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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.’’

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.”

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.

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.

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.

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. 

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." 

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.
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