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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.

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."

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."

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."

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.
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