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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.


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.


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.”

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

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.

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.

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.

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.”

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.

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.

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.

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.

Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik wins initial approval for 400-room luxury hotel

Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik's planned 400-room hotel/residence complex is a potential game-changer in the city's vision to create a seamless flow from urban neighborhoods, such as the Channel District, to a revitalized downtown and then across the river to the emerging neighborhoods of North Hyde Park and West Tampa.

It is one more large puzzle piece in an urban commercial and residential landscape coming into focus, year by year. The hotel will fill a sandy vacant lot at Florida Avenue and Old Water Street, surrounded by the TECO Line Streetcar at Dick Greco Plaza, the Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina, the Embassy Suites and the Tampa Convention Center.

Also nearby are the Cotanchobee Fort Brooke Park, Tampa Bay History Center, Florida Aquarium, Amalie Arena (formerly the Tampa Bay Times Forum) and the Channelside Bay Plaza which Vinik recently acquired.

"We have a grand vision for this site as a high end development to both serve as a true centerpiece for the (Channel) district and to raise the bar for the district as well as complement and benefit all of the adjacent uses," says Bob Abberger, senior managing director of Trammell Crow's Tampa office. He represents Florida Old Water Limited in the rezoning process, one of several entities controlled by Vinik.

A final vote by council on Oct. 2 will set the stage for Vinik to move ahead with signing up a hotel operator and moving toward a construction start. Some preliminary architectural designs have been completed.

The approximately 25-story luxury hotel will have about 45,000 square feet of retail space and about 170,000 square feet of meeting rooms. The hotel's top floors will have about 50 residences. More than 270 parking spaces will be provided on-site and also through agreement with the adjacent South Regional Garage.

Abberger says the plan is to excavate the site to create underground parking. There also will be what Abberger describes as a "grand retail main street connecting the forum with the convention center."

Connectivity in purpose and vision is a major feature for the development including the potential for a covered walkway and overpass for visitor flow from one venue to another and ease of access from the convention center to the hotel's meeting space.

"This is the break out space that you don't currently have (at the convention center)," says Abberger.  "You've got great exhibit space. This is going to allow a lot more nights for not only bookings for the convention center but a higher quality for the convention center."

While the Downtown Tampa Partnership doesn't take positions on specific projects, the partnership's President Christine Burdick says the development will "add to the vital vibrancy and value of downtown."

Architect Mickey Jacob of BDG Architects lives and works in the district. He sees job creation in a project that also addresses the challenges of developing an urban infill property.

 "Our city stands on the verge of some exciting times," he says. "And our urban redevelopment and new density that we have the opportunity to create will do nothing but make us a world class city where people want to live, work and play."
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