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Florida Crystals Corp. plans luxury apartments in Channel District

It's a sweet deal in the Channel District.

Sugar company, Florida Crystals Corp., is buying a prime spot in this upscale booming neighborhood to build a 7-story, 270-unit luxury apartment building and six-and-a-half story parking garage. The company, which last year launched a real estate division, paid about $3.8 million for three parcels at 222 N. 12th St., 215 and 217 N. 11th St., next to The Slade.

The property, at close to two acres, includes two vacant warehouse structures which will be torn down. It is the former site of the Amazon Hose and Rubber Company.

This is one more project added to recent and planned residential towers including the SkyHouse Channelside which is under construction and The Martin at Meridian, which is on the drawing board. And, there is anticipation over Tampa Lightning owner Jeff Vinik's plans to revive the distressed Channelside Plaza as well as develop other parcels he has bought in the area.

"The transformation that has happened since 2000 has been pretty amazing," says Sean Lance, managing director of NAI Tampa Bay, a commercial real estate company. The firm represents the seller, Finergy Group of Sarasota.

Lance anticipates apartment rents will be about $1.80 to $2 a square foot, based on unit sizes of between 900 to 1,000 square feet.

Florida Crystals, which is based in West Palm Beach, is a family-owned business that traces back to Cuba in the 1850s. It sells sugar products under several brands including Domino and Florida Crystals.

This is the company's first Tampa project but Juan Porro, VP of real estate and acquisitions, is the former president of Cobalt Development Group which developed The Slade, one of the Channel District's earliest residential projects.

Tampa City Council will weigh in on the project at a rezoning hearing scheduled for Nov. 13. Finergy Channelside Holdings LLC is seeking a unified commercial zoning for the trio of parcels.

The recession temporarily stalled residential and commercial development in Channel District . But with the recovery under way, there is a pent up demand especially among millennials and boomers who want a walkable urban lifestyle, Lance says.

Residential towers, high-rise and mid-rise, are filling up and sites for additional projects growing scarcer. "It's pretty picked through now," Lance says. "You could get creative and pick another site or two."

Prospects for additional retail, maybe a rumored Publix grocery store or CVS Pharmacy, also are brightening.  "As you get the body count, you'll see more retailers," he says.

Tampa reveals vision for re-designed Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park

The 25-acre grasslands of Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park are dotted with berms that recall ancient Indian mounds, a concrete "Greek-style" amphitheater, basketball and tennis courts and a Boys & Girls Club. But for most people who visit the park one spectacular view is missing -- the Hillsborough River.
 
It is blocked from view except to those who almost by accident wander over to its shores.
 
Susan Lane, daughter of former Mayor Julian B. Lane, is among those who had no idea what an unfulfilled treasure the park is. "I guess they thought this was a good design," she says after taking her first walk down to the park's shoreline.
 
She likes the city's plan to re-design the more than 40-year-old public park by tossing out much of what in the 1970s was considered contemporary and cutting-edge.
 
At a press conference, Mayor Bob Buckhorn unveiled a multi-year, conceptual plan to transform the park. It is a blueprint crafted from ideas and opinions gathered at a series of public meetings attended by about 350 residents. The next step is for consultants with Colorado-based Civitas to take the plan from concept to detailed drawings. About $8 million is set aside by the city to seed the project. Final costs are unknown but could be $20 million or more.
 
"This is an opportunity that is too great to pass up," Buckhorn says. "We have a moral obligation to do it and do it big and do it right."
 
The park, at 1001 North Blvd., is a jewel in the city's 25-year InVision Tampa master plan to re-invent downtown as an urban village with connectivity to surrounding neighborhoods on both sides of the river. On the west bank more than 150 acres, including Riverfront Park, are targeted for redevelopment. The nearby North Boulevard Homes are slated to be torn down by the Tampa Housing Authority and replaced with a mixed-income, mixed-use complex similar to the Encore project under construction just north of downtown.
 
Dozens of ideas bubbled up during public discussions of desired park amenities including a ferris wheel, a beach area, picnic facilities, boating docks and a history walk. Not all are on the final list. But if the final proposal doesn't please everyone, city officials believe it does meet with approval from most residents.
 
"What we have is the future of the city of Tampa right here," says Rev. James Favorite, pastor at Beulah Baptist Institutional Church, located on Cypress Street, a short walk from the park. "My church members have used this park on many occasions. With all the improvements to be made, I like the concept. I like the vision. I like the inclusion of so many people. We feel we are a part of this. We feel ownership."
 
The new park will include a great lawn for special events and festivals; a play area with a splash pad; a history walk to honor Phillips Field, Roberts City and surrounding neighborhoods; a community center and public boathouse; a garden; an oak-lined promenade; a half-mile trail with exercise stations; an extension of the city's Riverwalk; a fishing area; and a paddle learning area created by a floating boat dock.
 
Additional parking also will be carved out by re-aligning and shifting Laurel Street. A multi-use field will be enlarged to regulation size and seating installed. New basketball courts will be built. Tennis courts will be renovated and sand volleyball courts added.
 
The berms and amphitheater will be razed. 
 
Making the park all about families and recognizing the area's history are the driving motivators that emerged from the public meetings, says Civitas' President Mark Johnson.
 
And picnic areas are the most desired feature. "That's not the most common thing I hear around the country," Johnson says.
 
Lane remembers her father's stories about being captain of the Hillsborough High School football team which played annual Thanksgiving Day games at Phillips Field. He served as mayor from 1959 to 1963 and worked with a Bi-Racial Committee to peacefully integrate Tampa's businesses following the lunch counter sit-ins at F.W. Woolworth's. The park was dedicated to him in 1977.

The city's proposed makeover, she says, "is a great, great idea. He (former Mayor Lane) would have been real pleased."

Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik wins initial approval for 400-room luxury hotel

Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik's planned 400-room hotel/residence complex is a potential game-changer in the city's vision to create a seamless flow from urban neighborhoods, such as the Channel District, to a revitalized downtown and then across the river to the emerging neighborhoods of North Hyde Park and West Tampa.

It is one more large puzzle piece in an urban commercial and residential landscape coming into focus, year by year. The hotel will fill a sandy vacant lot at Florida Avenue and Old Water Street, surrounded by the TECO Line Streetcar at Dick Greco Plaza, the Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina, the Embassy Suites and the Tampa Convention Center.

Also nearby are the Cotanchobee Fort Brooke Park, Tampa Bay History Center, Florida Aquarium, Amalie Arena (formerly the Tampa Bay Times Forum) and the Channelside Bay Plaza which Vinik recently acquired.

"We have a grand vision for this site as a high end development to both serve as a true centerpiece for the (Channel) district and to raise the bar for the district as well as complement and benefit all of the adjacent uses," says Bob Abberger, senior managing director of Trammell Crow's Tampa office. He represents Florida Old Water Limited in the rezoning process, one of several entities controlled by Vinik.

A final vote by council on Oct. 2 will set the stage for Vinik to move ahead with signing up a hotel operator and moving toward a construction start. Some preliminary architectural designs have been completed.

The approximately 25-story luxury hotel will have about 45,000 square feet of retail space and about 170,000 square feet of meeting rooms. The hotel's top floors will have about 50 residences. More than 270 parking spaces will be provided on-site and also through agreement with the adjacent South Regional Garage.

Abberger says the plan is to excavate the site to create underground parking. There also will be what Abberger describes as a "grand retail main street connecting the forum with the convention center."

Connectivity in purpose and vision is a major feature for the development including the potential for a covered walkway and overpass for visitor flow from one venue to another and ease of access from the convention center to the hotel's meeting space.

"This is the break out space that you don't currently have (at the convention center)," says Abberger.  "You've got great exhibit space. This is going to allow a lot more nights for not only bookings for the convention center but a higher quality for the convention center."

While the Downtown Tampa Partnership doesn't take positions on specific projects, the partnership's President Christine Burdick says the development will "add to the vital vibrancy and value of downtown."

Architect Mickey Jacob of BDG Architects lives and works in the district. He sees job creation in a project that also addresses the challenges of developing an urban infill property.

 "Our city stands on the verge of some exciting times," he says. "And our urban redevelopment and new density that we have the opportunity to create will do nothing but make us a world class city where people want to live, work and play."

Osborne Pond, Community Trail To Be Named For Civil Rights' Leader Clarence Fort

On Feb. 29, 1960, Clarence Fort was just shy of his 21st birthday, fresh out of barber's school and president of the NAACP Youth Council. That day he, and Rev. A. Leon Lowry, led a group of students from Blake and Middleton High Schools to F. W. Woolworth's in downtown Tampa.

They did what no blacks then were allowed to do. They sat down at the lunch counter and waited to be served. Fort's inspiration was the lunch counter sit-ins by students in Greensboro, N.C. that same year.

While blacks could enter Woolworth and buy its products, eating at the lunch counter was against the law.

"You could spend $500,000 in the store but you couldn't sit down and have a Coke," says Fort, now age 76. "It just was an unfair system."

At 2:30 p.m. on Sept. 18, the city of Tampa will name the Osborne Pond and Community Trail in honor of Fort and his long history of fighting injustice.  The park will be officially named the Clarence Fort Freedom Trail.

"I was just elated," says Fort when he learned of the city's plan.

The honor comes on the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“It’s important that we as a community know and understand our history, particularly during the 50-year anniversary of the Civil Rights Act being signed into law. I am honored to be able to dedicate this park in name after my friend Clarence Fort but also to the ideas that he fought for,” says Mayor Bob Buckhorn in his announcement for the dedication. “The park area itself is truly something special, and I think the residents will be proud of what it has become.”

The half-mile long trail circles Osborne Pond, at 3803 Osborne Ave., with eight fitness stations for adults and seniors spaced along the route at four locations. The park also features three boardwalk segments that give visitors a chance to walk to the water's edge for a bird's eye view of the egrets, ducks and moor hens that wade through the pond's waters.

More than 110 trees, including palms and cypress trees, offer shade and beauty. The trail connects with adjacent sidewalks on Osborne, North 29th Street, North 30th Street and East Cayuga Street.

About $500,000 in Community Investment Tax dollars paid for construction which began in December 2013. 

This is the third city retention pond in East Tampa to be re-designed. 

Years ago residents complained that the city's retention ponds, often locked behind chain link fences, were eyesores that contributed to neighborhood blight. Today residents stroll along walkways at the Herbert D. Carrington Community Lake on 34th Street, adjacent to Fair Oaks Park, or the Robert L. Cole Sr. Community Lake at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, across from Young Middle Magnet School.

Funds to re-do the retention ponds as "lakes" came from a portion of property taxes collected within the city's East Tampa Community Redevelopment Area bordered by Hillsborough Avenue, Interstates 275 and 4, and the city limits.

At the "lake" on Martin Luther King, segments of the walkway commemorate historical figures such as civil rights activists Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; the first black congresswoman, Shirley Chisholm; Jackie Robinson, who broke Major League Baseball's color barrier; and President Barack Obama.

The city will place a plaque at Osborne pond that will recount the role Fort played in breaking down barriers in Tampa. Following the successful Woolworth demonstrations. Fort pushed the city's bus service to hire black bus drivers, and he became the first black hired by Trailways Bus Co. as a long-distance bus driver in Florida.

Fort worked 20 years as a deputy for the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Department and for 17 of those years organized the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Parade. He also founded the Progress Village Foundation.

He isn't slowing down in retirement and works tirelessly with Saving Our Children, a youth program started nearly 26 years ago at New Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church. "I'm devoting all my time with this group," Fort says.

A rendering of the park can be viewed on the City of Tampa's website.

Writer: Kathy Steele
Sources: Clarence Fort, Saving Our Children; Bob Buckhorn, City of Tampa
 

Urban Charrette, CNU Tampa Bay Host Urbanism On Tap 4.1

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 September 9, 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 “The USF Factor,” is the first discussion of a new three-part series focused on the relationship between University of South Florida and Tampa’s urban landscape. 

Typically, universities across the country are drivers of jobs, education, innovation and urban development as well as redevelopment. Attendees of the upcoming event will look at how this trend plays out in Tampa. 

The event will focus on how the university is important for Tampa’s local economy and politics and how it can play a critical role in creating vibrant urban environments that inspire innovation. The event will explore related issues, opportunities and challenges for a range of stakeholders, including the residents, the city and the university. 

The event organizers encourage people to share their opinions on this topic by visiting Urbanism on Tap’s online Facebook page. People can also use the Facebook page and 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: September 9, 2014 from 5:45 p.m – 7:15 p.m

Writer: Vinod Kadu
Sources: Erin Chantry, CNU Tampa Bay; Ashly Anderson, Urban Charrette

Walmart Opens First Wesley Chapel Supercenter, Adds 300 Jobs

The first Walmart Supercenter in Wesley Chapel brings a job boost to the local economy with 300 full- and part-time jobs.

The 207,000-square-foot supercenter, at 28500 State Road 54, is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week offering residents an array of merchandise, a pharmacy, groceries, electronics and toys. There also is a free "Site to Store" program that allows customers to order items online for pickup at a brick-and-mortar store including the one at Wesley Chapel.

"It will allow our residents, more than 60,000 people, more convenience in shopping," says Jeff Novotny, president of The Greater Wesley Chapel Chamber of Commerce and principal at American Consulting Professionals/Engineers of Florida.  "It also serves as an attraction for more development. Walmart is a global industry. It's a positive influence in our community."

The supercenter is forging local ties.

One family-owned business -- Wesley Chapel Florist -- is now a local provider for the supercenter. Lisa Armitage says Walmart representatives admired a floral arrangement she did for the chamber and offered a contract.

The store manager is Stephanie White who started with the company in 1988 as an hourly cashier in Port Richey.

Walmart's grocery department is stocked with fresh produce and name brands including organic items by Wild Oats. A Walmart mobile app for iPhone and Android allows customers to transfer prescriptions and order refills.

There is also a bakery, deli, money and vision centers and a digital photo processing department.

To celebrate the opening Walmart donated $7,000 in grants locally to Wesley Chapel High School, Wesley Chapel Lions Club, Watergrass Elementary School and Lily of the Valley food pantry.

In addition, the Wesley Chapel store will participate in the Walmart Foundation's $2 billion commitment to fight hunger through 2015. 

Writer: Kathy Steele
Source: Jeff Novotny, Greater Wesley Chapel Chamber of Commerce

Art, Healthy Eats Meet Up At Sunspot Fresh Bar In St. Pete

The 600 block of Central Avenue is a cool place for artsy boutiques and galleries, and alleyways that give way to the unexpected delights of the broad, eye-popping brush strokes of murals painted on the blank canvas of outdoor walls.

"It's certainly a place that draws a lot of art," says Ann Shuh. "We have a lot of unique boutiques. We have murals on every block."

Shuh is the owner of Sunspot Fresh Bar, a new health food eatery that fits snugly into the 600 block's hip niche in downtown St. Petersburg. The restaurant, at 601 Central Ave., is home to a rotating gallery of work by local artists, notably Derek Donnelly, the founder of the artist-cooperative Saint Paint Arts and Sunspot's art curator.

Sunspot is open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Shuh plans soon to offer beer and wine and add evening hours.

The continental-style breakfast menu includes an assortment of pastries, yogurt, granola and oatmeal. For lunch, customers can grab a wrap or salad to go, or stay awhile to enjoy art and conversation. The salad bar, wraps and sandwiches offer organic, vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options.

"Our concept is very simple," Shuh says. "We buy at a number of local markets. Our produce is always fresh."

The "fresh bar" of salad ingredients is open until 2 p.m.

The artwork is a special treat for customers. In addition to paintings by Donnelly, including three of his murals,  artwork by Sean Young is currently on display. Work will change regularly.

"They'll see many different styles," Shuh says. "We hope (Sunspot Fresh Bar) will be a place that tourists (and others) will come to and take home art with them."

Writer: Kathy Steele
Source: Ann Shuh, Sunspot Fresh Bar

What's Your Fave Renovation? Think St. Petersburg Preservation Awards

The building boom that will bring modern residential towers to downtown St. Petersburg is getting a lot of attention. But for many, the city's charm is in its architectural history and diversity.

Saint Petersburg Preservation, Inc., is ready to celebrate the best of St. Petersburg. The nonprofit is accepting nominations for the 2014 Preservation Awards. The awards recognize people, associations and businesses for their efforts to preserve, restore and complement the city's architectural history and sense of place.

Some past winners are preservationists of the Mirror Lake Lyceum, the Historical Kenwood Neighborhood Association and the owner of a 1920s bungalow and carriage house on Bay Street.

"They give a unique character to St. Petersburg that makes people want to come here," says Monica Kile, executive director of the preservation agency.

Nominations are accepted until Sept. 15. The award ceremony will be Oct. 24 at the Studio@620. There also will be an exhibit and sale of watercolor paintings of area landmarks by local artist Robert Holmes.

There are four categories: residential and commercial restoration and rehabilitiation; compatible infill; adaptive reuse; and residential and commercial stewardship. Also an award will be given to Preservationist of the Year. Descriptions of each category are available at the SPP website

“The Preservation Awards are a great way to highlight our community’s landmarks and for neighborhoods to take pride in the buildings and features that make their area unique and special,” says Logan Devicente, SPP’s awards program chair.  

While historic restorations are important, reuse of buildings and compatible infill also play a role in preservation, Kile says.

"We encourage good design that fits with the city," says Kile. "That can be a very modern design."

Writer: Kathy Steele
Source: Monica Kite and Logan Devicente, Saint Petersburg Preservation

Roux Brings Creole-Style Dining To South Tampa

Two restaurants aren't enough to keep Suzanne and Roger Perry busy. And then there is the couple's love of New Orleans.

So before Labor Day, the owners of Datz and Dough plan to open Roux, their homage to New Orleans cuisine and the French quarter. Roux is at 4201 S. MacDill Ave., at the St. Croix Plaza, within a mile of Datz and Dough, also on MacDill.

A trio of chefs are collaborating on a menu described as Creole-nouvelle.

Suzanne Perry says collaboration defines New Orleans cooking with its centuries of Cajun and French influences. And most recently a flavorful dash of Asian has been added in deference to a city that now has one of the largest Vietnamese populations in America.

"We just love it," says Perry. "It's the most foodie city in the United States. We want to bring a little bit of that here."

A newer, fresher spin will be put on old New Orleans favorites from gumbo to etouffee to alligator. Po boy bread with a delicate crust and soft inside will be authentic New Orleans.

Richard Potts, formerly executive chef at Rococo Steak in St. Petersburg, is working on the menu with Toni Hayes, who specializes in Cajun cuisine, and Laura Schmalhorst, who is consulting on French dishes.

Designer David Jackson is creating a New Orleans' feel to Roux with mirrors, marble-topped tables, wrought iron and brick accents, gas lanterns and chandeliers. "It's ornate," Perry says. "It's visually the French quarter."

To begin, Roux will pour beer and wine. And, within a few weeks of opening, Perry says a New Orleans craft cocktail bar also will be open for requests.

Roux seats more than 100 guests. Initially lunch and dinner will be served with a brunch to be added later.

Roux and more has been on the Perrys' minds for awhile.

"We've been interested in having a collection of concepts up and down the MacDill corridor," she says. "A space became available that we liked. So, we took it."

MacDill Avenue is home to Datz and Dough as well as new boutiques, a yoga studio and art galleries that are laying a foundation for revitalizing one of the city's main commercial roadways. 

"All it takes is a couple people to come in and invest," Perry says. "We're invested because we live here. This is our neighborhood. A little bit of investment brings other people."

Writer: Kathy Steele
Source: Suzanne Perry, Roux, Datz and Dough

Sundial Tenants Include Florida-Based Retailers

Florida talent will have the chance to shine at Sundial amid the latest national, regional and local retailers added to the upscale mall's tenant portfolio.

Sundial, owned by The Edwards Group, replaces the defunct Baywalk shopping complex at 153 Second Ave. N., in downtown St. Petersburg.

Tracy Negoshian & His, Florida Jean Company, Happy Feet, juxatapose apparel & studio, The Shave Cave and Jackie Z. Style Co., all have Florida or hometown connections. Other retailers recently announced by The Edwards Group are lululemon, L.O.L. Kids, Tommy Bahama, Swim 'n Sport and Marilyn Monroe Glamour Room.

Diamonds Direct is a previously announced tenant.

In the restaurant category, Ruth's Chris Steakhouse and Sea Salt, are joining Farmtable Kitchen and Locale Market.

Rounding out the list are Chico's, White House Black Market and Muvico 19 + IMAX. All are holdovers from Baywalk.

Most shops will have "soft" openings by September. The restaurants and market will open by Thanksgiving.

“I am thrilled with the mix of retailers and restaurants we have been able to assemble,” says Sundial owner Bill Edwards, president of The Edwards Group.  “We have businesses that truly represent what a downtown shopping destination should be."

Jackie Zumba is among the Florida-based retailers who landed at Sundial.

For two years Zumba's shop, Jackie Z. Style Co., has been named "best boutique" by Sarasota Magazine. Zumba, 27, opened her men's and women's clothing boutique on Sarasota's Main Street in 2011 and will soon move into the new Mall at University Town Center. Her high-end brands include Moods of Norway, Psycho Bunny and Mr. Turk.

At 3,000 square feet, Zumba's Sundial shop will be nearly double the size of her original Sarasota store. "It will mean more room for men's suits, more high-end dresses, shoes and accessories," she says.

She was selective when it came to finding a second location. Miami didn't make the grade but a trip to St. Petersburg and a stroll along Beach Drive convinced her. 

"I was looking for something of Sarasota's local feel," she says. "(St. Petersburg) is a tight knit community that supports small businesses. I'm really excited to be part of it. The community seems excited. It's a good mix."

Other Florida-based notables include Tracy Negoshian & His, featuring trendy clothes for the entire family in designs with bold colors and prints. The St. Petersburg-based designer has hundreds of boutiques around the country including a flagship store in Naples.

Happy Feet got its start selling comfort footwear, including Birkenstock and Dansko, in St. Petersburg in the 1980s. There are nine stores now in St. Petersburg and Tampa.

Juxtapose apparel & studio opened its first store in Hyde Park Village in Tampa in 2011. The shop offers women's contemporary fashions, home decor, and off-beat, one-of-a-kind artisan pieces.

The Shave Cave is the first hair salon from St. Petersburg founders of Mens Direct, which sells grooming products. Customers can sip craft beer, fine wine or whiskey while getting haircuts and hot towel shaves.

Florida Jean Company got off the ground nearly eight years ago as a home-based seller of preworn jeans scrounged from yard sales and thrift shops. Today the St. Pete Beach-based retailer sells everything from designer jeans to hats and shoes and board shorts. A shop opened on Ybor City's Seventh Avenue last year.

Celebrated Chef Fabrizio Aielli has owned several restaurants ranked among the top in the nation including Osteria Goldoni and Teatro Goldoni. He moved to Florida and opened Sea Salt in 2008 in Naples. One year later Esquire named  it one of the nation's top 20 best new restaurants.  Sundial is Aielli's second Florida location for Sea Salt.

Farmtable Kitchen and Locale Market is a creative partnership between California-based chef Michael Mena and former New York-based chef Don Pintabona who is now living in St. Petersburg. Pintabona also is a graduate of the University of South Florida.

Writer: Kathy Steele
Sources: Bill Edwards, Sundail; Jackie Zumba, Jackie Z. Style Co.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Complimentary valet parking will be available.

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

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

Water Works Park Opens With Fanfare, Fireworks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Owners: Park East Apartments In North Tampa To Get Touch-Up

Sarasota-based Insula Companies is making another move into the Florida apartment arena with its $12 million purchase of the Park East Apartments on Bearss Avenue in North Tampa. This is the third apartment complex bought in Florida in 2014 and the 13th in the last five years.

"We really like the area, that particular street -- Bearss -- has got a lot of exposure, a lot of drive-by traffic," says Jeff Talbot, Insula's director of acquisitions. "We love the growth going on in there. It's one of the areas you want to be in Tampa."

Insula specializes in acquiring apartment complexes and revitalizing them for investors. Other properties are in Orlando, Jacksonville and Atlanta.

Park East, at 2020 Bearss, is an attractive investment due to its location within an established neighborhood that is experiencing new growth as a result of its proximity to university and medical campuses of University of South Florida and Florida Hospital Tampa.

The complex of 192 one- and two-bedroom apartments will have a typical mix of tenants, Talbot says, including young professionals just out of college, young families, empty-nesters and possibly a few students.

Insula plans to spend between $300,000 to $500,000 on modest renovations.

Plans are to test market amenities, such as vinyl wood floors, upgraded counter tops and cabinets, in about 10 to 20 apartments, Talbot says. A new metal roof will be installed on the clubhouse and fitness center as well.

Current residents will be asked for feedback on the renovations and more apartments could be upgraded in future. Park East is about 95 percent occupied. With its acquisition, Insula has more than 3,300 apartments and $150 million in assets in Florida-based complexes. 

The Park East property went through tough financial times in recent years and landed in foreclosure in 2010. A California company bought it along with similar properties around the country. After spending money to upgrade the complex, the apartments went on the market.

To qualify for purchase by Insula, apartments must be 15 to 40 years old with a minimum of 150 units that need cosmetic or substantial rehabilitation work. Park East was built in 1986.

Writer: Kathy Steele
Source: Jeff Talbot, Insula Companies

Old Warehouses To Be Renovated For Artists' Studios

The Warehouse Arts District Association is ready to launch an innovative plan to expand and preserve a growing artists' colony within an industrial warehouse district in St. Petersburg.

The nonprofit association has signed a contract to buy the former Ace Recyling Compound, a collection of six warehouses and offices at the corner of 22nd Street South and 5th Avenue South. The approximately 50,000 square feet would be developed as the Warehouse Arts Enclave, offering working space for artists working in all medium from painting to metal work and sculpture.

Other uses include offices, classrooms, a large gallery space, a foundry, recording studio and rehearsal space, and a possible micro-brew pub.

"It's going to be completely transformative for the arts community," says association President Mark Aeling. He owns MGA Sculpture Studios in the Warehouse Arts District. "It's going to expand the arts district as a destination for people interested in finding out about art, how it is made. It's going to put St. Petersburg on the map."

By November 1 association members hope to raise $350,000. If so, a closing date on the deal could happen by mid-December. Potential funding could come from the city through a federally supported Community Development Block Grant. Fundraisers and donations from art patrons also will be sought.

"The development of the ‘Warehouse Arts Enclave’ will ensure that there is affordable studio space for artists in St. Petersburg as the city continues to develop," Aeling says.

About 20,000 square feet would be renovated as air-conditioned, affordable studio space for artists including photographers, painters and graphic artists. Larger spaces would be available for metal workers, sculptors and mixed media artists.

"What we're trying to do is create a studio compound that is accessible to a wide variety of medium styles," Aeling says. "And, that is unique."

Other plans are being discussed. Because the Pinellas Trail loops through the district, an "Arts Gateway to St. Pete" with murals and artwork could tie in with the trail and bring visitors into the enclave. Among close neighbors to the trail are the Morean Arts Center for Clay and Duncan McClellan Glass.

Aeling foresees the Warehouse Arts Enclave as a "second-day destination" for visitors to St. Petersburg. On the first day there are the waterfront, The Dali Museum, the Chihuly Collection, and in the future, the Museum of American Arts and Crafts. But he says, "Where art is made becomes a second-day destination. That puts heads in beds and fills restaurants. It's a huge economic driver."

To help with fund-raising or make a donation, email Where Art Is Made.

Writer: Kathy Steele
Source: Mark Aeling, Warehouse Arts District Association

Tampa Bay Lightning Owner Wins Ownership Of Channelside Bay Plaza

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then the agreement was reached.

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

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