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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

Hillsborough Leaders Engage Public On Transportation

When local residents dream of transportation Utopia in Hillsborough County, what exactly do they see?

Do they see roads repaved and potholes filled? Widened interstates with commuter lanes? Bridges repaired? More connections between neighborhoods and cities? Expansion of rapid transit bus service? Automated "people movers"?

Is light rail on anyone's mind, for or against? And where do they dream the money will be found? 

Hillsborough County elected officials, community leaders and a soon-to-be-hired transportation consultant will begin a listening campaign with a series of public meetings soon after Labor Day.

A report on the findings will be brought in October to Hillsborough County's Transportation Policy Leadership Group, a committee of the seven county commissioners, mayors of Plant City, Tampa and Temple Terrace, and the chairman of HART (Hillsborough Area Regional Transit). 

"We're not selling anything, but we want to be able to bring back something that will be useful to you," says Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill. He spoke to the group on August 12 before a packed county commission chamber.

Documents and a video show the magnitude of transportation problems facing the county. 

Estimates for roads, bridges, trails and sidewalks in all parts of the county is pegged at $4.3 billion. The cost of repaving roadways alone is estimated at $745 million. Projects for walk/bike trails and sidewalks is about $680 million.

Depending on chosen options, mass-transit could be another $6 billion. 

Funding could come through a one cent sales tax that county commissioners appear ready to put to a referendum in 2016. If approved, estimates are for more than $6 billion to be collected over 30 years.

Ideas include widening five miles of Cypress Avenue; bus rapid transit and a rail option between the University of South Florida and downtown Tampa; bus rapid transit on U.S. 60 to and from Brandon; and, a water ferry from Gibsonton to MacDill with later expansion to downtown Tampa and St. Petersburg.

Policy planners clearly have in mind the political thumping that voters gave to a light rail referendum nearly four years ago. Voters then complained about the lack of specifics.

"That was very muddy. That's what happened to it," says County Commissioner Les Miller."We want to make sure it's crystal clear."

County Commissioner Victor Crist is concerned about time constraints in reaching out to the public by October. "I'm not sure we have enough time to sell this," he says.

But Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn is ready to forge ahead. "We've got to have a game," says Buckhorn. "I don't know any other way to play than full throttle. ...I can tell you sooner is better than later."

Writer: Kathy Steele
Sources: Mike Merrill, Les Miller, Victor Crist, Hillsborough County; Bob Buckhorn, City of Tampa

Tech Data Expands Clearwater Headquarters

A new 45,000-square-foot office building at the campus headquarters of Tech Data Corp. signals a renewed faith in keeping the Fortune 500 company's roots planted in Clearwater.

Founded 40 years ago, the Clearwater-based company is one of the  world's leading distributors of technology products made by companies such as Apple and Microsoft.  It operates in 100 countries and had about $26.8 billion in sales for fiscal year 2014, which ended on Jan. 31.

It wasn't a certainty that Tech Data would decide to stay when the topic of expansion came up.

Company officials did explore relocating but CEO Robert Dutkowsky says,"We decided to double down on Tampa Bay. I would think the community would take a deep breath and say Tech Data is committed to being here."

Tech Data employs about 9,000 people worldwide, with about 1,700 in Clearwater. The new facility "will accommodate additional office and meeting space, allowing us to operate more efficiently into the foreseeable future," according to an email from company spokeswoman Amanda Lee.

The new wing is adjacent to the approximately 240,000-square-foot headquarters building on Tech Data's campus, located north of the St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport at 16202 Bay Vista Drive.

St. Petersburg-based Hennessy Construction Services is the contractor for the facility.

As a major force in the technology industry and the largest public company in Tampa Bay, Tech Data can attract talent from Tampa Bay as well as worldwide, Dutkowsky says.

 Clearwater also is a factor in recruiting candidates, he adds. "This is a beautiful place to raise a family and to work and live."

Writer: Kathy Steele
Sources: Robert Dutkowsky and Amanda Lee, Tech Data

Soup's On! Dine At Ulele Restaurant Starting Aug. 26

The word is out and the reservations line is busy. Ulele Restaurant will turn up the cooking heat for the public's dining pleasure at 5 p.m. on Aug. 26.

The opening date has been one of the most anticipated culinary happenings in Tampa for months. The restaurant and adjacent Water Works Park are part of a larger vision for re-inventing and re-developing Tampa's downtown core and its connection with surrounding neighborhoods.

They anchor the northern end of the nearly completed 1.8 mile Riverwalk, which will link Tampa Heights to Channelside. Ulele is the name of a legendary daughter of a Native American chief who saved the life of a young Spanish explorer in the 1500s.

"This has been a labor of love,'' says Richard Gonzmart of the Columbia Restaurant Group and developer of Ulele. "I can’t wait to open our doors and show what we've been working on. This project has been in my mind for the last 10 years. I really hope this will be my legacy, and that my children and my grandchildren will remember and thank me for the vision.''

Nearly two years ago the city chose Columbia Restaurant Group and Metro Bay Real Estate to partner in the restoration of the historical Water Works Building which pumped much of the city's drinking water from Ulele Spring until the 1930s. The Beck Group did the architectural design and construction.

Ulele is located at 1810 N. Highland Ave. on a large swath of riverfront between the park and the historical Armature Works Building. Ulele will open a couple weeks after the city's celebration of a completed $7.4 million project to redesign Water Works Park.

Initially the restaurant will be open only for dinner from 5 to 10 p.m. on Sunday-Thursday, and from 5 to 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Lunch and brunch hours will be added by Fall.

Executive Chef Eric Lackey will feature dishes inspired by Native American and multicultural influences including from European explorers. The on-site Ulele Spring Brewery will create craft beers exclusively for the restaurant.

Guests will enjoy a dining room, German-style beer garden, rooftop bar and outdoor patio, all within view of the Hillsborough River and the restored Ulele Spring.

Complimentary valet parking will be available.

"The phone lines have been ringing quite a bit. It's been tremendously gratifying," says Michael Kilgore, Chief Marketing Officer for the Columbia Restaurant Group. "Reservations are encouraged but not required."

Writer: Kathy Steele
Sources: Richard Gonzmart and Michael Kilgore, Ulele Restaurant

Water Works Park Opens With Fanfare, Fireworks

The re-invention of Tampa's urban core is mere child's play at Water Works Park.

For many years the riverfront park land sat unused behind a chain link fence, but on Aug. 12 a ribbon-cutting ceremony will officially open the re-designed park. The following Saturday will continue the celebrations with a festival and fireworks show.

For Tampa Heights' residents, the $7.4 million investment in Water Works is especially significant. The park, at 1720 Highland Ave., and the adjacent soon-to-open Ulele Restaurant are the most visible signs the neighborhood's master plan for redevelopment is taking root. More transformation is promised in future with redevelopment of the nearby historical Armature Works building and about 37 riverfront acres owned by SoHo Capital which plans a mixed use project known as The Heights.

"It's a big deal," says Brian Seel, president of the Tampa Heights Civic Association. "Everyone has been waiting for (the park) patiently."

The Aug. 16 festival will have food trucks, children’s activities and entertainment. Friends of Tampa Recreation Inc. will sell alcohol, with proceeds going towards programming in Tampa's parks.  The fireworks display will begin at approximately 9 p.m.

Work crews with Biltmore Construction are finishing up the park and laying in landscaping in time for the August opening. Dozens of volunteers spent a recent weekend cleaning algae from Ulele Spring, nestled between the park and the restaurant. Manatees, ducks and egrets are among the wildlife already spotted along the spring's banks.

The play area resembles a ship. There also is a splash pad, a performance pavilion and open lawns for special park events. A kayak launch, eight boat slips and a water taxi will be installed once permits are approved.

Water Works and Ulele will be the northern anchors of the city's 1.8 mile-long Riverwalk, which when completed later this year will link Tampa Heights with Channelside.

“This park is transformative for historic Tampa Heights and our urban core but also for our entire city. It’s another point of connection with the Hillsborough River, and will be a space for entertainment and activity,” said Mayor Bob Buckhorn. 

The civic association is thinking ahead.  "We'll probably host small events and get-togethers for the neighborhood," Seel says.

The civic association already is planning a music festival at the park for Nov. 22. Tampa Electric Company and Ulele's owner, Richard Gonzmart, will sponsor what could become an annual event. A portion of the festival's proceeds would aid the restoration of the former Faith Temple Baptist Church at Palm Avenue and Lamar Street.

Every weekend for nearly four years volunteers for the Tampa Heights Junior Civic Association have pitched in to rehabilitate the historical church which will be re-opened as a youth and community center.
  
A walking trail that slips past the Tampa Heights Community Garden on Frances Avenue and the future community center stops now at Seventh Avenue. But eventually the trail is planned as a link to the Riverwalk with possible offshoots to Perry Harvey Sr. Park and the Encore project, a mixed use, mixed-income residential and commercial development north of downtown.

"We're connecting with everything," says Lena Young-Green, president of the junior civic association. "We see it all circulating then expanding all through the neighborhoods."

Writer: Kathy Steele
Source: Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn; Brian Seel, Tampa Heights Civic Association; Lena Young-Green, Tampa Heights Junior Civic Association

Tampa Bay Lightning Owner Wins Ownership Of Channelside Bay Plaza

Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik's vision for redeveloping the beleaguered Channelside Bay Plaza shopping center is the winner in a legal battle over the plaza's future ownership.

A settlement agreement between Vinik's CBP Development and Liberty Channelside (a partnership of Convergent Capital and the Liberty Group) was approved by a Delaware bankruptcy judge on Monday. Port Tampa Bay and the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation also signed on to the agreement.

"We are happy with this agreement as it now creates a path for the turnaround of a very important community asset," says CBP executive Jim Shimberg in a joint statement released Monday. "We appreciate the efforts of Liberty Channelside, Port Tampa Bay and IBRC in helping resolve this matter."

According to court documents, CBP will pay $7.1 million for the lease and the port will pay $1.9 million to the bank for the mortgage. A settlement also is in place between Vinik's company and Liberty regarding certain lease assets, prior development plans put forth by Liberty and an end to pending litigation.

In the near future, the public will have a chance to view Vinik's proposed plan in more detail, says Lightning spokesman Trevor van Knotsenburg.

The plaza went into foreclosure in 2010 and has been mired in legal entanglements since. The Irish bank, which itself is in bankruptcy, owns the plaza; the Port owns the land beneath it.

At a July auction, Vinik's development group put in the highest bid for the lease at $7.1 million and later signed a $10 million letter of credit to cover maintenance costs. The port's board pre-approved the bid following a presentation of the company's proposed plan for 'Channelside Live', a mixed use venue with entertainment, shopping, restaurants and a hotel.

Convergent Capital and the Liberty Group did not make a presentation to the port's board but later offered $10 million for the lease and challenged the fairness of the auction. The bankruptcy judge expressed concerns about the process and had postponed a decision on ownership until Monday.

And then the agreement was reached.

"We are pleased this issue is resolved and are confident in Mr. Vinik's plans to redevelop the Channelside retail center," says Santosh Govindaraju, an owner of Liberty Channelside.

Writer: Kathy Steele 
Sources: Jim Shimberg, CBP Development; Trevor van Knotsenburg, Tampa Bay Lightning; Santosh Gavindaraju, Liberty Group

British Bi-fold Door Manufacturer Opens In Venice

An aluminum bi-folding door manufacturer from the United Kingdom is setting up shop for the first time in the United States with a production facility in Venice FL.

In April, Origin USA located its American bi-fold door headquarters and about $500,000 in manufacturing equipment inside a rebuilt 8,000-square-foot building at 771 Commerce Drive. Southern Cross Contracting in Sarasota was the contractor. 

Starting out with five employees, company President Ben Halvorsen anticipates hiring 40 to 50 workers in the next three to five years. Positions will be in production, accounting, marketing and sales.

"We took a strong look at demographics of the Gulf Coast and architectural styles as well," says Halvorsen. "The economy, particularly with construction, is doing well again and our market point is very strong."

French doors and sliding doors are standard design options but Halvorsen says the bi-folding doors are growing in popularity. Origin is the leading manufacturer of the product in the United Kingdom. The doors appeal to a customer base that wants to integrate indoor and outdoor spaces with doors that fold and slide out of sight, he says.

"Bi-fold doors are common in Europe," he adds.

Luxury home builders or developers of hotels, retail and restaurants are among the target audience. One recent customer is a Denver restaurant owner who wanted to open up one side of the restaurant to the street.

The doors can be customized to fit any opening and folding configuration, come with more than 150 color selections and quick delivery times. "If that's two weeks or one day -- no problem at all," says Origin USA CEO Neil Ginger.

The doors also meet Florida's building code for withstanding hurricane-force winds, and meet energy efficency standards.

While bi-folding doors generally have had a reputation for being pricey on the retail market, Halvorsen says, "We're here to radically change that preconception with pricing a little over a high-end, in-line slider."

Origin sells nationwide "business to business" and has a showroom open Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Writer: Kathy Steele
Source: Neil Ginger, Origin USA

USF, All Children's Hospital Partner For Research Center

A research, education and training facility is now in the planning stages following a land transfer by the University of South Florida to the All Children's Hospital Johns Hopkins Medicine in St. Petersburg.

USF officials signed over 1.4 acres of land to the hospital as a gift. In return USF received $2.5 million in state funds as part of an overall agreement worked out among state officials, legislators and the governor's office. The land was deeded by the state to USF in April with the understanding that it would then be transferred to the hospital by late June.

The transferred land, at 601 Fourth St., is next to All Children's Outpatient Care Center and the Children's Research Institute.

The facility will focus on research and innovations in pediatric care and childhood diseases. In partnership with All Children's, USF officials anticipate opportunities for the university's medical students for training, pediatric residency and expanded education for health science undergraduates, graduates and postdoctoral fellows.

"This collaboration shows the sustained commitment of both organizations to provide the best training for USF Health medical students and all our residents and strengthen the USF Health pediatric residency program affiliation with All Children's Hospital Johns Hopkins Medicine," says Jonathan Ellen, president and physician in chief as well as pediatrics professor and vice dean at All Children's.

State records regarding the land deal indicate plans for an approximately 300,000-square-foot facility at an estimated cost of $65 million to $85 million, creation of about 400 design and construction jobs, and more than 20 staff and faculty positions.

But hospital officials say there are no details on the facility or a construction date as yet.

"You had a dream, you didn't want to start and it not happen," says Roy Adams, All Children's communications director. "It's like we're happy to be given the property so now we can start planning."

Nearly three years ago the private, not-for-profit All Children's Hospital became the first hospital outside of the Baltimore/Washington, D.C. area to join the prestigious Johns Hopkins Health System. A U.S. News & World Report Best Children's Hospital ranked All Children's in the top 50 in three specialty areas.

The University of South Florida is a Top 50 research university in total research expenditures among both public and private institutions nationwide, according to the National Science Foundation. 

Writer: Kathy Steele
Sources: Jonathan Ellen and Roy Adams, All Children's Hospital-St. Petersburg

The Trio At ENCORE! Tampa Welcomes First Residents

Even as construction continues on The Reed and The Tempo waits in the wings for its start date, the ENCORE! Tampa community is celebrating its first multifamily apartment complex -- The Trio.

The Tampa Housing Authority will hold a grand opening today (July 15) at 2:30 p.m. at 1101 Ray Charles Blvd., with live jazz and tours of The Trio.

The 141-unit apartment building joins The Ella, 161 senior apartments that opened in 2012 and are fully occupied. 

The musically themed ENCORE! is a $425 million, master-planned community that is replacing the former public housing complex of Central Park Village, which was torn down in 2007. The goal is to create a mixed-use, mixed income neighborhood within street grids dotted with apartments, shops, restaurants, a grocery store, hotel and a black history museum.

It is being developed jointly by THA and the Banc of America Community Development Corporation. The next multi-family complex, 203-unit The Tempo, should have a construction start shortly, with leasing set to begin by summer 2015.

Since April, nearly 40 families have moved into The Trio. However, about 70 percent of the  apartments are leased. Those additional residents are expected to arrive within the next one to two months.

"That's a little bit better pace for us than expected by this time," says LeRoy Moore, THA's COO. "Obviously the biggest news out of this is affordable housing for families. It's good to be welcoming our first families to the site."

At the grand opening, guests can get up-close looks at the public art commissioned for The Trio, including three ceramic tile murals depicting the rich history of the once-thriving black business and entertainment district in and around Central Avenue. 

The murals, located along a perimeter wall that faces Perry Harvey Sr. Park, are by Vermont-based artist Natalie Blake.

Funds for the murals -- titled The Gift of Gathered Remembrances -- are from the city of Tampa and the Friends of Tampa Public Art Foundations, which received its share of the money through THA.

In addition, The Trio's contractor, Sarasota-based CORE Construction Services of Florida, commissioned Taryn Sabia, co-founder of the Urban Charrette, for three jazz-themed paintings installed on the Trio's exterior walls.

The Trio is a collection of three buildings designed by Baker Barrios Architects. One building is six stories; the others are four stories. There are 1-,2-,3- and 4-bedroom floor plans. Amenities include a swimming pool, movie theater, fitness center, library, game rooms and Internet cafe.

Writer: Kathy Steele
Source: LeRoy Moore, Tampa Housing Authority

Tampa YMCA To Open New Gymnastics Center

Young gymnasts will be tumbling soon in a new gymnastics center at the Bob Sierra YMCA Youth & Family Center in the Carrollwood neighborhood of Tampa.

The $1.7 million, 11,500-square-foot facility is expected to open by fall and will double the number of children who can sign up for the YMCA's programs and services.

The existing gymnastics program is housed in the Bob Sierra Y building at 4029 Northdale Blvd. The new center will be a free standing building on nearby Ragg Road.

The construction project was proposed nearly three years ago to ease overcrowding. A fund-raising campaign was launched.

"Kids have to wait for their teams to practice," says Lalita Llerena, the Tampa Metropolitan Area YMCA's communications director.

A variety of gymnastics opportunities are offered at Bob Sierra Y including pre-team classes, teams and private lessons for toddlers to age 18.

“We serve nearly 3,000 kids in our current gymnastics area," says Dena Shimberg, chairwoman of the Y's capital campaign. "With the new gymnastics center, we will be able to serve over 5,000 kids, as well as a more diverse program menu to help serve children and families in our community.”
 
In the future, the Northdale building will undergo a makeover in a multiphase project to upgrade one of the YMCA's oldest facilities. Llerena says an announcement on that could come at the ribbon-cutting for the gymnastics center.

Coming up next is the 2014 YMCA National Gymnastics Championships hosted July 1-5 by the Tampa Metropolitan Area YMCA at the Tampa Convention Center. The event will draw more than 5,800 athletes, spectators and visitors and pump about $4.5 million into Tampa Bay's economy.

Writer: Kathy Steele
Source: Dena Shimberg and Lalita Llerena, YMCA

2 Boutique Hotels, Aloft And Le Meridien, Ready For Guests

Two upscale boutique hotels -- each with its own style created inside renovated properties -- will debut in downtown Tampa in coming weeks.

Aloft Tampa Downtown is targeting the next generation of business travelers hip to a sleek, modern look, tech-savvy gadgets, trending music and a social atmosphere.

Le Meridien Tampa is a contemporary version of a grand hotel experience in the renovated and restored Classic Federal Courthouse with a sweeping staircase, soaring ceilings, marble and terrazzo features, state-of-the-art technology and French-style dining at Bizou Brasserie under the direction of a Parisian chef.

Both are under the umbrella of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide.

Former and current  judges get a walk-through of Le Meridien on June 11, trailed by media. Doors open to the public June 16. A grand opening for the hotel, located at 601 N. Florida Ave., is slated for June 26.

Two blocks over at Kennedy Boulevard and Ashley Drive, Aloft is poised to open on the Tampa Riverwalk, the city's vision of a grand promenade along the Hillsborough River. By design, the hotel's ground floor, with Aloft's signature w xyz bar, is an open portal onto Riverwalk, breaking down barriers between inside and outside, and creating a new public space.

"It feels open to anyone to eat, drink and relax," says developer Punit Shah, CEO of Liberty Group. "There are no walls, no delineation of space."

An invitation-only opening is scheduled July 10 though the hotel's 130 loft-style rooms likely will be ready for occupancy sooner. And a grand opening for the public will be held at a later date. "It will be Tampa's hippest and coolest hotel," says Shah. "It's unprecedented."

Aloft Tampa is the fifth Aloft hotel in Florida. It was developed by Liberty Group in partnership with Convergent Capital.Parners. Starwood plans its sixth Aloft for New Orleans in 2015. 

Aloft will feature live music events, video and audio streaming capabilities, large HDTVs, the re:mix lounge, a waterfront pool, a 24-hour fitness center and a rooftop terrace with spectacular views of the river and minarets at University of Tampa.

Room check-in will be available with an app and a smartphone finger tap. Via text message, Shah says, "(The hotel door) will pop right open. Everything in the hotel is designed to be state-of-the-art, the highest and best available."

The addition of Aloft and Le Meridien to downtown's hotel landscape is good news for Visit Tampa Bay, which keeps a watchful eye on Hillsborough County's hotel bed tax revenues. This year already is on a pace to surpass more than $21.8 million collected in 2007, the best revenue year before the recession crushed the economy.

Last year's revenues came within nearly $650,000 of matching the 2007 record. Already the revenues through May of this year are $1.6 million higher than revenues collected through May 2013.

"We are thrilled with these two properties," says Santiago Corrada, Visit Tampa Bay's CEO. "The industry is doing well. We're back to pre-recession numbers."

But Corrada is hoping for additional hotels downtown to accommodate more conventions, larger conventions and multiple conventions at the same time at the Tampa Convention Center.  "We need more hotel capacity downtown because we have a convention center that needs to be running at capacity," he says. 

Writer: Kathy Steele
Sources: Punit Shah, Aloft Tampa; Santiago Carrado, Visit Tampa Bay

Florida's Largest Ice Hockey Complex Coming To Pasco

Youth ice hockey players will soon be lacing up skates at the largest ice rink facility in Florida.

Ice hockey booster and Z Mitch VP Gordie Zimmerman plans to build the 150,500-square-foot Cypress Creek Ice & Sports Complex in Wesley Chapel at the interchange of Interstate 75 and State Road 56. His partners in Z Mitch are VP Tarra Mitchell and President George Mitchell. As part of the ambitious plan, a 120-room hotel also is proposed just south of the sports complex.

Z Mitch is going through the permitting phase but Zimmerman says site preparation should begin within a month, with a planned opening in fall of 2015. The hotel is in planning stages.

The approximately $20 million complex will have four rinks including one at Olympic-size and two at standard size. A fourth space will be multipurpose to accommodate ice skating as well as other sports such as lacrosse, arena football, volleyball and basketball. Meetings and high school graduations can be held there.

Paralympic sled hockey, speed and figure skating, also are planned uses for the Olympic rink.

There also will be a restaurant, pro-shop and office, Zimmerman says.

Long-term, Zimmerman hopes to establish an ice academy similar to one at Saddlebrook for young tennis players. "He'll actually have students who would want to make it in the big leagues or go on to college and would come down here for training," says Ed Caum, Pasco County tourism director.

Tampa is the site for the 2016 NCAA Men's Frozen Four tourmanent. "This just opens up more opportunities...(Pasco) still has room to grow so we look forward to promoting venues for Tampa being a major sports destination," Caum says.

Forget I-75. Caum says,"We'll become Icer-75 corridor."

While the hotel is in planning stages, Caum says the intent of Z Mitch is to open a full-service, flag hotel. Pasco currently has a hotel deficit, he adds.

Zimmerman anticipates that his facility initially will ease a shortage in Tampa Bay of ice rinks available for practice.   Now he says local high schools, including Wiregrass Ranch where he coaches, and others sometimes travel long distances and compete for time at Brandon Ice Sports Forum. Another facility is in Ellenton."They just cannot get enough practice ice," says Zimmerman who is a former general manager at the Brandon facility. "This will fill a big void."

The Cypress Creek ice complex can be a draw for adult, youth and college-level leagues and teams, and tournaments. Zimmerman also anticipates interest from National Hockey League teams that would want additional practice time before leaving Tampa for their next scheduled games.

Zimmerman says he has been waiting three years to launch his project. A potential deal in South Tampa didn't work out. But based on a research/marketing study, he says," This one was the best site we could come up with as far as demographics and access."

Writer: Kathy Steele
Source: Gordie Zimmerman, Z Mitch
 

Aquatica On Bayshore To Rise In South Tampa

Pre-construction sales for Aquatica on Bayshore are attracting young executives and empty nesters who want a prime spot at the most desirable location in town -- Bayshore Boulevard.

The sleek, all-glass facade of the 15-story residential tower at 3001 Bayshore Boulevard will have spectacular water views from the double terraces off each condominium. Square footage of units range from about 2,300 to more than 4,700. Sales prices are from $838,000 to about $2.1 million.

"Daily, people are signing contracts," says real estate agent Toni Everett of The Toni Everett Company.

New York-based architect Joseph Galea, and his company MLG Architects, designed the building, which is very contemporary. Its glass front is inspired by "capturing 3 perfect waves frozen in time," according to the website.

Amenities include a swimming pool and heated whirlpool on the fourth floor deck, two gated entrances, a fitness center, conference and media rooms, and a party and catering kitchen.

The goal is to sell at least 50 percent of Aquatica prior to a construction start. Everett estimates the half way point has been reached, with a probable construction start next year. 

Construction preparation is under way and the vacant spit of land at Bayshore and Bay-to-Bay boulevards is now fenced off. The city of Tampa leased the lot for more than 15 years. It was a popular parking spot for people headed for a jog or walk on Bayshore's waterfront sidewalk. Also, the Bayshore Patriots met weekly to cheer on MacDill military personnel driving by on Bayshore. 

Bayshore visitors will have to find other parking spots but the Bayshore Patriots sign and flag remain.

It has been  nearly a decade since the project first was proposed by Citivest Construction Corporation which waited through Tampa City Council scrutiny, legal challenges and a failed economy to reach this point.

"There has been a revival generally of the market," says Citivest President Bill Robinson. "It's not great but it's on the mend. Employment figures are better. It's a favorable financial market for mortgages."

Writer: Kathy Steele
Sources: Toni Everett, The Toni Everett Company; Bill Robinson, Citivest

Lennar Homes Builds Homes in North Hyde Park And Ruskin

Home building is coming back into fashion as the economy shows signs of improving and people are again thinking about the long-range value of owning a home.

Lennar Homes recently broke ground on 39 for-sale town homes in North Hyde Park in Tampa and held an open house for Cypress Creek, a subdivision of single-family homes in Ruskin off U.S. Hwy. 19 in the South Shore area.

Homes at Cypress Creek will start in the mid-$100,00 and will feature energy efficient appliances, low maintenance flooring and maple wood cabinets. 

Nearby a new hospital is under construction. And, a planned Amazon distribution center is expected to bring about 1,000 jobs to the area, making Ruskin one of the fastest growing communities in Hillsborough County. According to a recent Gallup poll, many residents want to leave the state where they live but in Florida far fewer say they look for greener pastures elsewhere.

"We know that people love Tampa Bay like we do, and we're committed to making this the ideal place to call home," says Francine Miller, Lennar's director of sales operations.

In North Hyde Park, Lennar's town home development, in partnership with SoHo Capital, is the first large project in the neighborhood in recent years to specifically target home buyers. 

Ranging from about 2,000 to 2,400 square feet, the town homes are expected to be particularly attractive to young professionals, starter families and people looking to down-size from surrounding neighborhoods such as Hyde Park.

Starting prices are anticipated to be about $200,000 to $250,000. Construction is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

"We're hoping this will spur even more development in West Tampa and beyond," says Mark Metheny, division president of Lennar Homes.

The town homes are located at West Lemon Street and North Oregon Avenue, next to apartment complexes, NoHo Flats and Vintage Lofts.

The North Hyde Park neighborhood is a critical piece of Mayor Bob Buckhorn's vision for re-inventing Tampa's urban core.

"You're going to see a transformative movement in this city but it starts with projects like this," says Buckhorn. 'We're not going to miss this window. This is going to be a great city."

The mayor envisions a "work, live and play environment" that includes Kennedy Boulevard anchored by the University of Tampa and Tampa General Hospital. Both are engaged in major expansion projects including TGH's proposal to build a rehabilitation hospital on the long-vacant Ferman autodealership property fronting Kennedy.

But the city's boundaries also will sweep in the proposed Jewish Community Center that will open in a remodeled Fort Homer Hesterly Armory on Howard Avenue, and nearly 150 acres in West Tampa bordering the Hillsborough River.

The redevelopment of Water Works Park and the opening of the Ulele Restaurant in Tampa Heights also are part of the city's transformative master plan. In the same area SoHo Capital owns about 37 acres that is slated for residential and commercial development.

"All of it will complement each other," says Buckhorn. "This (town homes) is part of the mosaic."

Adam Harden, one of the principals in SoHo Capital, agrees.

"I think it's a harbinger that the sale's component's time has really come," he says.

Projects such as the town homes and the developments in Tampa Heights will bring jobs and services to the area. "It also brings the density needed to cascade into surrounding neighborhoods, re-creating a sense of place," Harden says.

Writer: Kathy Steele
Sources: Francine Miller and Mark Metheny, Lennar Homes; Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn; Adam Harden, SoHo Capital
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