct. 9.

"People will come to North Hyde Park because of this facility," says Weissenburger. "This will bring people who will be working there. They will bring upgrades to our community and the value of our community will rise."

TGH also is celebrating the opening on Davis Islands of a new main entrance to the hospital's West Pavilion and improvements to an expanded food court.

"The entrance was not benefiting a world class organization like Tampa General Hospital," says John Brabson Jr., chairman of the hospital's board of directors, who spoke at a ribbon-cutting ceremony. "It's going to get great use. It's very, very practical the way it's designed."

The redesign by Healy & Partners Architects is the first since the former main entrance was built in 1986. Construction by Barton Marlow includes a new covered patient discharge and pickup area, a new patient discharge lounge in the main lobby and an enclosed valet station. About 250 vehicles a day drive up the main entrance.

The new food court, designed by Alfonso Architects, includes electronic and interactive menu screens that provide nutritional tips and calorie counts. The hospital serves up to four million meals a year to visitors, employees and patients. 

Menus include healthy options such as vegetarian and gluten-free dishes. Food venues include The Rotisserie which features chicken, ribs and sides; The Italian Grill with pizzas and regional dishes; and The Bayshore Grill with fried cod sandwiches and shrimp baskets.

Cost of the new main entrance is about $3.4 million. The food court cost about $2.3 million.

Recently TGH opened Tampa General Medical Group (TGMG) Family Care Center Trinity. This is the hospital's first primary care location in Pasco County. Another family care center is expected to open in Wesley Chapel early in 2015.

TGH also is in the midst of a $22 million, multiyear project to upgrade all of its operating rooms, says Burkhart.

"We have to operate and renovate and keep expanding space because it has to be refurbished about every five to seven years," he says. "You're just constantly doing it."

Tampa General Hospital opens first primary care center in Pasco County

Tampa General Hospital is opening its first primary care center in Pasco County in the Trinity area of New Port Richey.

Tampa General Medical Group (TGMG) Family Care Center Trinity is the 12th primary care location for TGH. Another Pasco County primary care center is scheduled to open in Wesley Chapel in January.

The Trinity facility, which opened Oct. 13, is located in a remodeled medical building at 2433 Country Place Blvd, near West Pasco Industrial Park.

In recent years TGH has been expanding its reach into Hillsborough County neighborhoods such as Carrollwood, Brandon, Sun City Center and Tampa Palms. Hospital officials took a look at the demographics and health care needs of Pasco as well.

"It did show there was not a lot of access for patients," says Jana Gardner, VP of Physician Practice Operations.

The review also revealed something unexpected about the age of the area's population.

"We were surprised at the older age group up there," Gardner says.

Initially TGH officials planned on a family practice clinic but instead opted to offer services to patients age 18 or older. Wesley Chapel trends younger and has more families with children so Gardner says that facility will serve children and adults when it opens in January.

TGMG Family Care Center Trinity will have two doctors and a support staff of about five people.

Joyce Thomas, a board certified doctor of internal medicine, is moving from TGH's care center on Kennedy Boulevard to Pasco. TGH has not yet recruited a second doctor, Gardner says.

The Trinity office is open from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.  Monday through Friday. Available services include immunizations, physicals, and management of chronic health conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes. The office also is the first TGMG Family Care Center to offer on-site physical therapy.

Gardner says the care center will have the latest in technology including electronic medical records that doctors can access from any TGH facility. Patients also will be able to go online to see their laboratory results, ask questions or schedule appointments.

Lakeland Park Center brings new shops, 200+ jobs to Polk County

The Tampa Bay area economy is getting a boost from new shops opening at the Lakeland Park Center, the 20th Florida property owned and managed by Michigan-based Ramco-Gershenson Properties Trust.

The 210,000-square-foot shopping center is anchored by Dick's Sporting Goods, Ross Dress for Less, PetSmart, and Floor and Décor. Other shops are Old Navy, Shoe Carnival, Dress Barn, Lane Bryant and America's Best (contacts and eyewear), and ULTA Beauty.

"It's the first major shopping center in awhile after some smaller projects up U.S. 98 before the Great Recession," says Jim Studiale, Lakeland's community development director. "I guess it's also a sign in that it's a major redevelopment of an area that had been badly redeveloped."

Ramco-Gershenson was patient and financially able to acquire dozens of parcels including a recreational vehicle park and wait out the market, Studiale says. "It's been a hard road for them," he says. "I don't know that I believed it until I saw it coming out of the ground."

Company officials say more than 200 jobs are being filled at the shopping center which fronts Interstate 4 on Lakeland Park Center Drive. It is across from the company's Target-anchored Shoppes of Lakeland, at U.S. Highway 98.

"Besides the obvious benefits of the project in terms of capital investments and new jobs, the new retail development brings the neighborhood enhanced convenience and quality of life," says Jim DeGennaro, Polk County's community development manager.

Ramco-Gershenson also owns parcels that surround the shopping center that will be part of a second phase of development though no start date has been announced. New retail and additional jobs are anticipated.

"There is a lot of economic development anticipated around this property now but in future as well, which is very good for the community," says Dawn Hendershot, VP of  Ramco-Gershenson's investor relations.

Investment including construction and land purchase for Lakeland Park Center is estimated at about $34 million.

The public is invited to a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 4:30 p.m. on Oct. 23. Retailers also plan a family-oriented event from noon to 6 p.m. on Oct. 24 with store giveaways and coupons, a bounce house, face painting and more.

In the Tampa Bay area, Ramco-Gershenson's Florida properties include Cypress Point shopping center on U.S. Highway 19 North in Clearwater. The shopping center is anchored by The Fresh Market and Burlington Coat Factory.

The Salvador is newest condo project for Downtown St. Petersburg

Residential development in downtown St. Petersburg marches on with the latest announcement of a 13-story, 74-unit condominium within a block of the The Dali museum.

Smith & Associates Real Estate will begin brokering pre-construction sales for The Salvador on Oct. 17. The public is invited to visit Smith & Associates office, at 330 Beach Drive NE, from 4 to 7 p.m. on Oct. 16 to learn more details about the project.

The upscale condos from DDA Development will feature tall windows and glass doors opening to private balconies, stainless steel appliances, European style cabinets, quartz countertops, gas cooktops and wide plank porcelain tiles for the latest in luxury flooring.

Home owners can choose among one-and-two-bedroom residences from 964 to 1,810 square feet. Spacious three-bedroom penthouses with more than 2,500 square feet will be available on the top floor.

Currently price ranges for one bedrooms along Beach Drive are about $315,000 to $450,000. Two bedrooms are about $440,000 to $750,000. And penthouses will go for about $1.2 million to $1.4 million.

The ranges may be tweaked, says David Moyer, director of developer services sales for Smith & Associates Real Estate. "We're getting a little bit of feedback," Moyer says. "We'll finalize this before we start sales."

The intent is to provide an upscale residential experience at an attractive price, less costly than other real estate