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Old Seminole Heights attracts innovative restaurants, shops

More new creative shops and restaurants are moving into the Old Seminole Heights neighborhood of Tampa.

“I can tell you a lot of young people are moving to this neighborhood,” says Debi Johnson, President of the Old Seminole Heights Neighborhood Association. “The younger population wants the breweries and restaurants to come in, and the establishments do because they know it is good for business.”

Some of the newer establishments to open in Old Seminole Heights over the last year or so include a pizza and burger joint called Hampton Station, an upscale twist on comfort food restaurant known as Fodder & Shine, The Bourgeois Pig and Red Star Rock Bar.

One of the most talked about lately restaurants coming to the neighborhood is Ichicoro, a Japanese noodle soup restaurant, otherwise known as Ramen Ya.

“We are Tampa Bay’s first Ramen Ya restaurant,” says Noel Cruz, owner of Ichicoro, which will be situated at 5229 North Florida Avenue.

While restaurants like Ichicoro are widely popular in other cities, including New York, where Cruz owns another Ramen Ya restaurant, Old Seminole Heights gets to boast that their neighborhood was chosen for the restaurant’s location, which opens in June.

Another innovative concept coming to the neighborhood is the Jug & Bottle Dept. located at 6201 N. Florida Ave. It's a specialty store that will feature coffees, teas, gourmet food items, fresh flowers and cigars, among other specialty items. What will set this store apart from the rest is its world class beer and wine, says co-Owner Veronica Danko, who owns The Independent Bar and Café.

“Over the years, my staff, friends and customers have all discussed the fact that the neighborhood needs a specialty retail store,” Danko says. “The Independent does not have a package license, so a couple of us decided to open the store ourselves, and use our knowledge and passion for beer and wine to make it work.  We are very excited about the project and cannot wait to get it open next month (June).”

3 new shops opening in downtown Tampa

As downtown Tampa grows as a work-live-play environment, new residential and commercial properties will soon include three new shops designed to take care of the personal needs of residents, workers and visitors. 

Pearl Salon

Pearl Salon is aiming to be an oasis for clients with 4,200 square feet in Park Tower at 400 North Tampa Street. The salon will offer nail care, waxing, eyelash extensions and massages as well as a blow dry bar for professionals on the run.

The owner of Pearl Salon, Kim Nguyen, an entrepreneur from Miami, strategically picked the downtown location.

“There are so many workers in the downtown area, as well as the University of Tampa, however, there is currently nowhere for people to get their beauty treatments done,” she says.

The $700,000 investment will create at least 25 jobs according to Nguyen.  It is scheduled to open in early June.

Uncommon Finds

Uncommon Finds is a niche perfume storefront that enables customers to discover unique scents.

“Niche perfumes are a growing product,” says owner Rob Atkins, a self-acclaimed ‘scent junkie.’

"They are much different from your typical perfume, which only has one layer of scent; ours has three, so if you put some on in the morning you should still smell it in the evening. Also we use essential oils in our product, as opposed to synthetic ingredients found in other perfumes, therefore those who have allergies can wear our products“

The store's 300 square feet of space will be located within Studio K, 406 N. Morgan St.

Uncommon Finds is scheduled to open in mid-June.

Doxa Design Lab and Gallery

Doxa Design Lab and Gallery is approximately 500 square feet of interior design services.

“We are offering full interior design services, fine art as well as custom upholstery, vintage furnishings home accents, lighting, art and design books, textiles and industrial designs created by renowned architects and product designers,” says Jaime Rogers, Senior Partner of Doxa. “We offer products for as little as $30, or as much as $20,000.”

Doxa’s opening will create jobs including a general manager, part-time bookkeeper and part-time design assistant.

The Gallery will be located at the base of SkyPoint, 777 North Ashley Drive. It also is expected to open in June.

Redevelopment plan for West Tampa looks to brighter future

In the heart of the historic West Tampa neighborhood, residents, business owners and community leaders congregated together on two separate nights in April to discuss the redevelopment plan the city has put forth.

Sitting in fold-out chairs facing a PowerPoint presentation in the MLK Community Center on Oregon Avenue, the city laid out its proposal for revitalizing the traditionally lower income, working class neighborhood. The new community redevelopment area (CRA) in west Tampa encompasses the west side of the Hillsborough River to Armenia Avenue on the west, up to Columbus Drive to the north and Kennedy Boulevard to the south.

While this part of Tampa has a rich history, city planners believe that updates need to be made. According to one study, 56 percent of the roads in the area are in need of improvement, 33 percent of roadways have a pavement condition index of "failed,'' more than 50 percent of housing units were constructed before 1959, and more than 60 percent of the area lacks sidewalks.

"I think the people that live here, and do business in west Tampa have waited a very long time to catch up with some of the other areas that have been redeveloped,'' says Jeanette Fenton, Urban Development Manager for the city of Tampa.

The CRA includes provisions for numerous tasks including new affordable housing, façade and building improvements, pedestrian access, road improvements, as well as beautification projects.

Those in attendance at meetings held on April 14th and 30th were able to give feedback and input to the city as to what they would like to see happen in their community as this process moves forward. It was explained by Fenton that the next step in the process includes her team putting together a strategic action plan for approval, including input from the community.

As for the cost of this project, that is undetermined at this time.

"We have not run the revenue projections yet,'' Fenton says. "That will be the next step once the plan is approved, then there will be an analysis of all the taxes of the property and what the revenue will be.''

The deadline for the Urban Development team to present its strategic action plan is July 1st.  

Foodie alert: 5 new restaurants open on 4th Street in St. Pete

If your palette is hungry for a new taste, head down to 4th Street in St. Petersburg, where five new and globally diverse restaurants have opened since February.
 
Experience Thai food at JusThai, a new juice bar called Gush Juice, diving deep for sushi at Hook’s and adding some spice at Pericos if you’re in the mood for Mexican food — seemingly something for everyone.
 
Or sit down at one of the more innovative restaurants to open in the Tampa Bay area, PieTopia, known for their “meter pizzas.’’ Taking over the 2,500-square-feet location that used to house World of Beer, this “Farm-to-table’’ restaurant is not your typical pizzeria. 

“We have very high quality pizzas made with double zero flour, so it is ultra refined with no GMOs and no preservatives,’’ says Edward Ehlers, GM of PieTopia. “We also have 35 wine selections; many of them are imported from Italy, and a good selection of organic wines.’’

While the pizza is good for the body, you can also get a good bit of it. The restaurant’s most notable pizza, the “Meter Pizza,’’ feeds anywhere from eight to 10 people according to Ehlers and starts at $15. 

“We do have a meter pizza that is $125, which includes caviar as a topping.’’

Several more restaurants are set to open over the next few months on 4th Street; and Pietopia’s owner Joe DiBartolo says the location is a great spot for his investment.
 
“The location is strategically placed,’’ he says. “It’s easy to get to; Trader Joe's and The Fresh Market are up the street, which has a similar clientele that is looking for organic options, which we provide.’’
 
From now until the end of April, the restaurant will be hosting a grand opening celebration. As part of the celebration, Ehlers says any two-guest party that spends at least $25 will be entitled to a complimentary bottle of imported organic wine as well as an antipasto sampler platter of imported meat, cheese and farm fresh vegetables. 

Besito Mexican restaurant opens in Westshore, Tampa

The new Besito Restaurant in the Westshore neighborhood of Tampa adds spice to the district. As you walk around restaurant row at Westshore Plaza, you will see a new kid is on the block, one that packs a refined and savory punch.
 
Besito, which is located in the 7,500-square-feet space vacated by The Palm steakhouse, opened its doors to the public in April. According to owner John Tunney, his restaurant is the perfect urban joint for locals.

“The people of Tampa enjoy dining, they go out a lot, they understand food, they understand recipes, they understand cocktails, all in all they’re foodies,’’ he says. “So we are giving them what they want. Our cuisine is very authentic from central and southern Mexico. When you come here, you will have a culinary experience, you will feel like you are in Mexico.’’

The menu offers authentic recipes that include steak, chicken and seafood, guacamole made tableside, and a variety of cocktails, not to mention 75 different types of tequila. Tunney says what sets his restaurant apart from others is the flavors found in the food.
 
“We balance the flavors so the food is not too spicy,’’ says Joe Mugenski, Executive Chef at Besito

“The flavors are incredible,’’ adds Alan Reynolds, also Executive Chef. “Everything is made from scratch every day.’’

Beyond the food, Tunney points out the décor of the restaurant also adds to the experience. 

“The décor is inspired by my own travels in Mexico,’’ he says. “The masks we have over the lighting pieces around the walls are actually made after a mask I found on a beach during one of my trips to Mexico. Every detail, everything you see, there is a reason for it.’’
 
Besito is located at Westshore Plaza across from Mitchell’s Fish Market in the space once occupied by The Palm. 

The Ella at ENCORE! Tampa earns Gold LEED certification

The Ella at ENCORE! Tampa has been awarded a prestigious LEED Gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. 

The apartment building, one of four newly built in the planned community designed to accommodate 2,500 residents on 40 acres between downtown Tampa and Ybor City, is already at full capacity. The neighborhood developers are working to build and attract retail and other amenities to further serve residents. 
 
The developers -- the Tampa Housing Authority along with the Bank of America CDC -- sponsored a celebration of the LEED certification in March attended by Ed Jennings, the highest ranking HUD official in the southeastern United States. 

“The LEED Gold Certification for Ella at ENCORE! means this building is a showcase example of sustainable design,’’ says VP and COO Leroy Moore, Sr. of the Tampa Bay Housing Authority. “LEED Gold certification requires efficiency in design at every level starting with building orientation to maximize solar exposure, a commitment to some of the most advanced energy efficient equipment from windows and doors, water conservation, waste recycling, heating and cooling, low emitting, volatile organic compounds in finishes such as carpeting and painting, just to name a few.’’

Robert Ledford of Baker Barrios, whose design team helped the building achieve the certification, says he is proud of the accomplishment and credits all of the people who were involved. 

“This is a great achievement for the team, however, there was a lot of effort on behalf our partnerships to achieve this,’’ he says. “It is a great win for all of us, and we look forward to the projects ahead.’’

New Montessori School to open in Trinity, Pasco County

Parents looking for a Montessori School in the Trinity area of Pasco County will be pleased to know that one is currently under construction and set to open this fall.

Ground broke four months ago on The Montessori at Trinity Oaks, after one mother, a former Montessori student herself, saw a need in the community.

“I was a Montessori child as were my two younger siblings. Montessori was a big part of our lives,’’ says Anisha Patel, President of The Montessori at Trinity Oaks. “I have two young children of my own now, and it’s time for them to go to school. I wanted to bring the Montessori curriculum into the community. There is not a Montessori school nearby. I decided that would be a good location to open a school and bring the Montessori curriculum here.’’
 
The school will feature three classrooms, an activity room and administration offices, and will serve children ages 2 to 6. Offering two, three and five-day programs, The Montessori at Trinity Oaks will offer both part-time and fulltime schedules depending on the needs of your child.
 
Construction is being completed by Spartan Builders Design & Contract of Tampa.

“We should complete construction in June, and at that time we will begin parent tours,’’ says Patel. “In the fall we will be ready to take in students for the academic school year.’’ 

The Montessori at Trinity Oaks will be located at 9941 Trinity Blvd. in Trinity.

Urban Charrette, CNU Tampa Bay host open mic on urbanism and the arts

Tampa's Urban Charrette and the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) Tampa Bay will host Urbanism on Tap at the Independent Bar and Café in Seminole Heights on Tuesday, March 24, starting at 5:30pm.  
 
Urbanism on Tap consists of recurring open mic discussions, thematically organized in groups of three. Each event generates constructive conversations within the community about current ideas and trends that are shaping our city. Events are open to the public, and moderators and attendees are invited to share their views and stories related to the topic of the day. 

The resulting lively exchange of ideas is designed to enhance attendees’ ability to make Tampa a more livable city, says Organizer Ashly Anderson. 
 
Starting this spring, Urbanism on Tap organizers have moved to Seminole Heights, a neighborhood north of Downtown Tampa, to host a new Urbanism on Tap Series on Arts and Urbanism. The series will explore the link between the arts and the development of neighborhoods.
 
Tuesday’s discussion, “The Visual Identity of Tampa,” is the first in the Arts and Urbanism series. Organizers will focus on how the arts have shaped the visual identity of Tampa. Participants will talk about how Tampa's image is defined by its iconic structures, landmarks and historic places, resulting in a unique urban form. 

Questions to be addressed: What makes a visitor remember Tampa? How should the visual identity of Tampa be kept intact as development continues within the area? Participants will have the opportunity to answer these questions and many more, trying to decide what matters most.  
 
Residents, students, art enthusiasts and neighborhood groups are encouraged to attend. 
 
The event organizers encourage people to share their opinions on this topic by visiting Urbanism on Tap’s online Facebook page and website before and after the event.  
 
Venue: Independent Bar and Cafe, Seminole Heights, 5016 N. Florida Ave. Tampa, FL-33603  
Date and time: Tuesday, March 24, 2015, 5:30pm–7pm 
Questions: email the Urban Charrette

Haven opens in Sidebern's former SoHo space

A new upscale dining destination and sister to world famous Bern’s Steak House opened in Tampa’s popular SoHo neighborhood in early March 2015.

Haven, housed in the the former Sidebern’s and Bern’s Fine Wine and Spirits space at 2208 West Morrison, delivers a modern sensibility to the SoHo dining experience with rich wood, strategic lighting and upscale décor. The redeveloped bar, lounge and restaurant is a refuge for lovers of charcuterie, cheese and cellars full of fine wine on a street that mixes casual dining with upscale experiences.

Haven’s menu will be under the direction of Executive Chef Chad Johnson (two-time James Beard Award Best Chef: South Semi-finalist), along with Chef de Cuisine Courtney Orwig and General Manager Kira Jefferson. 

Menu offerings focus on beverage selections as much as food: craft beer, 300 Bourbons and over 40 wines by the glass mingle with featured wines from a 2,500 bottle wine collection that includes 550 regional and global vintages. At the 25-seat bar, handmade signature cocktails are muddled using fresh ingredients. 

Attention to detail can be found in everything from a “cheese cave” with over 100 cheeses to homemade sodas on tap. 

Along with interior renovations at Haven, additional dining space and an exterior patio area facing Howard Avenue have been added to the restaurant.

“Our bar and charcuterie areas are sure to be a popular gathering place for guests, in addition to our newly added patio space,” Owner David Laxer says in a news release.

Laxer calls Haven "a new beginning for SideBern’s, and a tip of the hat to the history of Bern’s. It’s a natural progression of our brand and growth of our restaurants.”

Laxer’s parents, Bern and Gert, bought the Beer Haven bar in 1956 and moved it to 1208 S Howard Ave., renaming it Bern’s in the process. Over time, the restaurant and bar grew to include eight dining rooms and the renowned Harry Waugh Dessert Room, which was built in 1985 from redwood wine casks. 

Bern’s Steak House is a mainstay on a street that is a growing foodie destination for both fine and casual dining. In 2014 alone, the long-anticipated Epicurean Hotel opened at 1207 S. Howard Ave., home to Bern’s sister restaurants Élevage on the ground floor and the EDGE Social Drinkery rooftop bar. Former Tampa Bay Rays owner Joe Maddon and 717 South owner Michael Stewart opened the upscale, Italian-inspired Ava at 718 S. Howard Ave. in Nov 2014. 

Well-known Tampa restauranteurs Ciccio & Tony’s latest venture, Fresh Kitchen, opened at 1350 S. Howard with a healthy fast food concept in October last year. And in early 2015, the popular Tampa food truck Wicked ‘Wiches opened a casual dining spot, Wicked ‘Wiches and Brew, on the end of South Howard closest to bars and clubs that are frequented by many young professionals and college students.

Now, Haven will join the mix.

Haven will serve dinner from 5:30-10pm Mon-Weds and 5:30-11pm Thurs-Sat. The bar at Haven will be open from 5-10pm Mon-Weds and from 5-11pm Thurs-Sat. 

For more information, visit the restaurant’s website. 

Urbanite Theatre prepares to launch first season in new black-box theatre in Sarasota

The buzz around the Urbanite Theatre is unmistakable in downtown Sarasota — the drone of carpentry tools placing finishing construction touches competes daily with the energetic hum of creative anticipation as the new black-box theatre space prepares for its opening night in April.

Urbanite co-Founders and Artistic Directors Brendan Ragan and Summer Wallace met while pursuing Masters’ degrees at Sarasota’s FSU/Asolo Conservatory. Urbanite Theatre emerged from their shared vision to bring provocative contemporary productions to Sarasota in an intimate black-box setting. 

“This is such an arts community. Sarasota is very strong in its visual and performing arts scene, already. But what’s not here, yet, is a small box theater that’s staging edgy, contemporary work,” says Ragan.

Having both lived the nomadic lifestyle of career actors, working in larger cities like New York City with robust contemporary theatre scenes, Ragan and Wallace see great potential in Sarasota.

The Urbanite Theatre was announced late last spring and quickly received 501c3 nonprofit status. A developer who wishes to remain anonymous is responsible for the funding and construction of the new theater, an addition to an office complex on 2nd Street, located between Fruitville Road and the Whole Foods Market. The space, formerly a parking lot, was purchased for $600,000.

“We’ve been generously given the shell of the space to utilize, but we’re responsible for filling it in and making a theater of it,” Wallace says.

Filling in the shell of a theater means providing the lighting, seating, sound equipment and other operational components. Wallace says estimated start-up costs for the theater are approximately $30,000, and that each production will cost between $25,000-$30,000. Active fundraising campaigns have raised more than $50,000 to date, and the theater hopes to raise an additional $100,000 to keep ticket prices at $20 or less and offer student discounts.

The Urbanite Theatre features a cozy black-box setting designed for customizable production space and intimate performances. Theater capacity is limited to 50-70 seats, depending on the configuration for each show.

“When you’re in a bigger space, you can kind of remove yourself from the production. You’re up there, safe in your seats and separate from the stage. Here, where the actor is not just feet, but mere inches away from you — it evokes a different emotional response,” Wallace says.

“Because we have a small venue, I believe we will be able to really push the envelope in terms of the types of plays we produce,” Ragan adds. “I look it at the same way that HBO differs from network television: People week out their work because it’s something different; more provocative.”

Opening night is scheduled for April 10 with the U.S. premiere of British playwright Anna Jordan’s award-winning “Chicken Shop.” For ticket information, visit The Urbanite Theatre website.

'Building a Healthier Sulphur Springs' project aims to create safe, energy-efficient Tampa homes

Slowly but surely, efforts to transform a long-neglected neighborhood north of downtown Tampa are taking shape.

“Building a Healthier Sulphur Springs” is a new collaborative community program that will address the shortage of safe, suitable housing in the neighborhood, a factor that Rebuilding Together Tampa Bay says increases housing instability and transiency in the area.

Sulphur Springs is a blighted section of Tampa known for high crime rates and low income but the neighborhood was, decades ago, a destination that attracted tourists with its sulphur waters, spring-fed swimming pool and lively storefronts.

“Through our neighborhood revitalization initiative known as ‘Building a Healthier Sulphur Springs,’ Rebuilding Together Tampa Bay intends to improve the living conditions of this community for its present and future residents,” says RTTB Executive Director Jose Garcia.

Creating stable opportunities for children, improving general wellbeing and developing more positive neighborhood settings are part of the “Building a Healthier Sulphur Springs” program goals.

The program is “uniquely positioned for success because of the collaborations formed with numerous nonprofit organizations that are part of the Sulphur Springs Neighborhood of Promise and the support of the City of Tampa,” Garcia says.

“Building a Healthier Sulphur Springs” services aim to make homes in the Sulphur Springs neighborhood safer, healthier and more energy efficient. This will include implementing the “Healthy Home Kit” in many homes: a combination of learning workshops for residents and on-going community support in the form of home repairs and services.

Efforts to revitalize the low-income community in Sulphur Springs have been underway for several years, with the opening of Springhill Community Center and Layla's House, which offers parenting programs and resources for children to neighborhood families. The Sulphur Springs Neighborhood of Promise, which was founded in the mid-2000’s by the Tampa Metropolitan Area YMCA in partnership with local organizations like United Way Suncoast and the Children's Board of Hillsborough County, led the efforts to open Layla’s House.

Backed by federal funding, the City of Tampa also initiated the Nehemiah Project, an effort to tear down dozens of dilapidated abandoned Sulphur Springs houses, in 2014.

“We have strong support from various corporations and foundations that want to see the neighborhood stabilize and thrive in their new environment,” says Garcia. “We look forward to sharing the outcomes with everyone in the Tampa Bay area.”

The “Building a Healthier Sulphur Springs” project launches at 10:30am on Thursday, March 19, at the Abundant Life Worship Center, 8117 N. 13th St. “Healthy Home Kits” will be installed in the homes of several Sulphur Springs residents following the program kickoff.

RTTB, a nonprofit organization dedicated to rehabilitating neighborhood homes and providing home repair services to low-income families as well as elderly residents, wounded veterans or those with disabilities, has already renovated or repaired more than 350 neighborhood homes through sponsorship support, labor and hundreds of volunteers. Services include anything from emergency repairs to weatherproofing or improvements to make homes more energy efficient.

More information is available at the Rebuilding Together Tampa Bay website.

Luxury cigar retailer to open flagship Tampa store

Tampa, aka 'Cigar City,' will gain a new luxury cigar retailer in late 2015.

Davidoff of Geneva - since 1911, a more than 100-year-old luxury retailer of cigars and cigar accessories, plans to open a 5,000-square-foot flagship store in Tampa's Westshore Business District by late 2015.

Richard Krutick, Davidoff of Geneva USA’s director of marketing, estimates that the flagship store will hire around 30 new employees before opening in late 2015.

“Tampa is historically a great cigar city and we want to further establish Tampa as our home market,” Krutick says. “We are very excited about the new store. We’re hoping it becomes a fixture in the Tampa Bay community.”

The Pinellas Park-based company has a worldwide reach; in fact, the only other licensed Davidoff of Geneva boutique in the United States is located in Las Vegas.

The company's future Tampa location is across from Tampa International Airport and International Plaza and Bay Street in the MetWest International Retail Village, an award-winning, mixed-use center currently under development by MetLife.

Office buildings and upscale restaurants like Cooper’s Hawk Winery and RestaurantKona GrillTexas de Brazil and Del Frisco’s Grille are already located in the space, which when completed will include almost 1 million-square-feet of office space, 254 residential units, a 260-room full-service upscale hotel, and a 74,200-square-foot retail village.

Tampa's Davidoff of Geneva flagship store will be the largest in the world. Retail space will co-mingle with indoor and outdoor lounges, complete with a full service bar, a first for the company. Other luxuries will include a completely humidified store and private lockers.

“We are delighted to open a new ‘Davidoff of Geneva - since 1911’ store in our home market,” Jim Young, President of Davidoff of Geneva North America, says in a news release.

The new location will be opened in partnership with Jeff and Tanya Borysiewicz, owners of the popular Orlando-based Corona Cigar Company

The partnership is a particularly exciting aspect of the new store for Young. The Borysiewicz’ “know how to provide consumers with a premium retail experience, they know our entire product portfolio, and they know our company,” Young said.

The move is met with enthusiasm on both sides, with Jeff Borysiewicz also noting in a news release, “it's an honor to be partnering with Davidoff of Geneva. It's exciting to be building upon the legacy that Zino Davidoff started over 100 years ago.”

“We're thrilled to expand our retail operations and to serve cigar enthusiasts in the Cigar City of Tampa,” Borysiewicz said. “We look forward to creating the ‘Ultimate Cigar Experience’ in a community with such a long history of cigar manufacturing and rich cigar culture.”

Hablo Taco opens in downtown Tampa's Channel District

Holy guacamole. A new tequila bar and taco lounge opens its doors in Channelside Bay Plaza in downtown Tampa on Wednesday (Feb. 4). 

Hablo Taco is the first business to open in the plaza since Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik announced a plan to invest a staggering $1 billion in Tampa’s downtown Channel District over the next five to seven years.

The Hablo Taco food menu is a mix of bar food, like burgers, and Mexican-inspired staples, such as nachos, tacos and Mexican street corn, along with four variations on guacamole. The restaurant’s bar menu focuses on margaritas and frozen cocktails along with a variety of tequilas.
 
“We like the menu options and we believe the management is developing a fun, welcoming environment that will offer something for everyone,” says Bill Wickett, EVP of Marketing and Communications for Tampa Bay Lightning.
 
The 6,000-square-foot restaurant sits across from Hooters and will boast a 50-ft outdoor bar. Hablo Taco will be run by Guy Revelle, the operator of the plaza’s Splitsville Lanes bowling alley, as well as previous plaza tenants Stumps Supper Club, Howl at the Moon and Tinatapas.
 
“Once Hablo Taco opens, we will focus on driving exciting events (like the upcoming Gasparilla Film Festival) into Channelside,” Wickett says, “which we believe will appeal to residents in the Channelside and downtown neighborhoods, thereby bringing more traffic to the existing businesses in the mall.” 

Vinik, along with Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, welcomed Hablo Taco, 615 Channelside Drive, with a ribbon cutting in late January.

“We are excited to open Hablo Taco and we believe it will become a destination, not only for Lightning fans and Amalie Arena guests, but for Channelside residents and employees of our downtown businesses,” Wickett says.

Franklin Street, a family of full-service real estate companies, manages Channelside Bay Plaza. For more information on Hablo Taco, or to explore job opportunities, visit the restaurant’s website.

Big Brothers Big Sisters moves national headquarters to Tampa

The welcome mat is out for former Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio. But Iorio is the one bearing a welcome home gift for the Tampa Bay region -- the national corporate headquarters for Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.

In April 2014 Iorio took on the top job at the 110-year-old nonprofit headquartered in Irving, TX. She was Tampa's mayor from 2003 to 2011. As chief executive officer of Big Brothers Big Sisters, she spent her weeks in Texas and weekends at home in Tampa.

Effective March 31, the commuting ends and Big Brothers Big Sisters moves into 6,900-square-feet of office space at Corporate Center One at International Plaza in the Westshore Business District. The rent is free for five years courtesy of Parkway Properties.

The Beck Group is donating the carpets, paint and other materials to make the offices move-in ready. Bill Adams of ROF is providing furniture and design services. And an anonymous Tampa donor is paying moving expenses.

"From a civic stand point, I couldn't be more proud that Big Brothers Big Sisters is calling Tampa home," says Iorio. "I couldn't be more optimistic about the future of the organization in Tampa."

A corporate headquarters in Tampa comes as a plum prize in a city, and a region, that is awash in on-going and soon-to-happen construction for residential towers, shops and restaurants in the urban cores of Tampa and St. Petersburg.

"Wow. This is a really a big deal," says Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman. "We are getting ready to explode in this community. I'm glad, Pam, you and your organization have decided to spark the fire. They are going to bring their company here. There is such a spillover for that."

Iorio and Murman spoke at a gathering at the Tampa Convention Center to announce the relocation. About 150 people attended, including Joseph Lopano, chief executive officer of Tampa International Airport and Kanika Tomalin, deputy mayor of St. Petersburg. 

The move from Texas is expected to bring 20 jobs to the community. While a few employees from Texas might opt to re-locate, Iorio says most jobs will be filled locally.

As national headquarters, Tampa will host board members and staff from 331 affiliate organizations across the country for meetings and conferences. That translates, city leaders say, to more hotel beds filled and more money flowing into the local economy from dollars spent at area restaurants, shops and entertainment venues.

"This is how you become known as a headquarters community," says Rick Homans, CEO of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation (THEDC).

Iorio says she had committed to two years as chief executive officer of Big Brothers Big Sisters. A request that she consider a longer commitment led to the decision to relocate.

The THEDC served as facilitator, pulling together a business plan in about two months to sell Tampa and the Bay area as a good move. Iorio says she told her organization, "Even if you take me out of the equation, Tampa Bay is a great place."

Dallas had been corporate headquarters for the organization for only about a year following a move from Philadelphia.

Pinellas and Hillsborough counties have merged their Big Brothers Big Sisters organizations into one of the largest affiliates in the country. Iorio says 3,500 children are served in the Bay area and about 1,000 are on a waiting list to have a Big Brother or Big Sister as a mentor.

IBM retiree Alan Cohen is a Big Brother to 13-year-old Sir.Giogio (last name unavailable) who is the middle child of a single mother. For the past six years, Cohen has taken Sir.Giorgio to sports venues, Busch Gardens and tutors him once a week.

"I know I am able to make a difference in one person's life," says Cohen. "I have a friend in Sir. Giorgio."

Historical figures honored on Tampa Riverwalk

A Jewish immigrant who became Tampa's first mayor and a West Tampa businessman and civil rights leader are among the latest group of trail blazers to be honored with bronze busts installed on The Tampa Riverwalk's Historical Monument Trail.

For the third year the nonprofit Friends of the Riverwalk revealed its six annual honorees. About 200 people came to see the busts unveiled in a ceremony outside the Tampa Convention Center. 

"I marvel at the courage, sacrifice and perseverance, the guts, that these people have shown," says attorney Steve Anderson, president of the Friends of the Riverwalk. "They are truly inspirational."

The busts, created by sculptor Steve Dickey, will recognize the accomplishments of Blanche Armwood, the namesake of Armwood High School, who was an educator and community activist; Herman Glogowski, a Jewish clothing store owner who became mayor of Tampa at its incorporation in 1886; Gavino Gutierrez, the "first citizen of Ybor City" who brought cigar magnates Vicente Martinez Ybor and Ignacio Haya to Tampa; Bena Wolf Maas, who founded the Children's Home and was the wife of Abe Maas of the Maas Bros. department stores; Hugh Campbell MacFarlane, the Scottish immigrant and attorney who founded West Tampa and nurtured its cigar industry; and Moses White, a prominent West Tampa businessman and civil rights leader.

They will join 12 other historical figures selected for the trail since 2012. As many as 30 people will be memorialized. Informational monuments also will be placed along the trail.

The Riverwalk is the city's waterfront promenade that is envisioned as an approximately 2.5 mile community connector as well as an entertainment and cultural mecca for residents and visitors. The last major segment of the walkway through downtown, a link under Kennedy Boulevard, is expected to be completed in early 2015.

Aloft Hotel, Ulele restaurant, the Tampa Museum of Art and the Straz Center for the Performing Arts are among the businesses and cultural centers already populating the Riverwalk. With a Riverwalk completed from MacDill Park to Water Works Park, the design is intended to attract restaurants, shops, hotels and special events to make the Hillsborough River a downtown destination.

Who else from Tampa's history deserves a bronze bust along the Tampa Riverwalk? Post your comments below. 
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