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YMCA plans 3-pool aquatics center in South Tampa

South Tampa swimmers of all ages can get ready for a new aquatic experience with a choice of three swimming pools for fun and wellness.

The Tampa Metropolitan Area YMCA will begin construction in November on the Carol Kennedy Aquatic Center at the South Tampa Family YMCA at 4411 S. Himes Ave. The center is named in memory of the daughter of David and Liz Kennedy who died in 1984. The Kennedys are long-time supporters of the YMCA and its mission.

The center's current pool, which is old and out-dated, will stay open during construction. Pending a capital fund-raising campaign, plans are to fill in the existing pool and expand the YMCA building.

The Carol Kennedy Aquatic Center will have a therapy pool, an activity pool with a focus on children, and a lap pool for families and training purposes. Construction costs are about $3.5 million. The center is expected to open in May 2015.

The YMCA offers a variety of aquatic fitness programs as well as swimming classes for adults and infants as young as six months. A 6-week IRS Self-Rescue course on survival swimming skills also is available for children age six months to four years.

One of the agency's priorities is drowning prevention. Florida annually has the highest number of drownings of children under the age of five.

The therapy pool will feature aquatic fitness classes and swim opportunities for seniors or people with disabilities, says Lalita Llerena, YMCA spokeswoman.

"(Aquatic exercise) is one of the softer opportunities for fitness," she says. "We're hoping to reach more active seniors with that."

For the YMCA 2014 has been an expansion year. Earlier this year a new, 11,500 square-foot gymnastics center opened on Ragg Road in Carrollwood as part of the Bob Sierra YMCA Youth & Family Center. Construction is under way on the first of three phases for the South Shore YMCA at Interstate 75 and Big Bend Road. The second phase is expected to include an aquatics center.

CSX terminal key to thousands of new jobs in Central Florida

Polk County and the city of Winter Haven are beneficiaries of a transportation, logistics and distribution hub that could bring thousands of jobs to the area over the next five to 10 years.

The terminal for the CSX Central Florida Logistics Center in Winter Haven, which opened in April, is the first step in developing about 7.9 million square feet of warehouse, distribution and manufacturing facilities, all located on about 930 acres surrounding the CSX rail line. About 300,000 containers of goods will be processed annually from rail to truck or truck to rail with state-of-the-art technology. 

Winter Haven Industrial Developers paid about $8.5 million for about 500 acres of the site, according to Polk County records. The remaining acreage will be part of a second phase of development.

About 30 employees oversee daily operations at the terminal which is a regional link to Tampa, Orlando and Miami, all within one-day truck trips from Winter Haven. CSX officials say they expect about 1,800 direct jobs and as many as 8,500 indirect jobs to be realized in the next decade.

The exact number of jobs will be tied to the kinds of businesses that locate around the terminal, says Bruce Lyon, executive director of the Winter Haven Economic Development Council.  He places job estimates in the range of 4,000 to 8,000.

"We are as a city and county well prepared to embrace any new development that occurs on the site," says Lyon. "The labor force is ready."

He points to the educational opportunities for a trained work force including Polk State College, a few miles from the CSX terminal. There also is the University of Central Florida in Orlando, and according to Lyon, a sometimes overlooked fact that Winter Haven has an immense amount of broad-band capacity coveted by the logistics industry.

"The logistics industry is very advanced in terms of technology," Lyon says.

And overall the industry offers higher than average paying jobs. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, logisticians' median annual salary in May 2012 was about $72,000 with the highest paid earning about $112,000 and and the lowest paid about $45,000.

Construction of the terminal took about two years and created about 200 jobs with the aid of Polk Works, the county's workforce development board.

The intermodal terminal is located on about 318 acres off State Road 60 at Logistics Boulevard. It has five 3,000-foot loading tracks and two 10,000-foot arrival and departure tracks. Three electric cranes load and unload containers.

"They are designed for noise reduction and are environmentally friendly," says CSX spokeswoman Kristin Seay. "It's huge. It's very efficient and uses the most advanced technology."

The containers carry goods from tee shirts to televisions, Seay says.

The terminal project is part of a legislatively-approved agreement in which the state of Florida  paid about $432 million for about 60 miles of CSX tracks. The deal morphed through several years of negotiations and controversy over cost and the potential impact of increased freight traffic through cities such as Lakeland.

Proponents see the deal as an economic boost to the region and a crucial link in plans for a SunRail commuter line through Orlando along CSX tracks. The agreement required CSX to "reinvest every dime in infrastructure in Florida," says Seay.

Holiday Inn brings its brand to Westshore neighborhood in Tampa

Holiday Inn Tampa Westshore Airport is the newest hotel brand to cater to business travelers, families and local residents who want an upscale getaway in the heart of the city's largest business district.

West Shore is at the center of new residential and retail growth with new apartments, restaurants and shops along Boy Scout Road and Westshore Boulevard. It also is located near International Mall, Tampa International Airport and Interstate 275.

An $8 million renovation at the hotel, at 700 N. Westshore Blvd., features two new restaurants, Market Place Coffee Bar & Cafe and Bar 700 Grille & Lounge. Marketplace will sell grab-and-go snacks, sandwiches and specialty coffee. Bar 700 will offer dinners, specialty cocktails and craft beers.

The hotel is placing special emphasis on giving "foodies" a different and local flair in their dining and drinking options, says Holly Clifford, president of press marketing for Holiday Inn.

Craft beers from Ybor-based Coppertail Brewing Co., and pastries from Pane Rustica Bakery & Cafe in Palma Ceia will be included in menus at the bar and cafe.

"(The bar) is a much more high end look and feel," says Clifford. "It looks very today and modern."

The renovations also improve on other amenities such as arrival and welcome services, guest room comfort and a redesigned logo. The hotel has about 15,000 square feet of meeting space with a newly added ballroom.

General manager Pam Avery is chairwoman of the board for Visit Tampa Bay. "This has been a phenomenal year for tourism," she says.

That translates to a high occupancy rate for hotels including the Holiday Inn Tampa Westshore, which has 262 guest rooms.

The hotel initially began operation as an independent hotel under the name of Quorum. It also operated as the Wyndham. Quorum still owns and manages the hotel but is now a franchisee of Holiday Inn.

Avery says Holiday Inn is a well-known brand that many people grew up with but it has become much more modern and edgy. "We think it's a perfect fit for us," she says.

But there are some Quorum traditions that won't change. 

Guests can still quench their thirst with fruit-infused water and grab a handful of M&Ms, peanut and plain, from dispensers.

Tampa General Hospital opens new food court; Prepares to build new hospital

Tampa General Hospital is in the midst of expanding and renovating in major and minor ways from building a medical campus on Kennedy Boulevard to redesigning the hospital's main entrance and food court.

Hospital officials are nearing a construction start for a rehabilitation hospital on the site of the former Ferman Chevrolet automobile dealership at 1307 Kennedy Blvd. Tampa City Council is expected to give is final approval to the project on Nov. 6.

Chief Executive Officer Jim Burkhart says some design tweaking is under way but he anticipates announcing the project within the next month.

City records show the project will have a 150-bed professional and residential treatment center, a 100-room hotel or motel, 53,000 square feet of administrative offices, 100,000 square feet for medical uses and 15,000 square feet for an employee day care. There also is a free-standing garage. The campus is planned in phases.

Residents in North Hyde Park are eager to see the project completed and expect an influx of "new young people" who want to live in new condominiums or houses in the neighborhood, says Wesley Weissenburger of the North Hyde Park Civic Association. He spoke in favor of the hospital's proposal at a public hearing before city council on Oct. 9.

"People will come to North Hyde Park because of this facility," says Weissenburger. "This will bring people who will be working there. They will bring upgrades to our community and the value of our community will rise."

TGH also is celebrating the opening on Davis Islands of a new main entrance to the hospital's West Pavilion and improvements to an expanded food court.

"The entrance was not benefiting a world class organization like Tampa General Hospital," says John Brabson Jr., chairman of the hospital's board of directors, who spoke at a ribbon-cutting ceremony. "It's going to get great use. It's very, very practical the way it's designed."

The redesign by Healy & Partners Architects is the first since the former main entrance was built in 1986. Construction by Barton Marlow includes a new covered patient discharge and pickup area, a new patient discharge lounge in the main lobby and an enclosed valet station. About 250 vehicles a day drive up the main entrance.

The new food court, designed by Alfonso Architects, includes electronic and interactive menu screens that provide nutritional tips and calorie counts. The hospital serves up to four million meals a year to visitors, employees and patients. 

Menus include healthy options such as vegetarian and gluten-free dishes. Food venues include The Rotisserie which features chicken, ribs and sides; The Italian Grill with pizzas and regional dishes; and The Bayshore Grill with fried cod sandwiches and shrimp baskets.

Cost of the new main entrance is about $3.4 million. The food court cost about $2.3 million.

Recently TGH opened Tampa General Medical Group (TGMG) Family Care Center Trinity. This is the hospital's first primary care location in Pasco County. Another family care center is expected to open in Wesley Chapel early in 2015.

TGH also is in the midst of a $22 million, multiyear project to upgrade all of its operating rooms, says Burkhart.

"We have to operate and renovate and keep expanding space because it has to be refurbished about every five to seven years," he says. "You're just constantly doing it."

Lakeland Park Center brings new shops, 200+ jobs to Polk County

The Tampa Bay area economy is getting a boost from new shops opening at the Lakeland Park Center, the 20th Florida property owned and managed by Michigan-based Ramco-Gershenson Properties Trust.

The 210,000-square-foot shopping center is anchored by Dick's Sporting Goods, Ross Dress for Less, PetSmart, and Floor and Décor. Other shops are Old Navy, Shoe Carnival, Dress Barn, Lane Bryant and America's Best (contacts and eyewear), and ULTA Beauty.

"It's the first major shopping center in awhile after some smaller projects up U.S. 98 before the Great Recession," says Jim Studiale, Lakeland's community development director. "I guess it's also a sign in that it's a major redevelopment of an area that had been badly redeveloped."

Ramco-Gershenson was patient and financially able to acquire dozens of parcels including a recreational vehicle park and wait out the market, Studiale says. "It's been a hard road for them," he says. "I don't know that I believed it until I saw it coming out of the ground."

Company officials say more than 200 jobs are being filled at the shopping center which fronts Interstate 4 on Lakeland Park Center Drive. It is across from the company's Target-anchored Shoppes of Lakeland, at U.S. Highway 98.

"Besides the obvious benefits of the project in terms of capital investments and new jobs, the new retail development brings the neighborhood enhanced convenience and quality of life," says Jim DeGennaro, Polk County's community development manager.

Ramco-Gershenson also owns parcels that surround the shopping center that will be part of a second phase of development though no start date has been announced. New retail and additional jobs are anticipated.

"There is a lot of economic development anticipated around this property now but in future as well, which is very good for the community," says Dawn Hendershot, VP of  Ramco-Gershenson's investor relations.

Investment including construction and land purchase for Lakeland Park Center is estimated at about $34 million.

The public is invited to a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 4:30 p.m. on Oct. 23. Retailers also plan a family-oriented event from noon to 6 p.m. on Oct. 24 with store giveaways and coupons, a bounce house, face painting and more.

In the Tampa Bay area, Ramco-Gershenson's Florida properties include Cypress Point shopping center on U.S. Highway 19 North in Clearwater. The shopping center is anchored by The Fresh Market and Burlington Coat Factory.

The Salvador is newest condo project for Downtown St. Petersburg

Residential development in downtown St. Petersburg marches on with the latest announcement of a 13-story, 74-unit condominium within a block of the The Dali museum.

Smith & Associates Real Estate will begin brokering pre-construction sales for The Salvador on Oct. 17. The public is invited to visit Smith & Associates office, at 330 Beach Drive NE, from 4 to 7 p.m. on Oct. 16 to learn more details about the project.

The upscale condos from DDA Development will feature tall windows and glass doors opening to private balconies, stainless steel appliances, European style cabinets, quartz countertops, gas cooktops and wide plank porcelain tiles for the latest in luxury flooring.

Home owners can choose among one-and-two-bedroom residences from 964 to 1,810 square feet. Spacious three-bedroom penthouses with more than 2,500 square feet will be available on the top floor.

Currently price ranges for one bedrooms along Beach Drive are about $315,000 to $450,000. Two bedrooms are about $440,000 to $750,000. And penthouses will go for about $1.2 million to $1.4 million.

The ranges may be tweaked, says David Moyer, director of developer services sales for Smith & Associates Real Estate. "We're getting a little bit of feedback," Moyer says. "We'll finalize this before we start sales."

The intent is to provide an upscale residential experience at an attractive price, less costly than other real estate along ritzy Beach Drive. "There is a lack of inventory for sale for a new product such as The Salvador," Moyer says.

The Salvador will have an "art-influenced" design by Mesh Architecture, the same firm that is working on Bliss, a 30-unit condominium on Fourth Avenue, off Beach Drive. Balfour Beatty Construction is the contractor and the building will be green-certified with the latest in energy-efficient technology.

The Salvador is the latest in a steady stream of apartment and condo projects ready for occupancy, under construction or on the drawing board. Downtown St. Petersburg continues to attract young urban professionals and others seeking the vibrant energy of an urban life style with everything within walking distance for living, working and playing.

In July Coral Gables-based Allen Morris Company announced plans for The Hermitage, an eight-story apartment building and hotel complex covering a city block at 700 1st Ave. S. Two condominiums, Rowland Place and Bliss, are planned off Beach Drive. And American Land Ventures plans a 15-story apartment tower on Third Street South. Beacon 430, Urban Edge and Modera Prime 235 also are adding to the increasing count of apartments and condos. Read Boom! Downtown St. Petersburg Awash in new apartments.

21-story apartment building to rise on Harbour Island in downtown Tampa

By the end of October construction on a 21-story upscale residential tower on Harbour Island will begin on a prime parcel of land at Knights Run Avenue and South Beneficial Drive.

Completion is anticipated by early 2016 on 235 luxury studios, 1-and 2-bedroom apartments and 2-story townhomes. The building will have a seven-story parking garage with more than 400 parking spaces.

The tower is a partnership between Forge Capital Partners and Intown/Framework Group. 

Greg Minder of Framework Group and Phillip A. Smith of Intown Group are developers of Element and Skypoint in downtown, and Meridian Lofts in the Channel District. And construction is under way on 4310 Spruce and Varela, both in the Westshore Business District.

Minder and Smith also are partners in The Residences at Riverwalk, a proposed 36-story, 380-unit apartment building next to the Straz Center for the Performing Arts. A parking garage and about 10,000 square feet of first-floor shops and restaurants also are planned.

Developers have yet to choose a name for the latest Harbour Island tower. County records show Harbour Island Residential LLC purchased the vacant parcel in December for about $2.9 million.

"Harbour Island epitomizes a high-end, master-planned community," says Minder in a prepared statement. "The addition of this modern apartment building brings new excitement and renewed interest to this thriving community."

Most apartments will enjoy scenic vistas of the waterfront and downtown. An infinity-edge pool, state-of-the-art technology and upscale amenities comparable to those provided at luxury hotels will be included in the building's design.

Other partners in the project are BBVA Compass, a bank holding company; Reese Vanderbilt & Associates, architects; Kimley-Horn and Associates, civil and landscaping engineers; and Multi-Family Construction, general contractor and an affiliate of Batson-Cook Residential.

Atlanta developer to build apartments on North Franklin Street

North Franklin Street just found a new resident -- Atlanta-based Carter & Associates.

The development company plans to build a 23-story apartment building and garage on two parcels at 911 and 915 N. Franklin St. A rezoning application is under review by the city's planning department.

If approved, construction could begin in the first half of 2015.

"We've been eyeing the Tampa market for awhile," says Conor McNally, chief development officer for Carter & Associates. McNally formerly worked for the Novare Group, another Atlanta firm that developed the SkyPoint condominium building on Ashley Drive.

"It's looking good from a jobs perspective...Downtown is getting some good momentum back," McNally says. "We like being within walking distance to the river and arts and downtown offices."

While too early to discuss monthly apartment rates, McNally says the luxury apartments will be on par with others in the area including the nearby Element.

This latest project follows a list of announcements in the past year for new apartments and retail in downtown and the Channel District. And, the recent openings of Le Meridian and Aloft hotels are adding to downtown's allure.

The project from Carter & Associates could be the stage-setter for more to come. The firm is under contract to buy the property from Kress Square IV LLC, which is owned by father and daughter, Doran Jason and Jeannette Jason. They also own the iconic S.H. Kress building at 811 N. Franklin St., which is still awaiting a development deal.

"I think this is sending a signal that the North Franklin area is primed for what I think will be an explosion of projects," says Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn. "The time is right. I'm ecstatic."

McNally sees a strong market for apartments over condominiums generally but especially in Tampa, which is among the fastest growing cities in Florida.

"People want to be in urban areas," he says but they also want mobility. And many still have fresh memories of the market downturn in 2008 which has made it more difficult to get financing for condos, he adds.

"People were left high and dry," McNally says. "The 25-,27-,29-year olds, they can't tell you where they are going to be in five or 10 years down the road."

Walmart in East Tampa to create 300 jobs

A Walmart Supercenter will generate about 300 permanent jobs and a new revenue stream for the city's East Tampa redevelopment efforts.

The supercenter is under construction at 1720 E. Hillsborough Ave. on the approximately 12-acre site of the former Abraham Chevrolet dealership. It has been a neighborhood blight for nearly a decade. County records show Walmart paid about $4.9 million for the property.

A grand opening for the national discount chain is expected in spring 2015.

"This is such a win-win for East Tampa," says Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who attended a groundbreaking with Walmart officials and Tampa City Councilman Frank Reddick. "This has been a food desert for a long time. Folks in East Tampa have had to rely on convenience stores and getting charged exorbitant prices for food that's not necessarily healthy."

Now the mayor says there will be an alternative that residents can reach by walking or taking public transportation. And the jobs will "give economic security to people who need it," the mayor says.

 Already Walmart officials say about 150 local, temporary jobs are expected during construction. These will be from local sub-contractors and some additional labor needed as the work proceeds.

The approximately 120,000-square-foot store is somewhat smaller than most supercenters but it will offer groceries, including fresh produce, meats, deli items and bakery goods, plus merchandise typically sold at the discount chain store. There also will be a discount pharmacy with a drive-up window.

Eco-friendly building practices will be followed by the project's contractor, Satterfield & Pontikes Construction. "The buildings that have been torn down will be (reused) to lay the foundation for the parking lot," says Glen Wilkins, Walmart's senior manager for public affairs and government relations.

Water recycling and mulching of removed trees also will be done.

While Walmart sometimes draws spirited criticism from people who say it hurts small businesses, many in East Tampa hope this project, and its tax revenues, spurs more development.

"We've been asking for this for many, many years," Reddick says. "It's not every day we get a major business to come into this community. Now that we have it we're going to have to support it. We're going to have to tell our friends and neighbors that this is a valuable product for our community."

A portion of property tax revenues collected within East Tampa must be re-invested in infrastructure projects that will encourage new investments. The district is bordered by Hillsborough Avenue, Interstates 275 and 4, and the city limit. In its best year, the district had about $6 million to spend.

After the real estate crash and plummeting property values, the coffers are now drained. The new supercenter will open the spigot again. A Walmart store on Gandy Boulevard offers a comparison for potential East Tampa property tax revenues

County property appraisal records show the Gandy site is valued at about $8.6 million and generated about $183,000 in property taxes for 2013.  The Hillsborough site is valued at about $1.7 million and its previous owner paid about $40,000 in property taxes for 2013.

"This will be an amazing transformation of what had been an eyesore," says Buckhorn. "Let's get this on the tax rolls. Let's go dig some dirt."

Florida Crystals Corp. plans luxury apartments in Channel District

It's a sweet deal in the Channel District.

Sugar company, Florida Crystals Corp., is buying a prime spot in this upscale booming neighborhood to build a 7-story, 270-unit luxury apartment building and six-and-a-half story parking garage. The company, which last year launched a real estate division, paid about $3.8 million for three parcels at 222 N. 12th St., 215 and 217 N. 11th St., next to The Slade.

The property, at close to two acres, includes two vacant warehouse structures which will be torn down. It is the former site of the Amazon Hose and Rubber Company.

This is one more project added to recent and planned residential towers including the SkyHouse Channelside which is under construction and The Martin at Meridian, which is on the drawing board. And, there is anticipation over Tampa Lightning owner Jeff Vinik's plans to revive the distressed Channelside Plaza as well as develop other parcels he has bought in the area.

"The transformation that has happened since 2000 has been pretty amazing," says Sean Lance, managing director of NAI Tampa Bay, a commercial real estate company. The firm represents the seller, Finergy Group of Sarasota.

Lance anticipates apartment rents will be about $1.80 to $2 a square foot, based on unit sizes of between 900 to 1,000 square feet.

Florida Crystals, which is based in West Palm Beach, is a family-owned business that traces back to Cuba in the 1850s. It sells sugar products under several brands including Domino and Florida Crystals.

This is the company's first Tampa project but Juan Porro, VP of real estate and acquisitions, is the former president of Cobalt Development Group which developed The Slade, one of the Channel District's earliest residential projects.

Tampa City Council will weigh in on the project at a rezoning hearing scheduled for Nov. 13. Finergy Channelside Holdings LLC is seeking a unified commercial zoning for the trio of parcels.

The recession temporarily stalled residential and commercial development in Channel District . But with the recovery under way, there is a pent up demand especially among millennials and boomers who want a walkable urban lifestyle, Lance says.

Residential towers, high-rise and mid-rise, are filling up and sites for additional projects growing scarcer. "It's pretty picked through now," Lance says. "You could get creative and pick another site or two."

Prospects for additional retail, maybe a rumored Publix grocery store or CVS Pharmacy, also are brightening.  "As you get the body count, you'll see more retailers," he says.

Tampa reveals vision for re-designed Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park

The 25-acre grasslands of Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park are dotted with berms that recall ancient Indian mounds, a concrete "Greek-style" amphitheater, basketball and tennis courts and a Boys & Girls Club. But for most people who visit the park one spectacular view is missing -- the Hillsborough River.
 
It is blocked from view except to those who almost by accident wander over to its shores.
 
Susan Lane, daughter of former Mayor Julian B. Lane, is among those who had no idea what an unfulfilled treasure the park is. "I guess they thought this was a good design," she says after taking her first walk down to the park's shoreline.
 
She likes the city's plan to re-design the more than 40-year-old public park by tossing out much of what in the 1970s was considered contemporary and cutting-edge.
 
At a press conference, Mayor Bob Buckhorn unveiled a multi-year, conceptual plan to transform the park. It is a blueprint crafted from ideas and opinions gathered at a series of public meetings attended by about 350 residents. The next step is for consultants with Colorado-based Civitas to take the plan from concept to detailed drawings. About $8 million is set aside by the city to seed the project. Final costs are unknown but could be $20 million or more.
 
"This is an opportunity that is too great to pass up," Buckhorn says. "We have a moral obligation to do it and do it big and do it right."
 
The park, at 1001 North Blvd., is a jewel in the city's 25-year InVision Tampa master plan to re-invent downtown as an urban village with connectivity to surrounding neighborhoods on both sides of the river. On the west bank more than 150 acres, including Riverfront Park, are targeted for redevelopment. The nearby North Boulevard Homes are slated to be torn down by the Tampa Housing Authority and replaced with a mixed-income, mixed-use complex similar to the Encore project under construction just north of downtown.
 
Dozens of ideas bubbled up during public discussions of desired park amenities including a ferris wheel, a beach area, picnic facilities, boating docks and a history walk. Not all are on the final list. But if the final proposal doesn't please everyone, city officials believe it does meet with approval from most residents.
 
"What we have is the future of the city of Tampa right here," says Rev. James Favorite, pastor at Beulah Baptist Institutional Church, located on Cypress Street, a short walk from the park. "My church members have used this park on many occasions. With all the improvements to be made, I like the concept. I like the vision. I like the inclusion of so many people. We feel we are a part of this. We feel ownership."
 
The new park will include a great lawn for special events and festivals; a play area with a splash pad; a history walk to honor Phillips Field, Roberts City and surrounding neighborhoods; a community center and public boathouse; a garden; an oak-lined promenade; a half-mile trail with exercise stations; an extension of the city's Riverwalk; a fishing area; and a paddle learning area created by a floating boat dock.
 
Additional parking also will be carved out by re-aligning and shifting Laurel Street. A multi-use field will be enlarged to regulation size and seating installed. New basketball courts will be built. Tennis courts will be renovated and sand volleyball courts added.
 
The berms and amphitheater will be razed. 
 
Making the park all about families and recognizing the area's history are the driving motivators that emerged from the public meetings, says Civitas' President Mark Johnson.
 
And picnic areas are the most desired feature. "That's not the most common thing I hear around the country," Johnson says.
 
Lane remembers her father's stories about being captain of the Hillsborough High School football team which played annual Thanksgiving Day games at Phillips Field. He served as mayor from 1959 to 1963 and worked with a Bi-Racial Committee to peacefully integrate Tampa's businesses following the lunch counter sit-ins at F.W. Woolworth's. The park was dedicated to him in 1977.

The city's proposed makeover, she says, "is a great, great idea. He (former Mayor Lane) would have been real pleased."

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."

Osborne Pond, Community Trail To Be Named For Civil Rights' Leader Clarence Fort

On Feb. 29, 1960, Clarence Fort was just shy of his 21st birthday, fresh out of barber's school and president of the NAACP Youth Council. That day he, and Rev. A. Leon Lowry, led a group of students from Blake and Middleton High Schools to F. W. Woolworth's in downtown Tampa.

They did what no blacks then were allowed to do. They sat down at the lunch counter and waited to be served. Fort's inspiration was the lunch counter sit-ins by students in Greensboro, N.C. that same year.

While blacks could enter Woolworth and buy its products, eating at the lunch counter was against the law.

"You could spend $500,000 in the store but you couldn't sit down and have a Coke," says Fort, now age 76. "It just was an unfair system."

At 2:30 p.m. on Sept. 18, the city of Tampa will name the Osborne Pond and Community Trail in honor of Fort and his long history of fighting injustice.  The park will be officially named the Clarence Fort Freedom Trail.

"I was just elated," says Fort when he learned of the city's plan.

The honor comes on the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“It’s important that we as a community know and understand our history, particularly during the 50-year anniversary of the Civil Rights Act being signed into law. I am honored to be able to dedicate this park in name after my friend Clarence Fort but also to the ideas that he fought for,” says Mayor Bob Buckhorn in his announcement for the dedication. “The park area itself is truly something special, and I think the residents will be proud of what it has become.”

The half-mile long trail circles Osborne Pond, at 3803 Osborne Ave., with eight fitness stations for adults and seniors spaced along the route at four locations. The park also features three boardwalk segments that give visitors a chance to walk to the water's edge for a bird's eye view of the egrets, ducks and moor hens that wade through the pond's waters.

More than 110 trees, including palms and cypress trees, offer shade and beauty. The trail connects with adjacent sidewalks on Osborne, North 29th Street, North 30th Street and East Cayuga Street.

About $500,000 in Community Investment Tax dollars paid for construction which began in December 2013. 

This is the third city retention pond in East Tampa to be re-designed. 

Years ago residents complained that the city's retention ponds, often locked behind chain link fences, were eyesores that contributed to neighborhood blight. Today residents stroll along walkways at the Herbert D. Carrington Community Lake on 34th Street, adjacent to Fair Oaks Park, or the Robert L. Cole Sr. Community Lake at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, across from Young Middle Magnet School.

Funds to re-do the retention ponds as "lakes" came from a portion of property taxes collected within the city's East Tampa Community Redevelopment Area bordered by Hillsborough Avenue, Interstates 275 and 4, and the city limits.

At the "lake" on Martin Luther King, segments of the walkway commemorate historical figures such as civil rights activists Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; the first black congresswoman, Shirley Chisholm; Jackie Robinson, who broke Major League Baseball's color barrier; and President Barack Obama.

The city will place a plaque at Osborne pond that will recount the role Fort played in breaking down barriers in Tampa. Following the successful Woolworth demonstrations. Fort pushed the city's bus service to hire black bus drivers, and he became the first black hired by Trailways Bus Co. as a long-distance bus driver in Florida.

Fort worked 20 years as a deputy for the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Department and for 17 of those years organized the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Parade. He also founded the Progress Village Foundation.

He isn't slowing down in retirement and works tirelessly with Saving Our Children, a youth program started nearly 26 years ago at New Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church. "I'm devoting all my time with this group," Fort says.

A rendering of the park can be viewed on the City of Tampa's website.

Writer: Kathy Steele
Sources: Clarence Fort, Saving Our Children; Bob Buckhorn, City of Tampa
 

Walmart Opens First Wesley Chapel Supercenter, Adds 300 Jobs

The first Walmart Supercenter in Wesley Chapel brings a job boost to the local economy with 300 full- and part-time jobs.

The 207,000-square-foot supercenter, at 28500 State Road 54, is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week offering residents an array of merchandise, a pharmacy, groceries, electronics and toys. There also is a free "Site to Store" program that allows customers to order items online for pickup at a brick-and-mortar store including the one at Wesley Chapel.

"It will allow our residents, more than 60,000 people, more convenience in shopping," says Jeff Novotny, president of The Greater Wesley Chapel Chamber of Commerce and principal at American Consulting Professionals/Engineers of Florida.  "It also serves as an attraction for more development. Walmart is a global industry. It's a positive influence in our community."

The supercenter is forging local ties.

One family-owned business -- Wesley Chapel Florist -- is now a local provider for the supercenter. Lisa Armitage says Walmart representatives admired a floral arrangement she did for the chamber and offered a contract.

The store manager is Stephanie White who started with the company in 1988 as an hourly cashier in Port Richey.

Walmart's grocery department is stocked with fresh produce and name brands including organic items by Wild Oats. A Walmart mobile app for iPhone and Android allows customers to transfer prescriptions and order refills.

There is also a bakery, deli, money and vision centers and a digital photo processing department.

To celebrate the opening Walmart donated $7,000 in grants locally to Wesley Chapel High School, Wesley Chapel Lions Club, Watergrass Elementary School and Lily of the Valley food pantry.

In addition, the Wesley Chapel store will participate in the Walmart Foundation's $2 billion commitment to fight hunger through 2015. 

Writer: Kathy Steele
Source: Jeff Novotny, Greater Wesley Chapel Chamber of Commerce

St. Petersburg Emergency Shelter Seeks Art Donations

The staff at CASA wants their future emergency shelter to bring sunshine and hope to the hundreds of families and individuals who need to escape domestic violence.

They also want to create a safe haven that is warm and comforting. And to do that, CASA is asking local artists to fill the shelter's rooms and walls with their donated artwork. Paintings, sculptures, multi-media are all welcome.

"We'd like the art to give the shelter a homey, friendly atmosphere," says Susan Nichols, CASA's grants and compliance coordinator.. "We hope it will be a peaceful environment, bright and cheerful. We have a lot of blank wall space."

Construction on the 40,000-square-foot building is under way, just north of downtown St. Petersburg. The expected opening of the shelter will be in late July 2015. A public showing of the donated art also is planned.

CASA is being aided with its "call to artists" by the nonprofit St. Petersburg Arts Alliance.

Funding for the approximately $10 million project is from multiple sources including state and federal grants and tax credits. 

CASA, which was founded nearly four decades ago, currently operates a shelter with 30 beds and aids about 300 families and individuals a year. But Nichols says they have 1,400 requests for help annually that must be referred to other shelters in Pinellas or Hillsborough counties. "Unfortunately many times they are full there also," Nichols says.

The new shelter will nearly triple capacity with 100 beds in 50 bedrooms. There also will be a children's area, teen room, meeting room, a large conference room, offices, playground, outdoor areas and gardens.

Nichols expects about 800 individuals will be given shelter each year. The additional space and the building's design mean more families and men can be accommodated, she says.

Art donations are being accepted through April 10, 2015, at CASA's administrative office, at 1011 First Ave., N.  They are tax deductible as in-kind contributions.

Paintings and photographs should be framed. Murals preferably should be mobile art whether on canvas, wood or other hard surfaces. Textile pieces likely will be displayed in office areas rather than in bedrooms.

Arrangements can be made for the art to be picked up by sending an email to CASA, or calling 727-895-4912, Ext. 100.

CASA reserves the right to reject art that displays violence.

Each art work at the new shelter will be labeled with the artist's name and the work's title. The donations also will be recognized on CASA's website and its Facebook page.

None of the art will be resold but it will be exhibited at a public showing in late April 2015, Nichols says.

"We think it will be a great gift to show the community," she says..

Writer: Kathy Steele
Source: Susan Nichols, CASA
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