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SOHO Blind Tiger settles into walkable community

A trip to Roberto Torres’ South Howard Avenue coffee shop is an average 7- to 12-minute walk for many of his customers. When they arrive, they experience the aroma and flavor of coffee from afar: the floral and tea-like favors of coffee from Panama, the citrusy tones of coffee from Brazil, the nutty taste of coffee from Columbia, and the fruitiness of coffee from Rwanda.

This is Blind Tiger Cafe, part of a walkable community on both sides of Howard Avenue in South Tampa. The floor, with its map of Tampa and its neighborhoods is like a “love letter” to the city, acknowledges the native of Panama, who moved to Tampa 12 years ago.

Inspired by the speakeasy, another name for blind tiger, Torres opened his first cafe in Ybor City in late 2014. His goal was simple: meet Seventh Avenue’s need for a coffee shop.

He soon learned high walkability, high density and a neighborhood feel was a winning formula for the rest of Tampa too. So he and partners opened shops in Seminole Heights, the Tampa Bay Times building downtown, and more recently, South Tampa. His 17,000-square-foot shop at 934 S. Howard Ave. features a polished concrete floor with a map by Robert Horning of Tampa Murals.

“We wish to be sort of like this destination in Tampa,” explains Torres, who is partnering with Luis Montanez and Christopher Findeisen in the cafe and Black & Denim, a Tampa apparel firm. “This is where we got our start.”

The Blind Tiger Cafe also features a bold tiger on the wall by Tampa’s Pep Rally Inc. It offers traditional coffee drinks like cappuccino, along with specialty drinks. “For example, we have this one, Expresso Bombon -- two ounces of expresso over two ounces of sweet and condensed milk,” he says. “When you mix it, it’s like liquid candy.”

Blind Tiger, which is open from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily, also serves up breakfast sandwiches, turkey and veggie sandwiches, salads, smoothies, beer and wine and cheese plates.

Located in The Morrison building, Torres' latest cafe houses a 300-square-foot haberdashery. The cafe is partnering with Brent Kraus in The Ella Bing Haberdashery, featuring bowties and neckties, suspenders, leather goods, clothes and shoes, with 10 percent of the proceeds going toward The Crisis Center of Tampa Bay.

I think there’s a lot of synergy,” Torres says. “A lot of people that go say ‘oh it’s a shop’ end up being customers from our shop and vice versa.”

The Morrison, located near the Lee Selmon Expressway, includes 48 apartment units in the complex, with two-bedroom, two-bath apartments from 1309 to 1320 square feet listed at $2,500 a month. It offers perks such as bike racks, covered parking, fire pits, an elevator, a fitness center and community entertainment area, pool, sauna and rooftop sundeck.

Joining the Blind Tiger Cafe in the business space are the restaurant Zoës Kitchen, specializing in Mediterranean cuisine; Club Pilates; and Bulla Gastrobar, a fun/casual meeting space inspired by Spanish tapas restaurants.

What’s next for the Blind Tiger Cafe? More coffee stops, of course. “We don’t know exactly where,” Torres says.

Channel Club, new grocery opening soon in downtown Tampa

A transformation is underway in the Channel District just south of Ybor City and east of Tampa’s downtown. Dominating the landscape is the 23-story Channel Club, a $90 million mixed-use project easily visible from the Selmon Expressway.

The roof went on this month, and construction at the 37,000 square feet complex is on track for leasing, beginning in June.

“We hope to have the first folks moving in in late September of this year and open up the Publix at the same time,” says Ken Stoltenberg, co-director of Mercury Advisors, developer of the project.

“It’s an exciting time to be there,” says Stoltenberg, whose firm is also developing the neighboring Grand Central at Kennedy condominiums, which rises some 15 stories high.

The Tampa Bay Rays on Feb. 9 announced plans to move from Tropicana Field in downtown St. Petersburg to Ybor City, a move expected to draw more traffic to the nearby Channel District. A 14-acre site bounded by 4th Avenue on the north, Adamo Drive on the south, Channelside Drive on the west and 15th Street on the east had been identified by Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan in October.

Just a few blocks away, construction also is underway at the $152.6 million Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute, an anchor at the $3 billion Strategic Property Partnersdevelopment at Water Street downtown. The 11-story building across from the Amalie Arena is expected to attract at least 2,200 students, faculty and staff to the 53-acre project.

Construction began last September at Channel Club at 1105 E. Twiggs St. in this former warehouse district near Port Tampa Bay, which is transitioning into one of the Tampa Bay Area's hottest urban scenes led by a residential neighborhood that is increasingly home to start-up companies, art venues and locally-owned restaurants, pubs and shops. The complex features 324 apartment units, a restaurant, fitness center, and hair salon, making it a “truly walkable community,” Stoltenberg says.

“You have everything,” he says. “Anything you normally would run around and do for errands on a Saturday morning, you can walk,” he says.

Half of the first floor will be occupied by Publix.

At the mixed-use Grand Central at Kennedy, located at 1208 E. Kennedy Blvd., Crunch Fitness recently opened its 22,000 square foot center. With Quality Distribution Inc. and Saint Leo University, Tampa Campus, the facility is 90 percent occupied, he says.

The $145 million development includes 392 condominiums, around 80,000 square feet of office space, and 108 square feet of retail.

Grand Central’s East and West buildings were built in 2007, but the 2008 recession interrupted sales. In 2016, the property was approved for 3- to 5-percent financing rates through the Federal National Mortgage Association, known as Fannie Mae. The rates were applied when buyers made the units their primary residence.

Also coming to the neighborhood are Hampton Inn and Home2Suites, a dual-brand Liberty Group project under construction at the southeast corner of Kennedy and Meridian Avenue. It is expected to attract cruise ship passengers embarking from Port Tampa Bay and guests at the new USF College of Medicine.

Luxury high-rise under construction in downtown St. Pete

Construction has begun on the $80 million Icon Central mixed-used development in downtown St. Petersburg, which will include an upscale 368-unit high-rise apartment complex and upgrade of the 1926 Union Trust Bank building.

Its 15-story luxury apartment complex at 801 Central Ave. will literally stand out amid the area’s existing mid-rises – inside and outside. It will feature amenities such as an outdoor movie lawn, a club lounge with game simulator room, and indoor Zen garden.

“We studied the market and we’ve included these top tier amenities that will appeal to both the baby boomers and the millennials," says Jessica Suarez, VP of development for the Miami-based Related Group, the project developer.

It will incorporate the arts through rotating art exhibits, local artist displays, an art and wine tasting room, plus art in the courtyard surrounding the pool, she adds.

“We’ve taken it to another level,” Suarez says. “The art element in St. Pete is significant.”

A ceremonial groundbreaking ceremony, scheduled at 2 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 10, is expected to draw local officials and team members. 

Work began in December. “We’ve cleared the site and we’re doing foundations,” she says.

The project is the latest in The Related Group’s Icon brand, known for luxury highrise rentals. It includes Icon Harbor Island apartments in Tampa, plus Icon projects in Fort Lauderdale and Atlanta.

Icon Central will include studio, one-, two- and three-bedroom units with monthly rents expected to range from $1600 to $4000; some on the top floors will have water views. Leasing is anticipated in mid-2019.

The high-rise, being built in a contemporary federal architecture style, also will include a spa with steam and sauna, a pool courtyard with a European-style heated pool, and a summer grilling kitchen.

The intimate, outdoor movie lawn will have a large screen on the side of the building, which can be used for movies or projections during outdoor classes.

Related seeks to create a community around activities for its residents. “That [Icon Central] is a community for us. We’re constantly involving them,” she says. “It’s different. You don’t see anything like that in St. Pete.”

The residential complex will be connected to the bank building with a multi-use building with retail, residential and parking space. The first two levels will be primarily cast stone, with tan stucco above. The bank is being renovated with stonework, cornices and other features reflecting the historical era.

What we envision there is more of a high-end -- boutique stores with lounge and meeting space, or a food hall,” she says.

The interior of the bank, as well as an 1980s addition, have been demolished. “As construction progresses, we will start marketing the retail,” she explains.

The retail space is expected to be completed around mid-2019.

What attracted the developer to St. Petersburg was the continued growth and development, similar to more successful areas in the Miami area that have been revitalized, she says.

Icon Central has been in the works for three years.

The Related Group is active in the Tampa market, where move-ins have begun at Icon Harbor Island, a 340-unit luxury development. Construction is continuing at River Manorwalk, an eight story, 400-unit complex being built on the site of the former Tampa Tribune downtown, with leasing and move-ins planned in mid-2019.

Related also is developing the 396-unit Town Westshore rental community and partnering with Tampa Housing Authority in its West River redevelopment involving 150 acres on the west bank of the Hillsborough River on the edges of downtown.

11 people, projects in Downtown Tampa recognized for urban excellence

What is the value of a new dog park to the surrounding neighborhood? 

For residents on the northern half of the Channel District in downtown Tampa, it’s immense, if only measured based on dogs-per-acre.

The Deputy Kotfila Memorial Dog Park is built underneath the Selmon Expressway, directly across from Bell Channelside and within walking distance of Grand Central and Ventana. It’s excellent thanks to a thoughtful design and dual use of space (dogs below, cars above), and the acknowledgement of a public hero: 

Hillsborough County Deputy John Robert Kotfila, Jr. lost his life to a wrong-way driver on the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway in March of last year. The Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority wanted to do something to honor his legacy. After learning about the strong bond between Kotfila and his German Shepard, Dexter, it was decided to  dedicate the Selmon Greenway dog park in his honor.

“The neighborhood loves it and is grateful to have a shaded space to use year-round, as well as separate space for small dogs,'' says Sarah McKinley, a downtown resident and worker. "They [the dogs] all seem very pleased.”

And as any dog owner knows, dog parks have a way of becoming the main gathering spot for the neighborhood. If anything will force you away from solitary Netflix binging, it’s to take Rufus for a walk.

The Downtown Partnership also recognized other projects for improving the quality of life in Tampa. Winners include The Downtowner free shuttle service (transportation), The Art of the Brick (private sector project), Second Screen Cult Cinema (arts and culture), and the I AM PRICELESS mural (social impact).

The full list of winners is available on the Tampa Downtown Partnership's website. Look for winners in categories like historic preservation, experience, collaboration, and people’s choice.

Taken in aggregate, these actors and their impacts build upon the momentum that continues to push Tampa’s urban center in more dynamic directions each year.

A special acknowledgement was also made to Christine Burdick, Tampa Downtown Partnership’s CEO for the past 15 years. She led the Partnership through what many consider Downtown Tampa’s most transformative change in modern times, but will soon retire from her work with the organization.

Burdick is credited as the driver of many successful initiatives, such as programming activities in Curtis Hixon Park, completion and management of The Tampa Riverwalk, relocation of the Tampa Museum of Art, and initiating the Coast Bike Share program.

A new facelift for historic Downtown Tampa landmark

Downtown Tampa’s only “elaborate movie palace” is undergoing a much-anticipated upgrade: wider, cushier seats and a more modern concessions stand for attendees to enjoy, as well as significant infrastructural improvements to protect the 1926 building from extreme weather.

The $6 million Phase 1 scope of work at Tampa Theatre addresses both the integrity of the building and the superior audience experience; seating has long been a gripe of even the venue’s biggest fans. The 1970s-era lobby concession counter is inefficient for rapid service and out of step with the original Mediterranean design. Both will be addressed with work starting today.

Authenticity is key in this process, and so even the new paint will be forensically matched to what was used 91 years ago.

While the mainstream model for cinema is changing thanks to streaming services and dinner-bar-theater hybrids, the Tampa Theatre’s charm is its ambiance and urban setting, surrounded by bars, restaurants and modern residential highrises.

Attendees enjoy a regular lineup of unique independent films and documentaries, seasonal classics (horror around Halloween, holiday from now until the new year -- to be shown outside during Winter Village at Curtis Hixon Park, and participation in film festivals like TIGLFF and GIFF.

Tampa City Council member Guido Maniscalco recalled a friend telling him, ahead of this morning’s media briefing: “I proposed to my wife there!”

When you attend a movie screening at The Tampa Theatre, you get one of the rare glimpses into prewar life in Tampa -- a distant past of gilded opulence. A time when streetcars ran up and down Franklin Street and ushers showed dressed-up moviegoers to their assigned seats before a film.

In 1976, the Tampa Theatre was saved from demolition through a coalition of impassioned community and civic leaders, including former Tampa Mayor Bill Poe, Sr. In 1978, it was selected to be part of the National Register of Historic Places, making it eligible for federal preservation tax credits and incentives.

Today, individual donations, sponsorships and partnerships, and philanthropic businesses support its continued operation and improvement. This morning, realty brokerage Smith & Associates’ CEO Bob Glaser presented Tampa Theatre CEO John Bell with a check for $250,000, generosity that will help speed the restoration work.

So where are all those old seats going? Head to Schiller’s Architectural and Design Salvage in North Hyde Park to purchase a piece of the theatre’s history.

Renovation work will wrap up by the end of December in time for a film screening on the 22nd and New Years Eve party to ring in 2018! Exact date of completion is T-B-A.

From blank to swank: Gin Joint opens in Downtown Tampa

Perhaps the most exciting changes to our urban fabric come in the form of newly-established uses in brand new spaces, a.k.a. placemaking. Rather than swapping one bar for another in a given strip, it’s actual growth in our range of options -- for eating, drinking and entertaining each other. 

In Tampa, good examples of placemaking include Ulele, Fresh Kitchen and Le Meridien Hotel, among many others. All are now counted as focal points for our daily lives, in spots where there was minimal activity before.

CW’s Gin Joint joins that exclusive list by opening in the ground floor of The Franklin Exchange Building (633 North Franklin Street) in Downtown Tampa. Already it’s hopping, thanks to a retro/chic interior overhaul, significant list of craft cocktails, and impressive French-inspired menu, including an early favorite: portobello mushroom fries. 

Live piano performances 

“CW” is Carolyn Wilson, owner of The Wilson Company, a property management and development firm with 30 years of history in the region, including headline projects like The New York Yankees’ Legends Field.

And while contracts like managing the USF CAMLS building keep the business running, Wilson has bigger ideas for how to improve the urban landscape of Tampa, like turning The Vault into more than just a historic bank building.

As owner of most of the 600 block of Franklin Street, including The Vault, she is in the rare position to make decisions like curating events that attract activity, even if they’re not wildly profitable.

Every month, Second Screen Cult Cinema hosts its pop-up film series in The Vault, thanks in part to a sponsorship by The Wilson Company. For example, it was standing room only for a recent showing of Wes Anderson’s Rushmore (1998).

Every Halloween season, The Vault of Souls opens to guests with the promise of “an elegant evening of fear,” though all bookings are finished for 2017.

CW’s Gin Joint is just the latest effort to enhance a sense of place (activity, life, engagement) where five or 10 years ago, little went on past 5 o’clock in downtown.

The quality and attention to detail inside is striking, and the drinks are delicious. After a movie at The Tampa Theatre or concert in Curtis Hixon Park, stop by for a classy cocktail and tip your hat to CW and her team for bringing something so charming and authentic to Downtown Tampa.

Work begins on USF building to anchor Water Street Tampa

Construction has begun on the University of South Florida’s $152.6 million Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute at Water Street in downtown Tampa. The facility, which will anchor the $3 billion Strategic Property Partners' development, will bring students to live, work and study closer to their primary teaching school, Tampa General Hospital.

Though the building isn’t expected to open until late 2019, USF is already experiencing a number of positive benefits.

Since the move from the university’s main campus in North Tampa was announced in 2014, applications to the USF medical school have risen 40 percent, meaning more than 30 applicants are competing for every seat. USF has become the most selective medical school in the state, with MCAT scores in the top 20 percent of medical schools in 2016.

“We’re full in a lot of ways and have to hold off recruiting," says Dr. Edmund Funai, Chief Operating Officer for USF Health and Senior Vice President for Strategic Development for the USF System. "It’s exceeded our wildest expectations,”

The 11-story building is expected to bring more than 2,200 students, faculty and staff to the 53-acre Water Street Tampa. Its close proximity to its primary teaching hospital -- just a short water taxi ride away -- is expected to boost federal funding for research to fight heart disease.

The economic impact to Tampa Bay is considerable: the Heart Institute alone is expected to have an impact of $75 million annually.

USF leaders, friends and supporters gathered September 20 for a Dig This! event, viewing the development site from the upper floors of Amalie Arena. The group included USF System President Judy Genshaft, Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, Florida Senator Dana Young, R-Tampa, and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

Funai says being on the waterfront downtown enables USF to better showcase Tampa Bay area. “It’s a little harder to do from the main campus,” he points out. “It does a lot for people’s attitudes to to see the water and the sun and to be part of something that’s going to be a game changer for the city of Tampa and the Tampa Bay region.”

Funded by $112 million state university dollars, as well as private donations, the building’s modern design facilitates collaboration with more open spaces instead of the traditional classrooms of 20 years ago.

“It’s being designed to be as open as possible, to be adaptive to changes in curriculum,” he says.

The building will feature “next generation library service” through a donation from the insurance provider Florida Blue, he says. “It’s going to be on the cutting edge of information technology,” he asserts, “moving beyond the old book.”

Funai expects the facility, which is near USF’s Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation (CAMLS), to be at the forefront of research through its high-resolution magnetic resonance imaging and state-of-art clinical trial unit.

The SPP development is meant to compliment what already is in the vicinity, highlighting the waterfront and incorporating lots of greenery.

“We’re building the safest building that we possible can,” he adds. “It’s built to deal with what Mother Nature may throw at you over 100 years.”

Vinik is a part owner in SPP, which is developing Water Street Tampa over a 10-year period. He and his wife Penny were recognized by USF September 26 when the university named its dual-degree Sports and Entertainment Management program after them. The Viniks helped launch, and provided more than $5 million of support, for the program run by USF’s Muma College of Business.

The program features business fundamentals MBA management, finance, marketing, information systems and accounting classes. Other courses involve the sport and entertainment industry.

Architectural design center opens in Ybor City

The historic San Souchi building in Ybor City, a two-story yellow brick building dating back to 1906, is now home to Center for Architecture and Design, a place where architectural organizations and the community can collaborate.

The center houses the American Institute of Architects Tampa Bay and its related organization, the Tampa Bay Foundation for Architecture and Design. It already is hosting exhibits on the fourth Friday of the month.

AIA Tampa Bay has scheduled a ribbon cutting, which is open to the public, at 10 a.m. September 7 at 1315 E. 7th Ave., Ste. 105, on the building’s first floor.

The offices, formerly located at 200 N. Tampa Street, Suite 100, are now larger and more visible. “We see a lot of foot traffic on the sidewalk,” says Philip Trezza Jr., Past President of AIA Tampa Bay. “We wanted to have that physical presence and visibility in downtown Tampa and Ybor.”

The facility will be used for meetings, art galleries and architectural displays, presentations, and continuing education for its members. An event calendar is available on the association’s website.

The gallery will showcase traveling exhibits, student projects, local artists and design contest winners.

The center also will be available to rent for meetings and special events.

“We may have an option in the future to buy it [the center space]. Right now we’re leaving our options open,” Trezza says.

A $50,000 upgrade to the property, located in the Ybor City Historic District, a U.S. National Historic Landmark District near downtown Tampa, has been underway after they moved in last year.

Improvements include pine flooring made with salvaged pine from rivers and drop-in ceilings, new cabinets and kitchen, a new air conditioning system, a new electrical system, energy-efficient lighting, and countertops with poured concrete in the kitchen area. Glass panels from University of South Florida St. Petersburg’s College of Business were recycled for a table.

A retail shop, planned next year at the front of the offices, will sell art and architecturally related items.

The 2,000-square-foot center’s design was donated by
the St. Petersburg-based Harvard Jolly Architecture, where Trezza is Senior VP and a Principal.

The San Souci building won a Community Design Award given by the Hillsborough's City-County Planning Commission in 2010. The 22,000-square-foot building, which served as a retail anchor on the west end of 7th Avenue, has housed a penny arcade, barber shop, telegraph office, the San Souci theater, a Maas Brothers department store and Babcock furniture store.

AIA Tampa Bay is the regional chapter of the American Institute of Architects. It is the professional association of some 625 architects and architecture-related workers in a seven-county area including Hillsborough, Pinellas, Polk, Hernando, Citrus, Sumter and Pasco counties.

The nonprofit TBFAD offers education on design to the public, and seeks to inspire the exploration and appreciation of architecture. It now will spearhead Tampa Bay Design Week, a public festival AIA Tampa Bay started in 2014.

Manor Riverwalk rising along Hillsborough River’s west bank, downtown Tampa

A group of approximately 80, including local dignitaries, stakeholders and neighbors, are expected to gather at 10 a.m. August 23 for the official groundbreaking of Manor Riverwalk, an eight-story apartment complex that will replace the building that once housed The Tampa Tribune on the city skyline.

The ground has been leveled and construction has “gone vertical” at 202 South Parker Street on the Hillsborough River’s west side downtown, according to Arturo Peña, VP of Development for Miami’s Related Group, the project’s developer.

We have our financing in place. We are underway,” Peña says. “We think that’s a huge iconic addition to the Tampa skyline.”

Cranes are on the site of the project, where rents will average $2,700 a month in 400 units, and the first floor of columns are in view.

Manor Riverwalk is expected to include a 400+ feet river trail to connect with similar paths on the west side of the Hillsborough River downtown. “The RiverWalk is a technical term that the city uses on the east side,” Peña says. “We’re continuing the river walk on our riverfront [on the west].”

Related has granted an easement to the city of Tampa so that all citizens can enjoy the pathway, which will be routed around a night-time roost for birds on the southeast portion of the property.

“The birds come in at night to sleep,” he says. “They’re out by morning.”

Leasing is scheduled in the last quarter of 2018, with apartments ready for occupancy during the first quarter of 2019. The average size is 1,030 feet, a bit larger than originally planned, because the company has opted for some units.

“We wanted to beef up the ones on the end and really take advantage of what we think are great views,” he explains.

Related Group is investing some $350 million in four Greater Tampa area projects. “We’re very bullish on Tampa’s growth,” he says. “We love the leadership of Mayor [Bob] Buckhorn. ... They really help you want to do business in Tampa.”

In August, Related secured a $52 million construction loan to develop the 396-unit Town Westshore rental community, which already has broken ground. It is preparing for move-ins at its 340-unit Icon Harbour Island luxury development. Related also is partnering with the Tampa Housing Authority on the150-acre redevelopment project on the west bank of the Hillsborough River, West River, that will further efforts to rebuild the neighborhoods on the edges of downtown Tampa.

Vision Zero: How to make local streets safer for everyone? Join the conversation August 22

Are you passionate about making streets throughout the Tampa Bay region safer for drivers, passengers and vulnerable road users like cyclists and pedestrians?

Team up with the Hillsborough MPO's Vision Zero coalition at the Tampa Theatre on August 22 for the fourth in a series of public workshops geared toward creating a more bike-friendly culture and improved safety measures for all users of the streets of Hillsborough County -- which is currently recognized as one of the most deadly places in the United States to be a pedestrian. 

Following 10 months of research and data collection, brainstorming, outlining plans, gathering community input, revising plans and hammering out details: the four Vision Zero "Action Tracks'' will present their one-, two- and five-year action plans to make Hillsborough County streets safer for all users at the August workshop.

The four Vision Zero Action Tracks are as follows: 
  • Paint Saves Lives: low-cost, high-impact engineering strategies for safer streets
  • One Message, Many Voices: public education and awareness strategies
  • Consistent and Fair: community-oriented law enforcement
  • The Future Will Not Be Like the Past: context-sensitive design for walkable communities

Like previous Vision Zero community workshops held in 2017, the workshop at Tampa Theatre will focus thematically on one of the campaign's four core Action Tracks -- in this instance, ''One Message, Many Voices.''

Vision Zero Hillsborough aims to put a human face on the impact of traffic violence through the power of storytelling, with a series of short films and speakers from the Tampa Bay area whose lives have been affected directly by tragedy.

The message is a sobering one: Too many lives are lost on Tampa area streets to tragic and preventable traffic accidents. 

Speakers at the upcoming workshop will include Valerie Jones, whose daughter, Alexis Miranda, a 17-year-old Chamberlain High School student, was killed attempting to cross Busch Boulevard on her way to school in 2015. 

"We are encouraging people to attend that have been victims of some sort, and who could give a testimonial on their experience," says Hillsborough MPO Executive Planner Gena Torres. ??"We also welcome anyone in the audience [to speak]. You'd be surprised by how many people have someone they love who was hurt or killed in traffic accidents," Torres adds. 

The "Vision Zero" resolution of reducing traffic fatalities and injuries to zero was adopted in 2017 by the Hillsborough County Commission, the Tampa City Council, Temple Terrace City Council, Plant City Commission and the School Board of Hillsborough County. 

Join the Vision Zero coalition for its fourth workshop of 2017 on August 22 from 9 to 11 a.m. at the Tampa Theatre, 7111 N. Franklin St.

Learn more about Vision Zero and join the movement at the Plan Hillsborough website.

Read more stories about Vision Zero in 83 Degrees.

FDOT paves way for protected cycle track on Jackson Street in downtown Tampa

Working from the belief that Tampa's streets should be safe for every user on the road, the FDOT will expand upon a pavement resurfacing project in 2018 with the installation of the first protected bicycle track on a state highway.

The cycle track -- also known as an "urban shared-use path" -- will run along the north side of Jackson Street (State Road 60) from Ashley Drive to Nebraska Avenue. At 10 feet wide, the cycle track provides designated roadway space for bicyclists traveling in both directions, and will be buffered by a 4-foot-wide raised island that separates cyclists from motor vehicle traffic. Special green pavement markings at side-street intersections and driveways will alert motorists to the presence of cyclists in areas where the cycle track intersects with motor vehicle traffic. 

Stephen Benson, Government Liaison Administrator for the FDOT District 7 Office in Tampa, notes that the protected cycle track originated in DOT plans for routine road maintenance, including resurfacing and restriping State Road 60. 

"The initial purpose of the project was to resurface the road because the pavement is in poor condition … Before we resurface a road, it is FDOT policy to look for ways to make it better instead of just putting everything back exactly the way it was," Benson says.

"We came up with the idea for the cycle track as a result of input from the City of Tampa, the Metropolitan Planning Organization, the Tampa Downtown Partnership and many community meetings. There are a lot of cyclists that use this corridor to access and pass through downtown -- so the cycle track will provide a designated place for them to ride that is physically separated from motorized traffic."

Benson says the Jackson Street cycle track will provide connections to adjacent trails such as the Tampa Riverwalk via MacDill Park and the Selmon Greenway and Meridian Trail, as well as existing bike paths on Tampa Street, Florida Avenue and Nebraska Avenue. 

"There isn't really another east-west bike lane in that part of town. The plans laid out pretty well logically connecting the Riverwalk on one side to the Channel District on other," says Benson.

In addition to the Jackson Street resurfacing and cycle track, Benson says the approximately $6.8 million FDOT project will include additional resurfacing work on parts of Nebraska Avenue and Kennedy Boulevard, as well as context-sensitive pedestrian upgrades including curb extensions, new crosswalks, increased sidewalk space and landscaping. 

"This is the densest, most urban area that we have in the region. It deserves a better balance for pedestrians and cyclists," Benson says. "We think this is going to be safe -- better than it is now -- and we think people are going to enjoy using it." 

Construction contracts are in place for the project to break ground this November. Completion is scheduled for early summer 2018.

Locals rejoice over Channel District dog park that honors fallen sheriff’s deputy

A new dog park in Channelside memorializes the life of a deputy who was killed in the line of duty in March of last year.

Deputy John Kotfila, Jr. was hit and killed by a wrong-way driver on the Selmon Expressway. Kotfila intentionally swerved into the path of the wrong-way vehicle to protect another car from being struck. 

The Deputy Kotfila Memorial Dog Park was dedicated on Saturday, June 24, to honor Kotfila’s close relationship with his German Shepherd, Dexter. 

“His dog was his life. He loved his family and all that, but the dog was a big part of his life, and everyone who knew him knew that he would show up here and there -- Home Depot, Chick-fil-A - and he would have the dog with him. Everywhere, Dexter went,” says John Kotfila, Sr. 

Around 300 residents attended the opening with their furry friends.

“It’s comforting to have a new memory that will bring lots of joy to other people and other dogs,” says Theresa Kotfila, Deputy Kotfila’s mother.

Local pet boutique owners Ben and Lisa Prakobkit were in attendance passing out free dog treats from their store The Modern Paws, located in Duckweed Grocery in Channelside. 

“The dog park is a nice way to commemorate the deputy who lost his life,” says Ben Prakobkit. “I always remember [Tampa] Mayor Bob Buckhorn saying that we can gauge how much a city is growing by the number of people out walking their pets. This makes the community a much more dog friendly place.”

Channelside gym owner Brad Stevens of Viking Fitness was also in attendance with his four-legged companion. 

“This memorial is a great addition to the area, and a nice way for residents to stay active with their pets,” says Stevens. “It’s great to see the great turnout from the community today.”

The dog park is located under the shade of the Selmon Expressway at 705 Raymond St., Tampa, FL 33606, just behind Bell Channelside Apartments. When Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority (THEA) heard about the death of Deputy Kotfila, they knew they wanted to do something to honor his legacy. After months of planning, the new park is completed, complete with canine turf that is safe for dog paws and requires little maintenance, and a memorial monument at the entrance commemorating the deputy.

7 potential routes identified for Tampa's streetcar expansion

After looking to the public for input at a series of open meetings, city officials have determined seven potential routes for addition to the Tampa Historic Streetcar System.

The study has identified the following potential expansions:

  • North/South Franklin – Eight stations along 2.67 miles of new track running north up Franklin Street to Palm Avenue in Tampa Heights, where it circles around Water Works Park and heads back down Franklin.
  • North/South Tampa-Florida Couplet – 2.6 miles of new track with eight stations turning Florida Avenue and Tampa Street into a north-south extension.
  • East/West River-Ybor – 4.66 miles and 13 stations extending west from Ybor City along the north part of downtown, crossing the Cass Street bridge and running north to Blake High School.
  • East/West North Hyde Park-Channel District – 4.93 miles of new track with 13 stations running through the middle of downtown, across the Cass Street Bridge and into Hyde Park.
  • East/West North Hyde Park-Convention Center Couplet – Nine stations along 3.27 miles of new track that brings the streetcar across the Brorein Street Bridge from the convention center to Hyde Park.
  • Loop Downtown-Channel District – 2.46 miles and eight station running north on Franklin Street then east on Zack and Twiggs streets to the Channel District, creating a downtown loop.
  • Loop Downtown-Ybor – 4.12 miles with 12 stations creates a loop going north on Franklin Street then east on Seventh Avenue to Ybor City.

According to a poll of attendees at the May 2 meeting, the most popular routes are North/South Franklin, North/South Tampa-Florida Couplet and Loop Downtown-Ybor.

The planning effort has a budget of $1.6 million and is funded largely by $1 million contribution from the Florida Department of Transportation. The city has dedicated $677,390 to the effort. Lead consultant on the project is HDR Engineering.

Consultants for the city are continuing to figure out costs over the next month and are still interested in public comment. To learn more about the streetcar extension and provide feedback visit the project’s website.

Tampa Bay Lightning Owner Jeff Vinik partners with Dreamit to promote urban tech in Tampa

Tampa could be poised to attract urban technology firms from around the globe as a result of a recent partnership between Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and the New York-based startup accelerator Dreamit.

The partnership will take advantage of the ongoing development efforts by Vinik's Strategic Property Partners to attract and incubate companies with technology solutions in the areas of real estate, infrastructure and urban living.

With SPP’s plans to invest $3 billion into the development of nine to 10 million square feet across nearly 55 acres in the next 10 years, the Tampa Bay area has a head start when it comes to becoming an urban tech magnet, Dreamit CEO and Managing Partner Avi Savar says.

 “That natural resource becomes kind of the chum in the water to attract startups from around the world that are investing their time, energy and attention to solving the challenges that are facing cities across the world,” he says.

According to a news release from Dreamit, record growth is occurring across the state and in the Tampa Bay area. Just last year, over 60,000 residents moved to the region -- emphasizing the need for urban technology when creating modern cities.

"As our city develops and prepares for a bright future, I am pleased to partner with Dreamit in this UrbanTech initiative," said Jeff Vinik in a news release. "I am confident we will identify and create avenues of success for startups dedicated to building and enriching cities."

As a business accelerator, Dreamit looks for companies with ideas that have already begun to be proven and are ready to progress beyond the startup phase. For its Tampa endeavor, Dreamit will be searching for businesses offering “anything that will help accelerate and innovate the city tomorrow,” Savar says.

The partnership with Vinik in Tampa creates a rare opportunity to build a totally new city with an emphasis on the latest technology in urban development.

“There are very few places in the world where you get to come in on the ground floor and help build a city,” Savar says.

Tampa Downtowner shows success in first 6 months

After celebrating the first six months of a partnership with Downtowner in April, the Tampa Downtown Partnership is confident in the ride service’s continued success.

“It has certainly met and exceeded what our performance expectations were,” says TDP spokeswoman Kelsy Van Camp. “Getting it started we knew it was going to fill a need, but we didn’t know quite how large that need was.”

The free ride service was launched toward the end of 2016 with the goal of enhancing first-mile/last-mile transportation for residents, workers and tourists in the downtown area. TDP entered into a two-year agreement with Downtowner to bring the idea to market and show off its potential in hopes of prompting further investment down the line.

According to TDP, by mid-April the Downtowner had served 86,146 passengers with 101,192 miles logged. The vehicles in Downtowner’s fleet are also 100 percent electric, meaning that the thousands of miles driven equates to 41 tons of carbon dioxide kept out of Tampa’s air.  

Van Camp says the two most popular pick-up and drop-off locations are the University of Tampa and the Marion Transit Center. The activity at UT goes to show that college-aged individuals are quick to take advantage of the convenience of these types of “on-demand” services,” she says.

Aside from TDP, key partners in the public-private funding of the service include Downtown Community Redevelopment Area, Channel District Community Redevelopment Area and the Florida Department of Transportation.

With the initial success witnessed in the first six months of service, Van Camp says she is confident the Downtowner will be able to attract additional funding in the future and continue to help meet first-mile/last-mile transportation needs.

“We’re hoping we can potentially expand the fleet first and then start looking to grow the service area,” she says.

For more information or to learn how to request a ride, visit Downtowner online.

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