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Once abandoned airport area logistic space gets major upgrade

A Naples company is breathing new life into a 45-year-old complex on the north side of Tampa International Airport, which had been vacant for about a decade. The $11 million Westshore Logistics Center is expected to create -- or bring -- 50 to 100 jobs to the neighborhood.

“Because of my risk taking, and the county’s support, we are creating new jobs and a significant tax base,” says Gerard Keating, owner and CEO of Keating Resources, the project developer.

The property had become a hazard -- and work involved major demolition and rehabilitation to four buildings totaling about 167,000 square feet.

Keating Resources, owned by Keating, secured a $403,648 grant from Hillsborough County as part of its Redevelopment Incentives for Pilot Project Areas program, which targeted four redevelopment areas. These include the North Airport Redevelopment Area, the 56th Street Redevelopment Area, the University Redevelopment Area and the Palm River Redevelopment Area.

In addition to bringing jobs to the neighborhood and creating an estimated $126,981 annual ad valorem tax stream, the grant program helps the county by removing blight, promoting private capital investment, and enhancing small business.

“The [more suburban] county is new at this game,” explains Eric Lindstrom, Competitive Sites and Redevelopment Manager for Hillsborough County’s Economic Development Department. “Tampa has done it for a number of years.”

XPO Logistics moved into about 21,900 square feet of leased space about two months ago. The other three buildings were completed last week; Cushman and Wakefield is handling leasing for the remaining 144,780 square feet.

The Westshore Logistics Center at 5400 Southern Comfort Blvd. sits at West Hillsborough Avenue and the Veterans Expressway in a five-mile area with some 216,087 people. The property, which originally contained smaller units, now is slated for eight office/warehouse units of approximately 20,000 square feet each. It was completely remodeled into a professional space with new roofs, new LED lighting, new doors, new storefronts and windows, interior and exterior paint, a new fire sprinkler system and more.

Its flexible space accommodates both office and warehouse, and features two glass front office entrances per building.

The upgrade comes at a time when TIA is bustling. The airport had a record number of travelers in 2017, when it logged more than 19.6 million passengers. The airport has been upgrading, adding 69 new shops, restaurants and services. A new 1.5-mile SkyConnect train connecting passengers to a state-of-the-art rental car center is now open, along with a second phase of construction to include expanded Main Terminal curbsides, offices, a hotel and more.

Hillsborough County, which set aside about $2 million for the grant program, has committed $819,735 to six projects so far. Its first was The Danger Zone, a 3,000-foot office project in the North Airport Redevelopment Area, to which it committed $38,698.

It took awhile for the companies to develop plans and submit their applications. “We’re getting going now,” Lindstrom says. “It’s really starting to heat up.”


CRED: Tampa program teaches community redevelopment skills

Looking to make a difference? If you have an interest in real estate or community redevelopment, an upcoming training program can help.

The class attracts people from varying backgrounds, from affordable housing developers to policy makers, community development staff and board members and students in business, urban studies, and architecture.

“We’d love to have non-traditional individuals that may have a passion for community development, but don’t really know how to get started,” says Angela Crist, director of the Florida Institute of Government at the University of South Florida in Tampa.

Members of the class, expected to include up to 25, put together recommended projects based on real-world problems, with the goal of actually implementing them. That might be a plan to utilize open space left by a former neighborhood grocery. Or an artist-themed community or even a townhouse project as in-fill in a developed area.

“It is a grassroots program. They have to work on a viable project,” Crist says.

The Community Real Estate Development program, known as CRED, is a certification program held annually to help people gain a better understanding about community real estate development, the financial aspects of property development and real estate development management.

“Our ultimate goal is that we are changing people’s behavior,” explains Crist. “At the end, they are looking at it [community real estate development] through a different lens, so they can go out and improve their community.

The class, which costs $150, meets on Friday afternoons and Saturdays from March 2 through April 14. It is being held from noon to 4:30 p.m. Fridays and from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays at Tampa Housing Authority, 5301 Cypress St., Tampa.

The deadline to register is February 16. Apply online here.

The program presents diverse segments of the commercial redevelopment field, utilizing USF professors and community talent to teach and mentor. “Every class they have is like a lunch and learn or various speakers," Crist says.

CRED is sponsored by the Housing Finance Authority of Hillsborough County, the Housing Finance Authority of Pinellas County, Tampa Housing Authority, and Sun Trust Foundation.

Participants can earn a certificate from USF.  The class can be used for continuing education units for professionals or academic credit for college students though an independent study course at USF.  

Certification maintenance credits are required for a number of professionals including planners, and development and planning education staff.

College students find the program to be very hands-on, Crist adds, helping them to understand the process from “soup to nuts.”

Class members also benefit from the course’s networking potential because it draws together developers, lenders, and government officials/staffers in a non-threatening environment.

Although the class has been held in North and South Florida, it is only available in Tampa Bay this year because of scheduling and capacity issues, Crist says.


Pier 60 at Clearwater Beach undergoes renovation in time for spring break 2018

Pier 60, an iconic Clearwater Beach landmark, will be partially closed to the public while it undergoes renovations during the next several weeks.

Construction includes the replacement of the bait shop roof, siding and windows, as well as the installation of a new central air unit to replace the old system. Workers will also make improvements to several pavilion columns and roofs.
 
“The building has not seen construction in about 25 years,” says Jason Beisel, the city’s communications coordinator. “The roof is leaking and window frames are rotting.”

He added, “Furthermore, the Atlantic hurricane season starts June 1. After minor damage during [Hurricane] Irma [in September,] the importance of repairing the roof became more apparent.”

The $375,000 project, funded by the city, began January 22 and should be completed by March 14, in time for the busy spring break season, Beisel says.

He estimates that the pier has approximately 250,000 annual visitors, and is hopeful the construction won’t impact tourism or regular programming too much.

“The pier will remain open as much as possible while maintaining the safety of the public,” he says.

The Sunsets at Pier 60 Daily Festival, a free daily event that began in 1995, “may occur in the adjacent Pier 60 Park for a short period of time,” Beisel adds.

The pier’s history in Clearwater goes back to the early 1900s. Its current concrete version, known as Pier 60, which is approximately 1,250 feet in length and 20,160 square feet, was built in 1994, he says.

A multipurpose facility, the pier offers visitors and residents access to fishing activities, dining, shopping, entertainment and the beaches. Daily, weekly, monthly and annual fishing passes are available.

Market to anchor Downtown Clearwater Gateway revitalization

As plans to revitalize Clearwater’s waterfront and downtown move forward, focus has also turned toward the city’s Downtown Gateway.

In September, the Clearwater City Council approved conceptual plans for Mercado, a public market that will be developed on a triangular swath of land where Cleveland Street meets Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard. The plaza will include space where small businesses and other vendors can take root and an open area for community events, says Chuck Lane, Assistant Director, Economic Development & Housing.

“It’s going to be a space where people can interact with each other,” he says. This ranges from serving as a venue for farmer’s markets, art fairs and other public events to a space where individuals “can just sit down and read a newspaper.”

Mercado will also cater to the largely Hispanic population of the neighborhood, Lane adds. Around one-third of those living in the area are foreign born, “largely Hispanic,” he says. “Mercado is intended to embrace these individuals and be a space where people can feel comfortable in that environment.”

Gabe Parra, community redevelopment manager, says the conversation surrounding this project and property is seven-years in the making.

“We want to create a gathering space where the neighborhood can convene and feel like they belong,” he says.

The project will also build off a streetscape project designed to enhance Cleveland Street between Missouri Avenue and Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard. These improvements will transform Cleveland Street into a more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly thoroughfare as development and interest in downtown Clearwater grows.

Over the past year, the city has worked with the Project for Public Spaces to determine the best look for Mercado, Lane says. The company, which led a feasibility study on the project, created a conceptual rendering of what the plaza might look like.

In “a good faith” move, AIT Consulting, the company behind the streetscape project, took these designs a step further, he adds. The company saw the need for improvements in the Downtown Gateway and added elements to the PPS design, including structures built utilizing storage containers. AIT has not been hired by the city for the project, Lane says.

Lane is working with “key players” in the area, including a number of local businesses, to create the final design for Mercado. He expects these conversations will match much of what was said in the initial public hearings.

The streetscape project will begin by March, he says. After that, construction can move forward on Mercado and he anticipates that this time next year, the community can expect to see the first events organized in the area.

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.

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.


CDC of Tampa plans townhomes in the Fish Bowl

Housing shouldn’t cost half of your household income. But for some 47,387 households in Hillsborough County, it costs more than that, a needs assessment shows. Nearly 1,500 single-family households lack full plumbing and a kitchen. More than 3,000 live in overcrowded conditions.

In an attempt to help provide affordable housing, the CDC of Tampa is planning a $5 million rental community on E. Diana Street near N. 43rd Street in an area known as the Fish Bowl. Called Gardens at Diana Point, the two-story, four-building complex features 24 three-bedroom, two bathroom units with an attached garage. One unit in each building will be handicapped accessible, and span only one floor.

Designed for low- to moderate-income families, rents are expected to range from $567 to $1,232 after utility allowances.

47,387 households in the county are what are considered rent burdened or cost burdened,” says Frank Cornier, VP of Real Estate Development for CDC of Tampa.

Their goal is to reduce housing costs to 30 percent of income, he says.

See the 5-year consolidated plan for 2016-2020 here.    

A ceremonial groundbreaking for Gardens at Diana Point was held at the property August 31, although bids are still out on the project designed by BDG of Tampa. Construction is expected to begin in October, with leasing applications accepted in spring 2018 and move-in anticipated in June.

The homes will have a little porch on the front, which a lot of people are not even building anymore. It’s a good way of having conversations,” Cornier says.

All units face an interior courtyard featuring a children’s play area. The county, which owns an adjacent retention pond, will be investing $1 million to improve the area east of the property with a boardwalk and fishing pier for the neighborhood.

The development is located next door to Robles Elementary. “I’m sure we’ll get families that have children that go to that school, or want to go to that school, that will apply,” Cornier adds.

To be eligible, a family of four cannot make more than $48,000, he says.

Lower rents are made possible by a $3.5 million investment by the county for development. Some of the funding is derived from a state housing initiative earmarked for rentals.

Rents vary based upon household incomes, with two units set aside for very-low-income residents.

Beacon Homes

Meanwhile an open house is scheduled at 10 a.m. September 28 at the $2.5- to $2.8-million Beacon Homes, a 13-unit housing development at North 34th Street and East 28th Avenue. The three-bedroom, two-bath homes are expected to sell for at least $165,000. Two closings already have taken place and two more are planned in September. An additional three homes are under construction.

“It’s been a catalyst. Other people are also building around Beacon Homes and improving their property,” Cornier says.

The homes include attached garages, plenty of closet and storage space, and energy-efficient appliances. Assistance is available with closing costs for eligible parties. Seven of the homes have income restrictions of $47,850 per family of four, which allows them to buy with $3,000 out of pocket. Those with higher incomes are able to purchase one of the six other homes.

The CDC also is planning four more affordable homes on available lots in the E. Columbus Drive area between 22nd and 34th streets. The three-bedroom, two-bath homes with attached garages are expected to sell for an estimated $165,000 to $180,000. Construction on two is slated to begin next quarter, with the other two following.

Wrecking crews already have begun tearing down the city’s oldest public housing complex, North Boulevard Homes, which will be replaced by a 150-acre redevelopment project called West River. That project, to include some 840 affordable apartments, is intended to help transform the downtown area into an urban hub that may include 2,200 residential units, 90,000 square feet of retail and 70,000 square feet of office.

Construction on the first two buildings is anticipated in a year, but the full build-out may take a decade to complete.


World Market’s first Tampa Bay Area store opens in Clearwater

Cost Plus World Market is welcoming shoppers to its newest store at U.S. 19  and Sunset Point Road in Clearwater. 

The 10,000-square-feet shop took over the space of a former Publix supermarket in Sunset Point 19 plaza and features a variety of eclectic housewares, furniture, home décor and food from around the globe.

This is the chain’s first store in the Tampa Bay area. The company currently plans to open a second location in Wesley Chapel, says Kathy Sweet, store supervisor. It’s also one of the first new big box retailers to enter the Tampa market since the 2008 recession, she adds.

Currently, the Cost Plus World Market chain operates around 350 stores throughout the country, 12 of them in Florida, Sweet says. The flagship store is located in San Francisco, CA.

The Clearwater store held its grand opening ribbon cutting ceremony with local officials and Clearwater Chamber of Commerce members on August 3. Sweet says they were “slammed” those first few days, as well as the following weekend, when the store welcomed Nicole Curtis, blogger, author and host of HGTV’s Rehab Addict

“It was super busy. There were hundreds of people in line to see her. When I came in at 12:30 the line went all the way down to CVS,” Sweet says. “[Curtis] uses a lot of our items in her home design blog and on her show. So she’s a real World Market advocate.”

City Manager Michael Delk says the store “is a nice addition to the plaza.” 

He adds, “They’re a really good tenant. They’re new to the market and have a certain cache.”

Other tenants in the plaza include Barnes & Noble, Old Navy and Bed, Bath & Beyond. Sweet says a Hobby Lobby is moving into the shopping center down the road, as well as a Spirit Halloween shop this fall.
This bodes well for the plaza, which has seen tenants leave and a drop in shoppers in recent years, Delk says.

“If Hobby Lobby is coming in, that’s a really nice mix,” he says. “I’d consider that a shopping center landing on its feet. Those are Class A tenants.”

Sweet adds, “We’re getting a lot of thank yous from our neighbors for bringing in business.”

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.


Inkwood Books gets ready to move to Tampa Heights, Tampa

Thanks to its new neighbor, Tampa Heights’ storied history just added another chapter -- endless chapters, actually. Inkwood Books, Tampa’s only independent book store for new books, is moving in to 1809 N. Tampa Street after more than 20 years at the corner of Armenia and Platt. It will be across the street from the Hall on Franklin, a restaurant collective set to open soon.

“We have loved our home, and we have gotten a lot of love here from the community,” says owner Stefani Beddingfield, who bought Inkwood in 2013. “But I think we are moving to a place where there is a passion for local things, where the love of local seems to be a little more viable and important to the people.”

Inkwood isn’t moving its inventory until January but will be holding events at the new site starting as early as September, when the store hosts author Leigh Bardugo, the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of Six Crows, Crooked Kingdom and the Grisha Trilogy. 

With a bigger, more open space and a location in the heart of reinvigorated urban area, Inkwood is hoping to attract many more intriguing authors to Tampa, building the city’s literary reputation in the publishing world as a sought-after destination. Lindsay Pingel, the store’s recently designated Events Coordinator, will be in charge of enhancing Inkwood’s national standing, but won’t be ignoring the surrounding area, working to foster relationships within the city limits as well as outside of them.

“Lindsey wants to reach out to the community to establish better connections here, locally, taking authors into the schools for example,” Beddingfield says. 

As the store makes its physical transition, Inkwood will be revamping its online presence too, offering a new website and outputting its newsletter on Tuesdays and Fridays in a modified format. In fact, the store just released its first edition under Shelf Awareness with the title: “Change is good, Inkreaders.”

Related Group secures $52M loan for new luxury apartments in Westshore, Tampa

Related Development LLC, the Miami firm redeveloping the former Tampa Tribune site, secured a $52 million construction loan Thursday to build a luxury rental community in the Westshore area.

SunTrust Bank provided the funding that will allow Related to build the 396-unit Town Westshore rental community, which recently broke ground at 5001 Bridge St. just south of Gandy Boulevard and about five blocks west of Westshore Boulevard. 

“We see tremendous growth in the I-4 corridor, and developments like Town Westshore are positioned to take advantage of the continued job and population growth in the region,” says Rebecca Cox, VP at SunTrust Commercial Real Estate, in a news release.

The property is one of four Related projects in the greater Tampa area, including the Manor, now underway on the former Tribune site, just off Kennedy Boulevard along the Hillsborough River in downtown Tampa. 

“Related has a track record of not only identifying underserved markets, but also delivering compelling residential properties tailored to the specific submarket,” says Steve Patterson, President and CEO of Related Development, in a news release. “Town Westshore is no different. We’ve done our homework and are confident the property and its central location will resonate with Tampa and St. Pete’s growing base of renters.”

The four-story, luxury mid-rise apartment development includes 396 units on just over 8 acres. Amenities will include fitness and yoga studios, saunas, massage treatment rooms, E-lounges, executive dining rooms and concierge services. On the drawing board: shopping, dining and a marina within walking distance.

Town Westshore is one of several blockbuster projects Related has planned or in the works in Tampa. The company, founded by Chairman and CEO Jorge Perez, is partnering with the Tampa Housing Authority on the West River project, the redevelopment and re-imagining of 150 acres on the west bank of the Hillsborough River near downtown.

The massive mixed-use project, which one city official called a “holistic approach to building a neighborhood,” is a legacy project for Mayor Bob Buckhorn. The mayor has committed $35.5 million in public money to transform Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park as a destination recreation and artistic site in the heart of the revitalized neighborhood.

Related is also preparing for move-ins at the 340-unit Icon Harbour Island luxury development. The 21-story, Parisian-style tower includes studio, one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments. Residents can enjoy hotel-style amenities, including a deluxe lounge, movie room, business center, game room with bar, fitness center, spa and massage room, poolside cabanas and gazebos, bike storage and storage lockers. Tenants can park in the garage of the neighboring Two Harbour Place building and use a skywalk to move between the tower and the garage.

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.

Wimauma church gets major loan, donations to buy domed sanctuary

After what he describes as a "$1 million dollar miracle,'' a Wimauma pastor has purchased the church he was renting month-to-month, sparing it from being torn down to build custom homes.

“We didn’t know where to go, and God continued showing his mercy and his grace every step of the way,” says Lead Pastor Carlos Irizarry, of Wholesome Church. “We saw God move.”

Wholesome is in the path of development along U.S. Highway 301 between Big Bend Road and State Road 674 in South Hillsborough County, where fields are giving way to subdivisions. The church had been renting for about five years from River of Life Christian Center in Riverview, which was looking to sell it.

Although Pastor Carlos wanted to buy it, he lacked funds, even with a substantial discount. Things came to a head after River of Life received a developer’s offer to buy the property valued at $1.5 million.

In response, Pastor Carlos appealed to the public in March for $235,000, launching a fundraising drive on Go Fund Me. Twice they were told to vacate. Even after a May 17 loan agreement, the church needed a 15-day extension to fulfill the lender’s requirements for a land survey and environmental inspection.

When news about the church hit television, a neighbor at Valencia Lakes called wanting to know more about what the church was doing. His son donated the remaining $11,000 required. And now the neighbor is planning to work with volunteers to assist in the church as the ministry continues.

The church secured a loan, raised some $21,000 in cash, and received another $20,000+ in donated work. Interest in the church’s work continues.

With the July 14 closing behind them, the church is now focusing on plans to improve the property and open its preschool early next year. “Because we took the building as is, we do have some repairs to do,” he says.

Remodeling will add more rooms for the preschool, which is expected to have a capacity of some 50 to 75 students aged 2 to 4. Pricing will be affordable, on a sliding scale based on income.

“Definitely our mission is to help families in Wimauma, but we know there is such a big demand. Families will want to apply to be there,” he says. “I can’t tell you all families will be from Wimauma.”

Early childhood education is a long-recognized need in the Wimauma community, where some are hindered by their lack of English language skills. A coalition of people concerned about the future of the community, which includes Allegany Franciscan Ministries, the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay, the Wimauma CDC, and others are working together to expand educational opportunities.

In addition to the preschool, Wholesome plans health and youth centers, a kitchen hall, a multipurpose building and thrift shop on the 10-acre property featuring a domed sanctuary.


Venture House moves forward on affordable housing

In South St. Petersburg, Venture House is taking the first steps toward creating affordable housing for artists, entrepreneurs, social innovators and small business owners.

In May, the nonprofit community development organization finalized architectural plans and began interior demolition on a home in the Lake Maggiore Shores neighborhood.  In June, three more properties in the Bartlett Park neighborhood were added to the list.

“It is really exciting to see us move from a great idea into taking action,” says Frank Wells, President and CEO of Venture House. “Three years ago we began just as a seed of an idea -- a winning pitch at a social enterprise contest. It’s amazing to see how much has grown out of this little seed.”

As reported in the July 2014 article in 83 Degrees Media, Venture House is working in partnership with Bright Community Trust, a Clearwater-based community land trust with a goal of “creating healthy and sustainable communities across Florida.”

Both Bright Community Trust, formerly known as the Pinellas Community Housing Foundation, and Venture House are focused on buying run-down, boarded-up homes in “blighted” neighborhoods and turning them into attractive, affordable housing.  

The goal is not only to create quality housing but also in a much bigger sense to revitalize struggling communities plagued by poverty. “Social enterprise is a big part of our mission -- how to use housing as a tool to improve and build community,” says Wells.

It’s also about giving a boost to local residents by helping increase their property values and offering a helping hand to entrepreneurs who can then create local jobs.

Southside CRA designation

Lake Maggiore Shores and Bartlett Park are neighborhoods located within the city’s Southside CRA or Community Redevelopment Area. Some 4,700 acres in South St. Petersburg and more than 20 neighborhood and business associations are included in this designation.  

It’s all part of a long-term plan to bring economic development and revitalization to South St. Petersburg through several initiatives, including improving and rehabbing the housing market to “expand opportunities for entrepreneurs, minority, women and disadvantaged business enterprises and small businesses.” 

The City of St. Petersburg is working with Venture House to identify suitable housing to rehab. The Bartlett Park homes will be new construction built on three vacant lots -- lots that the City of St. Petersburg agreed to give Venture House to fulfill the organization’s community land trust mission.

“It matches the city’s goal of in-filling new construction to make the whole block nicer for local residents,” he says.

Wells expects a bid to go out in the near future to identify a local builder to work with Venture House on the construction. Funding is coming from a combination of private donation and both federal and local funds. 

Showcase demonstration home 

The Lake Maggiore Shores’ home has a slightly different vision.  It will become a showcase demonstration home for Venture House, says Wells.

A “call” has gone out for artists to submit ideas for a proposed art project that will become a permanent fixture in the home.  

“We hope to have an event in the fall where we’ll present all the different artist ideas and have the audience vote on them. Then we’ll crowd-fund those projects that are the favorites,” says Wells.

So far, FunktionHouse, a St. Petersburg artisan furniture  maker who uses locally sourced recycled local trees, will be donating a recycled wood bar top, and the Morean Arts Center, will be creating a glass wall piece, says Wells.

In addition, community volunteers and groups like the Home Builders Institute, a career training organization for the construction industry, have been helping begun demolishing the current structure to get ready for renovation.

The Maggiore Shores showcase home is expected to be finished by early next year.  But the other three homes in the Bartlett Park neighborhood are expected to be ready for occupancy much sooner.

“Our goal is to get those houses built and people moved into them,” says Wells.

Individuals eligible to live in a Venture House-sponsored property aren’t limited to just artists and entrepreneurs in the traditional sense. 

“We’re looking at the arts in a very broad sense. Not just painters and sculptors, but also opera singers, hip hop DJ’s, spoken word artists and poets,” says Wells.

The same scenario applies to entrepreneurs. “It’s not just the next new graduate writing a phone App, but someone launching a catering or restaurant business, landscaping, braiding hair, or even an activist doing great community work,” says Wells.  

“It was Watson Haynes (president and CEO of the Pinellas County Urban League) who opened up my eyes to this idea,” says Wells. “Entrepreneurship can be a path to developing wealth that changes the outcome for the homeowner and the community, especially for people who find there aren’t a lot of job opportunities open to them. Entrepreneurship can be a transformative tool for South St. Petersburg and many other communities.”

University Area CDC seeks resident input on community needs

If you are at least 18 years old and live in the 33612 or 33613 zip codes in Tampa, the University Area CDC wants to hear from you. It’s doing a survey to help pinpoint needs in the community surrounding the University of South Florida.

“This is what we are going to use to build our strategic plan,” explains Sarah Combs, the CDC’s Executive Director and CEO.

The CDC is working on improving the University Area and the lifestyles of its residents by focusing on housing, health education programs, transportation, youth programs, community safety and workforce/employment issues.

The 2017 University Area Community Survey is confidential and does not require names, emails or phone numbers. However, those who complete the survey and supply their names and contact information can participate in a drawing for prizes, including a TV, park tickets, movie passes, bicycles, a $100 gift card, and more. Additional prizes are available when the survey is turned in personally.

It takes about 20 to 25 minutes to answer the 54 questions, which involve the types of programs their children prefer, challenges to home ownership, personal safety and the effectiveness of law enforcement.

The survey is available here. Completed forms should be returned to the individual or organization who provided them, or to 14013 North 22nd St., Tampa.

The last time the survey was done was in 2015, when results were used in the creation of sports and fitness classes and a community garden to increase access to healthy foods as well as to improve Workforce Training through a Free IT Certification Course.

Combs expects the survey to reveal a small decline in the “transient nature” of the community, she says.

“This information allows us to figure out who’s our community. When we started we were primarily African-American. Now we’re primarily Hispanic,” she adds.

Originally set to close out in June, the survey will remain open through July 28 to involve more respondents.

In June the nonprofit closed on its sixth parcel near its 7-acre Harvest Hope Park. The parcels will be used to develop affordable, single-family housing. “We’re hoping that funding is going to come very soon, within the next three months,” she says.

The residences will allow owners to be “urban pioneers,” and have a place they can call home rather than a place where they stay, she says.

“What’s going to be really cool about these houses, they’re modular houses,” Combs adds.

Meanwhile the concrete has been poured on an 8-foot tall statue of a family depicting diversity and respect in the community. It will be placed in Hope Park, bordered by 19th and 20th streets and 137th and 138th avenues,

It’s created from the residents,” she says, adding it might take a month to complete. “I’m really excited to see that.”

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