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T.J.Maxx, new restaurants sprouting up in south Tampa

New restaurants and a popular discount retailer are moving into the South Tampa neighborhoods of Palma Ceia and SOHO/ Courier City.

After months of construction and speculation about what was going into the former Eckerd Drug store space on Henderson Boulevard, T.J. Maxx has announced it will be going into the shopping center between Fresh Market and First Watch. The 26,000-square-feet will be the discount clothing store's 10th location in the Tampa Bay area, but the first in south Tampa.

Its main competition for retail shoppers looking for discounted brand name clothing will likely be the stores already occupying Britton Plaza, about three miles south at Dale Mabry Highway and Euclid Avenue. Stores in Britton Plaza include Marshall's, Bealls Outlet, Burlington Coat Factory and the ever-popular Stein Mart. (Publix is currently rebuilding its space in Britton Plaza.)

Food town opeings

For foodies, the selection of restaurants in South Tampa continues to grow, with new concepts opening in new or renovated spaces nearly every week. Here are just a few of the restaurants that are creating buzz:

Four Rivers Smokehouse

With the successful launch of its location in Carrollwood, Four Rivers Smokehouse, will be coming to south Tampa later this year. Truly a 'home cooked'-inspired restaurant, Four Rivers got its start in the owner's garage after a fundraising cookout to support a family who had lost their young daughter to cancer. The barbecued food the owner made that day was very well received, so he opened up the Carrollwood restaurant and today proceeds still go to the 'Barbecue Ministry.”

Food at Four Rivers includes sandwiches, ribs, smoked chicken and brisket. The new restaurant will be located at the corner of Swann and MacDill Avenues, and is expected to open this fall.

Craft A'Fare Social Kitchen / Cask

Co-owned by Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Vincent Jackson, Craft A'Fare Social Kitchen, or just Cask as locals call it, is a comfort food haven with cornmeal crusted snapper, cider braised pork with beer battered onions as well as shrimp and grits, this restaurant is southern food meets chic fare.

Cask recently opened and provides lunch and dinner, with brunch on Sundays. You can experience Cask at 208 South Howard Ave.

Acropolis Greek Taverna

If you are looking for something other than American fare, Acropolis Greek Taverna south Tampa will be opening soon. This Greek restaurant with locations in Ybor, New Tampa, St. Petersburg and Riverview, will be opening a south Tampa location this fall. Take your tastebuds on a journey at Acropolis by trying their ouzo mussels, octopus appetizer or Greek lamb chops.

Acropolis Greek Taverna will be located at 3023 West Kennedy Boulevard.

“I believe south Tampa has become a foodie paradise,” says Kelly Flannery, president and CEO of the south Tampa Chamber of Commerce. “There is a great selection to choose from with all these new restaurants, and its a great walkable community right here in the middle of south Tampa.”

Unique theater prepares to open in West Tampa

West Tampa is experiencing a great amount of change as development plans by the city are underway, and in response to all the change, a new theater company is moving into the neighborhood to offer a place of peace, thoughtfulness and innovation.

The Space at 2106 Main, an old restaurant, is being revitalized into a theater that will house performances from band and vocal representations to one-person shows to full-blown Broadway acts. The theater company’s goal is to bring a variety of art to the area.

Before becoming executive artistic director for The Space at 2106 Main, Jared O’Roark, was working with youth for over a decade at Ruth Eckerd Hall. He even gained national attention for his work in the documentary Project: Shattered Silence, which won several awards and even a Emmy nomination.

“After working at Ruth Eckerd Hall for 14 years, the owner of The Space at 2106 Main, Robert Morris, came to me and told me about this building, and when we went inside, he asked me if I saw potential for a theater, and I said, 'yes'.”

O’Roark goes on to say that the theater will be immersive, meaning actors and acts will be moving around the whole theater, even in the audience, unlike traditional theater that all takes place on a stage.

“Everything in the room can move, so every time you walk in the room it should look different,” he says. “The chairs can move, tables can move, the booths can move, so immersive also means whatever the director has in mind, he can do without being tied down.”

O’Roark says this project is also important to him due to the fact that he is able to work with a diverse group of people in a diverse community.

“We are really pushing diversity, and we are not just saying it, the three of us at the top are all minorities. Robert, the owner is Lebanese, I myself am gay, and Erica Sutherlan, the managing artistic director is African-American. We want to not only present art for people outside the community, but we want to do stuff that involves the community. We want people in the community to know that we are not keeping them at arm’s length. This is their place too. This is a diverse community, and we welcome that diversity.”

The Space at 2016 Main will open its doors in September, for a list of upcoming shows check out their Facebook page for updates.

Construction begins on redesign of historic downtown Tampa park

Historical culture meets the future at the new Perry Harvey Park being constructed near ENCORE! Tampa just north of downtown at the intersection of Harrison Street and Central Avenue.

The $6.95 million project is being funded through a federal Choice Neighborhood Grant obtained by the Tampa Housing Authority for redeveloping the neighborhood.

“The $30 million dollar choice neighborhood implementation grant included a $2 million allocation for the renovation of Perry Harvey Park because the neighborhood lacked adequate recreational amenities to support the planned ENCORE! and surrounding community,” says LeRoy Moore, COO for the Tampa Housing Authority. “Parks and recreational amenities are essential to good community planning and promote wellness, cultural awareness and community building.”
 
The park's design celebrates the history of Central Avenue and its culture. The area was settled after the Civil War, when freed slaves were relocated to an area northeast of downtown Tampa. As time went on, the area became a successful African- American residential and business community. Many legendary artists, including Ray Charles, Cab Calloway, Ella Fitzgerald and James Brown, were drawn there to perform to growing audiences.

“After the public participation process of three public meetings, an advisory committee of community leaders was appointed to develop the program for park elements to ensure the park reflected the historical culture,” says Brad Suder, Superintendent in the city of Tampa’s planning design natural resources division. “This included granddaughters of Perry Harvey, Sr. and descendants of business leaders who grew up in the community. The idea was to capture important milestones, events and facts. The city selected four different artists to showcase the cultural history in different parts of the park, including a southern gateway into the park, a leaders row, a history walk and a statue of Perry Harvey, Sr.”

In addition to the artwork, the park will feature an interactive fountain, concert/festival space, improvements to the basketball courts, picnic shelters and a skate park.

Construction on the park is expected to be completed in winter 2016.

Urbanism on Tap open mic event: Let's talk about role of arts in Tampa's urban scene

Tampa's Urban Charrette and the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) Tampa Bay will host Urbanism on Tap at the Independent Bar and Cafe, 5016 N Florida Ave., in Tampa on July 14 starting at 5:30 p.m. 

Urbanism on Tap is a recurring open mic event focused on generating constructive conversations within the community about current ideas and trends that are shaping our city.

Every event is open to the public, and moderators and attendees are invited to share their views and stories related to the topic of the day. The intention of the event is to generate a lively exchange of ideas, which will enhance our ability to make Tampa a more livable city.

The July event is Urbanism on Tap's final discussion in the Arts and Urbanism series, which explores the various connections between the urban environment of Tampa and urban design, artists and art organizations.  

“Community through Art, Art through Community” will focus on how art can be used to strengthen communities and how communities can in turn support artists and their work. To engage with these topics, participants will look at case studies from around the nation to discuss how other communities are handling these issues. 

Additionally, local artists and arts organization representatives will be invited to the event to share insights on how these issues are playing out in the Tampa area. 

In what ways does an urban arts scene create vibrancy in a place and how can it actively engage with the general public? Should governments and citizens ensure a place in the community for artists and arts organizations, and what are the best methods used to retain artists? What support do artists need to thrive? The audience and invitees will have the opportunity to talk about these questions and more.
 
The event organizers -- the Urban Charrette and CNU Tampa Bay -- encourage people to share their opinions on this topic by visiting Urbanism on Tap’s online Facebook page before and after the event. 

Venue: Independent Bar and Café, 5016 N Florida Ave, Tampa, 33603
Date and Time: July 14, 2015, from 5:30 to – 7 p.m.

BLUE Ocean Film Festival opens new headquarters in St. Pete

As waves lap the Gulf of Mexico shoreline less than two miles away, the BLUE Ocean Film Festival and Conservation Summit opens its new global headquarters in the heart of St. Pete. The main office at 646 2nd Ave. S. is already abuzz with activities surrounding preparations for the city to host the 2016 BLUE Ocean Film Festival.

The annual festival sheds light on problems plaguing the world's oceans and solutions for conservation by showcasing the best in ocean filmmaking and scientific research. The seven-day event moved to St. Petersburg in 2014 from Monterey CA, will be hosted by the government of Prince Albert II in Monaco in November 2015 and then will return to St. Pete in November 2016.

The nonprofit works year-round to educate people on the importance of ocean life and conservation. From summits and conferences to workshops and educational outreach programs, the organization tries to teach as many populations as possible.

“It’s always been a part of our long-term strategy to use film as a tool to raise awareness,” says Debbie Kinder, CEO and co-Founder of BLUE Ocean. “We have always wanted to have workshops, activities and mentoring to show that conservation work is a great career option.”

The organization’s “Blue on Tour” program travels the world showcasing its films and engaging conversations on the global value of the oceans.

“We need one strong home base and St. Pete is it,” Kinder says. “We would love for BLUE to be associated with St. Pete the way that Sundance is associated with Park City.”

The 6,000-square-foot headquarters that Kinder refers to as ''home base'' is being leased, though the nonprofit is getting a temporary break on rent.

“There is a long-term lease, however, early on there are no rent payments due,” says Robert Glaser, President and CEO of Smith and Associates. Glaser did minor renovations on the property, although he says the building was in excellent shape and did not need much done. Long-term, when the festival is more financially sound, he anticipates collecting rent for use of the building.

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.
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