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Developer plans Warehouse Lofts in Seminole Heights, Tampa

If Seminole Heights is a destination you keep coming back to, why not make the neighborhood your home?

Local developer Wesley Burdette is betting young professionals will do just that when he opens The Warehouse Lofts in 2015. The 46-unit complex will re-purpose a vacant warehouse at the corner of Florida Avenue and Cayuga Street, just south of Osborne Avenue. There will be studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments, a zen garden, rooftop pavilion and a 3-story atrium.

"Seminole Heights is a hidden gem of what goes on in Tampa," says Burdette, a partner of Access Capital Mortgage.

The urban in-fill project is a rarity in a neighborhood known for its restored 1920s bungalows.  But that type of domicile is not always the first choice of upwardly-mobile millennials who are flocking to an expanding selection in Seminole Heights of eclectic dining spots, and cool hang-outs for wines and craft beers.

A sample list includes The Independent, the Mermaid Tavern, the Refinery, Front Porch Grille, Jet City Espresso, Ella's Americana Folk Cafe, Cappy's Pizza and the Rooster and The Till. Angry Chair Brewing is a new arrival. Fodder and Shine, the Florida-centric creation of the Refinery's owners, is under construction. The Bourgeoisie Pig and Delicious Surprise will debut soon.

"They don't have any other options," says Burdette of the neighborhood's residential stock.  "This is our destination. We go to the Independent, to the Refinery. We find this is where we hang out. Why don't we live here?"

Burdette expects construction on Warehouse Lofts to begin early next year. 

Wolf Design Group, which worked on the Victory Lofts in North Hyde Park, is handling the architectural design. Gabler Brothers is the general contractor. Sunshine State Federal Savings is providing most of the financing for the approximately $5 million project.

Depending on final design, Burdette says between 3,100 and 6,000 square feet might be available for retail or restaurant uses. He is not ready to market any specific ideas but a craft beer tasting room or a high-end bakery might be possibilities. Or even a little competition for Starbucks with a high-end roaster such as Buddy Brew, he adds.

"That would be a really nice fit."

Sarasota Architectural Salvage opens second location in Sarasota Design District

A little bit of rust and the occasional speck of dust are just part of the charm at Sarasota Architectural Salvage (SAS), where antique hardware and salvage from historic structures get a second lease on life in the form of quirky, upcycled home decor. 

Established in 2003, the SAS warehouse has been a favorite haunt for urbanites and design junkies for over a decade. Though no one has complained about the dust and rust to date, SAS is cleaning up its act as it carves out a home in its second location.

“I’m basically splitting my business into two divisions. The original warehouse space is where we have all of our parts and pieces -- the real architecutral elements, lumber, and raw materials. We’ve moved our home decor, our upcycled furniture, our collectibles, and our ‘wow’ pieces into the new location at SAS Mercantile,” says SAS owner, Jesse White.

In October, SAS began its move beyond the warehouse with the addition of the sleek, new SAS Mercantile gallery in the historic Old Ice House building, also located in the industrial outskirts of downtown Sarasota. Built in 1946, the Old Ice House has a colorful past as a ice and beer distributor, a motorcycle chop shop, and most recently, a contemporary art gallery owned by Sarasota resident and Businessman Ross Mercier.

White says that when he learned the art gallery closed, he seized the opportunity to rent the Ice House space for an undisclosed sum over the summer. 

“One of the things that most attracted us to this spot is that there are two air-conditioning spaces in the building--for products we might want to display in a more finished environment than the warehouse. We were able to basically step into a finished, workable space. The roof was done and the walls were all prepared, so we had a clear canvas to work with,” White says.

The fully stocked SAS Mercantile space opened its doors on Oct. 10, 2014. 

“In the warehouse location, someone might come in looking for a door they could take home and work on themselves to ‘D.I.Y.’ into a new existence. The new location is geared toward a customer who thinks, ‘OK, I want a headboard that’s got a cool history with a story and craftsmanship to it. I’m going to go to SAS Mercantile for a piece that’s ready to go,’” White says.

“Our aim is to really become a part of the Sarasota Design District,” he adds. “Through SAS Mercantile, we’re connecting ourselves with Home Resource, Sarasota Collection, Cabinet Scapes and the other businesses in this neighborhood that are helping to define this design-centric district.” 

SAS Mercantile will celebrate is grand opening in December, to coincide with the yearly holiday charity event hosted by Sarasota Architectural Salvage.

Hidden Springs Ale Works to open in Tampa Heights

Two avid home brewers plan to turn a vacant warehouse on North Franklin Street into a Tampa Heights' micro-brewery -- Hidden Springs Ale Works.

Partners Joshua Garman and Austin Good just closed on the warehouse building, next to 8-count Studios in the renovated Rialto Theater. The historic movie palace is re-imagined as an art and event venue for art and photography exhibitions, weddings, fashion shows and dance classes.

"We kind of love Tampa Heights and the stuff that's going on here," says Garman. "They need a place like we're doing to be a meeting place for the community."

In addition to 8-count Studios, the brewery is near Cafe Hey, also on Franklin, and the recently opened Ulele Restaurant to the east by Water Works Park.

The warehouse for now is a large empty space but Garman and Good are interviewing prospective contractors and architects for what they hope will be a tasting room and brewery with an industrial vibe.

Hidden Springs is the brewery's name because "we wanted something Florida sounding," Garman says. "We grew up playing in springs, like Florida kids did. It sounds refreshing."

The immediate next step is filing a zoning application with the city of Tampa, which Garman anticipates will happen within a week.

Owners of Coppertail Brewing Co. in Ybor City are providing advice and guidance along the way.

Hidden Springs will provide 15 brews plus five guest taps from local breweries such as Coppertail and Angry Chair Brewing. Among Hidden Springs' offerings will be a milk stout, IPA, double IPA, American amber and Berliner Weisse.

The target opening is in February though Garman says that is an ambitious goal. Initially Garman anticipates hiring a staff of four or five people.

Garman and Good have been home brewers for several years and have won medals in amateur competitions. Both had been thinking about opening a brewery.

"We decided to join forces," Garman says. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

LMB Boutique moves to trendy South Tampa

LMB Boutique will add upscale chic to South Howard Avenue in a neighborhood trending with eclectic restaurants, shopping options and the culinary-themed Epicurean Hotel.

And, for the first week following the Liz Murtagh Boutique's grand opening on Nov. 15, 20 percent of the shop's proceeds will go to the American Cancer Society.

"That's a program near and dear to my heart," says Owner Liz Murtagh who lost her mother and grandmother to cancer. "I'm trying to raise as much money as possible." 

The boutique, at 815 S. Howard Ave., will be the signature store for Murtagh's collection of haute designer clothes, jewelry, hand bags, shoes and accessories. One half of the 2,100-square-foot store will be devoted to furniture, home decorations and artwork. 

"It's everything a woman could want in one store," says Murtagh.

The shop is located in a 1940s art-deco style building close by Daily Eats and within blocks of the Epicurean Hotel and Bern's Steak House. The site was formerly occupied by Santiesteban & Associates Architects.

"It's a real treat for the eye," says Murtagh, whose background is in interior design.

The grand opening is 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Nov. 15. The celebration will feature food, wine, makeovers, drawings and free gifts to the first 10 customers. Models will stroll through the shop wearing the latest in trends from New York and California. Murtagh's style is described as free-spirited, vintage, bohemian and uncomplicated.

The boutique offers one of Tampa's largest selections of stylish, eclectic jewelry. Customers also can get professional interior design services for their latest home redecorating projects. For parties of five or more people, Murtagh will have a "girls' night out" with wine, food and after-hours shopping.

Parking is available behind the boutique and across the street.

South Tampa is a prime location that Murtagh has had her eye on for awhile. By the end of the year, she will close her 3-year-old shop in West Park Village in the Westchase master-planned community in northwest Hillsborough County. 

The South Howard location will nearly double the size of her former shop. 

"I love the community. I love all the people," she says of the Westchase area. "But I've always wanted to have a shop in (South Tampa) and own my building. I have the flexibility to do what I want."

ENCORE! Tampa to raise curtain on performance theater

The musically themed ENCORE! Tampa is setting the stage for a professionally operated performance theater at its newest residential building, the Tempo.

The 203-unit apartment building is under construction at the corner of Scott and Governor streets, adjacent to the city's Perry Harvey Sr. Park. Construction on the approximately $43 million project will be completed in 2015.

"We are going to go looking for an operator (for the theater)," says Leroy Moore, COO for the Tampa Housing Authority, which is developing ENCORE! as a $425 million master-planned, mixed income community of apartments, shops, hotel, offices and a black history museum. "We always wanted to be able to incorporate music and art into the park."

The 5,000-square-foot theater will add a new element to the overall music and art themes of ENCORE!, which is located just north of downtown Tampa. Encore replaces the former public housing complex of Central Park Village, which was torn down in 2007 as part of the city's revitalization efforts.

Moore says the theater is not envisioned as a community theater but as a privately operated business. He likens ENCORE!'s theater concept to the Stageworks Theater, which is located at the Grand Central at Kennedy condominium in the Channel District. 

Once the theater's management is in place, Moore says,  "They'll plan the theater's interiors."

In addition to plays, the venue could host small concerts, debates and oratory events. THA representatives are reaching out to members of Tampa's arts community for advice.

ENCORE! is spread across nearly 40 acres between Cass Street and Nebraska Avenue in a neighborhood settled by freed slaves after the Civil War. During segregation, nearby Central Avenue - known as "Harlem South" - thrived as a black business and entertainment district drawing legendary musicians and singers including Ray Charles, Hank Ballard and Ella Fitzgerald.

ENCORE! and the city's plans to redesign Perry Harvey Sr. Park honor the neighborhood's history and musical legacy. The first apartment building opened in 2012 as The Ella, housing seniors and named for Fitzgerald. The Trio, Encore's first multi-family apartments, opened earlier this year. Streets are named for Charles, Ballard and educator Blanche Armwood. Public art installed at ENCORE! is an homage to jazz and local history.

A former church on-site will be restored as a black history museum. A contractor will be chosen in the next week to handle a partial demolition and stabilization of the historical building's facade. Bids will go out early in 2015 for the project's construction contract of about $1.5 million.

THA and the Banc of America Community Development Corporation are development partners on the ENCORE! project. Bessolo Design Group is the architectural firm for Tempo. The general contractor is Siltek Group, Inc., which also is in charge of The Reed's construction.

The Reed, a second senior housing building, is under construction but is expected to have its first tenants in early January. Leasing is under way. "It is filling up incredibly fast," says Moore.

Work on a re-design for Perry Harvey Sr. Park is pending final approval from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Moore expects the green light in the next month or so.

Developers plan hotel/residences at Tampa's historic Kress building

The historical Kress Building may have found the right buyers for a makeover that will bring the iconic landmark back to life and propel a rebirth on North Franklin Street in the heart of Tampa's downtown core.

The Atlanta-based HRV Hotel Partners and a team of Tampa developers including EWI Construction Executives Sam and Casey Ellison, and partner Anthony Italiano; and Tampa developer Alex Walter of Walson Ventures are joining forces to re-develop the Kress building as a 22-story tower with a 190-room hotel and 58 residences. About 15,000 square feet is planned for "restaurant uses."

The former F.W. Woolworth and J.J. Newberry department stores, which sandwich the Kress building, are incorporated into the re-design.

A sales contract is pending the city's approval of the project, says real estate broker Jeannette Jason of DjG Tampa Inc. Realty Services. She and her father, Miami-based real estate broker and developer Doran Jason, are management partners in Kress Square LLC, which owns the property in the 800 block of Franklin, across from the Element apartment complex. An entry into Kress also is located on Florida Avenue.

"We still have due diligence. We have a ways to go,"  she says. "I'm optimistic that these guys can get the deal done. I think the community will like the new plan and design."

Jason declined to provide details, saying she would leave that to the prospective development team.

But the project will have about half the density of another project initially approved in 2005 that never got off the ground, she says. That project included two residential towers with about 400 units, a parking garage and nearly 85,000 square feet for retail, office and other uses.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn says the redevelopment of the Kress building is the last major structure that his administration had set its sights on. "This is a building we have tried for three-and-a-half years to get done. It was a grand old structure that needed to be restored," Buckhorn says. "We have pushed. We have prodded. ... I couldn't be happier. It's nice to hopefully bring this one in for a landing."

Buckhorn also is hoping developers will honor the Blake and Middleton High School students who held the lunch counter sit-in at Woolworth in 1960. Their efforts pushed the city to integrate its businesses. "People need to know what took place there," he says, adding that public art could be included in the project.

City planners will review plans submitted by Walson Ventures and determine administratively whether to approve the project.

Preliminary plans submitted by Alfonso Architects show nine floors each for hotel rooms and residences, a 2-story garage and an amenities deck. Four restaurants and a coffee/tea lounge for "grab and go" items also are shown. 

"We're ready to go," says Buckhorn. "I'm hoping we see a groundbreaking in the not too distant future."

He sees the demand for more downtown residences growing especially among young professionals. "They are flocking here and bringing their friends with them," he says.

Angry Chair Brewing ready to pour in Seminole Heights

Angry Chair Brewing is the latest micro-brewery to tap into the craft beer market in Tampa. It also adds to Seminole Heights' reputation as a destination place for eclectic dining and drinking choices.

Watch the brewery's Facebook page for the announcement on Angry Chairs opening, one day this week.

The only hold-up after two years of hard work and waiting on bureaucratic red tape is a taste test of the German Chocolate Cupcake libation. It is a brew tried out at Independent beer house with success.

"It had a lot of traction," says co-owner Ryan Dowdle, a former consultant for Cigar City Brewing Co.

He and co-owner Shane Mozur and brewing partner Ben Romano are eager to share this brew and four or five others that will be on tap in the tasting room along with "quest" taps from other Florida-only breweries.

Among the beer choices will be Round About IPA, Hoppy Ale and Gose, a tart German-style beer. German Chocolate Cupcake is a seasonal brew that will be offered two or three times a year along with a German-style seasonal of sour wheat with added tropical fruits.

Seminole Heights is the owners' location of choice, aided by an opportunity to remodel a 1941 block building at 6401 N. Florida Ave., across from San Carlos Tavern. Most of the interior was gutted but as much as possible of the building's old heart pine was salvaged for reuse.

Hartley + Purdy Architecture and LIVEWORK STUDIOS worked on the building design and interiors. 

"I like the synergy (of Seminole Heights)," says Dowdle. "I like its sense of community which is not present in other areas. I like the way everybody works together and supports one another. Creativity and imagination of  people around us makes complete sense. It's a thrilling time."

The Angry Chair is a place for people to get away from whatever is negative, whether it's being stuck in traffic or a bad day at work. "This is my celebration of it," Dowdle says.

He expects a very interactive relationship with customers whose opinions and tastes will determine which beers will be brewed.

Growlers will be available for take-home sale, and Angry Chair's brews will be offered at other locations including Independent and possibly Ella's Americana Folk Art Cafe. There is limited parking at Angry Chair but nearby businesses, including San Carlos, will open up parking spaces. And for those who walk or cycle to Angry Chair, discounts will be given.

Seminole Heights is seeing a lot of good business growth along Florida, including the under-construction Fodder & Shine restaurant and the expansion of Rooster & the Till.

And competition isn't a bad thing, Dowdle says.

"This is all good. We actually feed off each other," he says. "As long as we have people coming to Seminole Heights, we all benefit."

Urbanism on Tap invites you to discuss role of universities in urban design

Tampa's Urban Charrette and the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) Tampa Bay will host Urbanism on Tap at PJ Dolan's Irish Pub & Grille, North of USF on Nov. 18, 2014, starting at 5:45 p.m. 

Starting this fall, Urbanism on Tap organizers have moved north of Downtown Tampa to host a new Urbanism on Tap Series highlighting the “Role of Universities in Urban Design and Innovation’’ and engage the University of South Florida (USF) community in the conversation.  

Led by Urban Charrette and CNU Tampa Bay, 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 upcoming event, entitled “Town & Gown: Getting Along and Prospering,” is the second discussion of a three-part series focused on the relationship between universities and their host cities. 

In particular, the Nov. 18 event will look at how these traditional adversaries have become partners to spur development and model successful placemaking. Participants will have the opportunity to discuss various case studies of universities and cities from around the country that have collaborated to create prosperous and vibrant urban environments. They will also have the opportunity to share their experiences from their favorite university towns.

The discussion will then focus on how ideas from these case studies and experiences can be applied in Tampa to improve USF and its surrounding neighborhoods. Students, residents and neighborhood groups residing around the university area are encouraged to attend. 
 
The event organizers encourage people to share their opinions on this topic by visiting Urbanism on Tap’s Facebook page. People can also use the Facebook page and the UOT website to continue the conversation online, following the event. 

Venue: PJ Dolan's Irish Pub & Grille, North of USF (2836 E Bearss Ave Tampa, FL 33613); 
Date and Time: Nov. 18, 2014 from 5:45 p.m – 7:15 p.m
For any questions, email Ashly Anderson.

YMCA plans 3-pool aquatics center in South Tampa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tampa General Hospital opens first primary care center in Pasco County

Tampa General Hospital is opening its first primary care center in Pasco County in the Trinity area of New Port Richey.

Tampa General Medical Group (TGMG) Family Care Center Trinity is the 12th primary care location for TGH. Another Pasco County primary care center is scheduled to open in Wesley Chapel in January.

The Trinity facility, which opened Oct. 13, is located in a remodeled medical building at 2433 Country Place Blvd, near West Pasco Industrial Park.

In recent years TGH has been expanding its reach into Hillsborough County neighborhoods such as Carrollwood, Brandon, Sun City Center and Tampa Palms. Hospital officials took a look at the demographics and health care needs of Pasco as well.

"It did show there was not a lot of access for patients," says Jana Gardner, VP of Physician Practice Operations.

The review also revealed something unexpected about the age of the area's population.

"We were surprised at the older age group up there," Gardner says.

Initially TGH officials planned on a family practice clinic but instead opted to offer services to patients age 18 or older. Wesley Chapel trends younger and has more families with children so Gardner says that facility will serve children and adults when it opens in January.

TGMG Family Care Center Trinity will have two doctors and a support staff of about five people.

Joyce Thomas, a board certified doctor of internal medicine, is moving from TGH's care center on Kennedy Boulevard to Pasco. TGH has not yet recruited a second doctor, Gardner says.

The Trinity office is open from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.  Monday through Friday. Available services include immunizations, physicals, and management of chronic health conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes. The office also is the first TGMG Family Care Center to offer on-site physical therapy.

Gardner says the care center will have the latest in technology including electronic medical records that doctors can access from any TGH facility. Patients also will be able to go online to see their laboratory results, ask questions or schedule appointments.

The Salvador is newest condo project for Downtown St. Petersburg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lake Mirror Park in Lakeland ranks among nation's top 10 public spaces

In the 1920s Lake Mirror Park was little more than its description -- a lake with a promenade.

But what New York landscape architect Charles Wellford Leavitt designed in Lakeland nearly 100 years ago is today one of the country's "10 Great Public Spaces" for 2014.

The American Planning Association recently announced its annual top 10 list of great public spaces. It is a designation Lakeland's planning department has been pursuing for at least two years, says Kevin Cook, the city's director of communications.

"It's a big honor," Cook says. "We pride ourselves on quality public spaces."

The park's ornate promenade was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. A master plan to restore the park and some of its original elements was completed nearly four years ago.

The park and lake are at the center of Lakeland's historic downtown. Among its landmarks are the Barnett Family Park, the Peggy Brown Center, Magnolia Building and the Hollis Gardens.

About 900 events are held at Lake Mirror Park annually including the Christmas parade and the Red, White and Kaboom celebration of Independence Day. Cook estimates as many as 20,000 to 30,000 people fill the park for some events.

Lake Mirror Park competed against more than 100 sites reviewed by an APA panel, says Jason Jordan, the APA's director of policy. 

"It is one of the best examples in the entire state, really nationally, of the 'city beautification' movement of the 1920s," Jordan says. "This is a prime example of a place that is physically beautiful but also has social and cultural elements as well."

In whittling down the list of great public spaces, Jordan says the planning agency's panel considers aesthetics, social, culture and economic factors.

"By highlighting some places that are successful it can be a spur to other communities," Jordan says.

Studio Movie Grill lights up screens at University Mall

Studio Movie Grill is bringing "dinner and a movie" to University Mall with its brand of in-theater dining coupled with first-run and alternative movies.

The 14-screen movie house will open Oct. 22 in the renovated theater space vacated last year by Frank Theatres. Previously Regal 16 operated at the venue. University Mall is the 18th location nationwide for the Dallas-based chain and its first in Florida.

The University area, in close proximity to the University of South Florida, offers an opportunity for a ready audience of students who can hop on the Bull Runner shuttle for a free ride to the mall. But Studio Movie Grill also sees opportunities to play a role in increasing the mall's overall customer base and the future growth of the University area. 

"We really do look to bring economic development and impact to an area," says Lynne McQuaker, director of alternative programming, public relations and outreach for SMG. "This was an area that met that because the impact will be extra foot traffic."

The concept of restaurant-style dining at a movie theater isn't new.

There is Cine Bistro at Hyde Park Village and Grove 16 in Wesley Chapel and Villagio Cinemas at Carrollwood.

But Studio Movie Grill has its own style.

There is 100 percent reserved seating with comfy armchairs and individual dining tables. McQuaker says that eliminates waiting in line even for such anticipated blockbusters as the next installment of "Hunger Games."

Ticket holders are asked to arrive 20 minutes early to place food orders. But service doesn't end when the movie starts. A red call-button at each seat puts a server a tap away from new orders.

Studio Movie Grill will feature a contemporary look and a full-bar and lounge with daily specials, signature cocktails and micro-brews. Its menu features appetizers, such as edamame, and entrees, such as gourmet pizzas, ceviche lettuce wraps, salads, turkey burgers and chicken nachos.

The 14 screens will show first-run movies. But there also will be alternative programming, often at discounted prices, including a summer children's series, girls' and guys' nights out, independent films, special film series, documentaries and concerts. And a Family Rewind will bring back movies from the past. 

Studio Movie Grill also plans sensory-friendly screenings for special needs children including children diagnosed with autism. Theater lights will stay on, sound will be lowered and children will be free to move around the auditorium. 

Vegan dining will be "Delicious Surprise" in Seminole Heights

Michelle Ehrlich has a "Delicious Surprise" in store for Seminole Heights.

By mid-November she plans to open "Delicious (food for thought) Surprise," her plant-based, vegan restaurant at 5921 N. Nebraska Ave. She and husband Howard are sprucing up a building adjacent to the Publix grocery store. The vacant building has been home over the years to an appliance store, a sandwich shop and most recently a pizzeria. 

When it comes to the menu, Ehrlich doesn't want anyone to think of digging into a plate of lettuce and sprouts. She's out to break down misconceptions about vegan dining. 

Look for pizzas, burgers and anything else on a typical restaurant menu. But there also will be a few unexpected choices, such as tropical quinoa salad, drunk chai French toast and black-eyed pea sausage with kale and white bean gravy. The made-from-scratch menu items will feature local, organic food and produce.

"We'll be making healthy plant-based versions of these," says Ehrlich who lives in Seminole Heights and has watched the neighborhood become a destination for restaurants and bars such as Ella's Americana Folk Art Cafe, The Refinery, The Mermaid Tavern and Independent. "We want to offer delicious food for our community. We hope to be the ones to break the barriers (on vegan). There is a demand for this."

Ehrlich got a hint of that demand at a plant-based Bites in the Heights "pop-up" brunch in August when about 50 people showed up at a local business co-op to sample her dishes. She had planned two more "pop-up" events to test-market her restaurant concept but the pizzeria shop suddenly came on the market.

It was a chance too good to pass up so now her energies are in opening "Delicious Surprise." Ehrlich will be a vendor at the Nov. 2 "Taste of the Heights", serving up food samples within a couple weeks of the restaurant's opening.

Ehrlich and her husband eased into the vegan life-style about three years ago simply by trying to eat healthy and over time eliminating less healthy options. And then a co-worker at her husband's office asked if Michelle would cook lunches for her like those she made for her husband.

Within six weeks, she had a waiting list of clients, all from word of mouth and no marketing. "I think I've found my niche," Ehrlich says.

Word of mouth via social media is spreading the news about "Delicious Surprise." There is a Facebook page. And she is raising part of her capital through crowd-sourcing on gofundme. 

While the majority of donors appear to be local residents, Ehrlich says people from Orlando and Bradenton also have responded. "I feel like they have ownership now," she says. "The loyalty of folk, that's what I'm more emotional about. It's been wonderful."
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