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Downtown Tampa gets two more eye-catching developments

The facelift continues for Tampa’s downtown waterfront district, as two new development projects are announced this week — Riverwalk Place and a Marriott Edition hotel, both within walking distance of the Tampa Convention Center. The projects help give shape to the district’s continued redevelopment and cement the layout of tomorrow's downtown.

Rising more than 50 stories, Riverwalk Place may become the tallest tower on Florida’s west coast, with offices, restaurants, and luxury condominiums offered for between $600,000 and more than $2 million. The project, which is estimated to cost $350 million and employ over 50 workers during its construction phase, is spearheaded by Feldman Equities of Tampa and Two Roads Development of West Palm Beach.

“This will be the first new office skyscraper built in downtown Tampa in 30 years, and the first ever mixed-use tower,” Larry Feldman, President and Chief Executive of Feldman Equities, says in a statement. Feldman hopes the building becomes a social hub for downtown Tampa.

Riverwalk Place was designed by Gensler, the architectural firm responsible for the world’s second tallest building, the Shanghai Tower. Situated on the southeast corner of Ashley Drive and E Whiting Street, the building’s design was inspired by Tampa Bay’s maritime atmosphere. Its curved, sailboat-like shape will purportedly make it aerodynamic while offering most offices and residences a view of the Hillsborough River and Bay. 

“From the outset, our goal was to do more than just design another tall building,” says Shamim Ahmadzadegan, the Gensler architect behind the design. “We wanted the project to activate the Riverwalk, and contribute to the urban landscape of downtown Tampa.”

Just a couple blocks east, the planned 173-room Edition hotel could become Tampa’s first five-star resort and a gem in the crown of the proposed Water Street Tampa neighborhood. Lead by Strategic Property Partners (SPP), a partnership between Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Bill Gates’ Cascade Investment, Water Street Tampa will see 53 acres along the Ybor Chanel converted into a cultural hub, redeveloped with restaurants, green spaces, marinas, and hotels at an estimated cost of over $3 billion. 

The Edition will take a prominent position in a 26-story building across the street from Amalie Arena, at the northwest corner of Channelside Drive and Water Street. Upon its scheduled completion in 2021, it will join other hotels in the Water Street Tampa, including a 519-room JW Marriott, which is slated for completion the year prior, and the existing 727-room Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina, which has planned renovations by SPP.

Designed by New York-based architect, Morris Adjmi, in collaboration with Florida-based architecture and planning firm, Nichols Brosch Wurst Wolfe & Associates, the tower will offer a rooftop pool, adjacent bar, restaurant, spa, and fitness center for guests and residents. Restaurants and retail shops will populate the ground floor.

A class act: new St. Pete Pier expected to be drawing card

Piers that jut hundreds of feet above water are costly to build. Keeping them current, so they attract and entertain visitors year after year, requires a redo every so often. So what people are witnessing in downtown St. Petersburg, the reconstruction of its pier spanning some 3,400 feet above Tampa Bay, hasn’t happened for about 45 years.

“It’s transformative,” says Chris Ballestra, managing director in charge of development for St. Petersburg’s downtown.

Since the first pier was built in 1889 as a railroad trestle, the city has had several piers that served as a major community gathering space. This redo is actually the city’s eighth. It replaces the Inverted Pyramid Pier completed in 1973, which was torn down in 2013.

“The old pier was very nice, but all the action was way out into the bay and there was nothing in between,” Ballestra explains. “We’re activating the whole site.”

The $76 million project features a Lawn Bowl capable of handling crowds of more than 3,000 for special events, plus a Splash Pad, an interactive water play area; Spa Beach, offering a naturalized shoreline for beach enthusiasts; a Marina Lawn for outdoor recreation such as shuffleboard and swings; and a Coastal Thicket, which turns parts of the stroll out to the pier head into a nature walk.

Because it is so expensive, there are very few cities that have these long piers. Which means this new pier can be “a calling card” for St. Pete, he says, along the lines of the Navy Pier in Chicago, Pier 39 in San Francisco or Santa Monica Pier in California.

“We want to compete on a very large stage around the world,” Ballestra says.

Despite its complexity, the project has been going smoothly. “It’s a very challenging construction market right now, a very competitive environment,” he says. “We’re locked in on the numbers. We don’t have any surprises, which is how we need it to be.”

Construction began on the new St. Pete Pier last June, with the activity centering around the pilings and deck above the water. “Building the pier itself is an extremely complex project,” he says. “By example, the old pier had 1500 pilings. ... For everyone one of our pilings, there three of our old pilings around it.”

Construction will go vertical in late spring or early summer, he says. Updates are available through the city’s website; click on “The New Pier” under City Initiatives.

“We wanted to preserve the community’s expectation,” he says. “We are building for a 75- to a 100-year lifespan.”

An estimated 1,000 are being employed during construction, and some 400 are expected to have ongoing jobs when the pier is completed. The main contractor is Skanska, a major project development and construction company with U.S. operations based in New York City.

While approval is still pending, the city has identified two potential pier occupants: Doc Ford’s Rum Bar and Grille, themed on novels by New York Times best-selling author Randy Wayne White, and Tampa Bay Watch, a Tierra Verde nonprofit which would run an environmental learning center open to the public.

When work is completed, the pier district will be connected with the rest of downtown. “Within the district, there’s shuttles that link directly to downtown that are free,” Ballestra explains. “We worked very hard to make sure we had an integrated process.”

A grand opening is slated for April, 2019, so there’s still a lot of work remaining. “You’re going to see a lot of construction activity,” he adds.

The project comes at a time of uncertainty -- and promise -- as the city grapples with what to do with the 86-acre Tropicana Field property following the Tampa Bay Rays’ announcement Feb. 9 that it would be moving to Ybor City. “We’re very excited to get that site redeveloped, period,” he says.

Ballestra calls the pier and Tropicana Field “bookends to a downtown.”

“What we’re doing with the pier is a full rebuild, creating its own district,” he says. “Tropicana is ultimately a bigger project, with clearly long-term implications to the city.”

He expects the results to be positive. “It’s exciting,” he says. “I feel ... very happy for our community given what’s in store in the next 50 years.”


Headed to Clearwater Beach for spring break? Check out free bus rides

Clearwater Beach has long been one of the premiere spring break destinations in the country, routinely topping media lists for best beaches. It took TripAdvisor’s top beach title in 2018 and in 2016, and was number 4 in 2017. (It was also the only beach in the United States to make TripAdvisor’s 2016 list of top 25 beaches globally.)

Because of its popularity, the area also has long been plagued by traffic congestion and parking woes. So, with the start of the 2018 spring break season, city officials are continuing a partnership with the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) to help alleviate these issues.

For the second consecutive year, the city of Clearwater and the PSTA will offer a free Park & Ride service to beachgoers.

City residents and out-of-town visitors will be able to park for free in designated lots and a trolley will pick up them up from two locations -- the Harborview Center Park & Ride lot and in front of Clearwater City Hall, between Cleveland and Court Streets, says Councilmember Bill Jonson, who is also a PSTA board member. 

Through April 29, the trolleys will run every 15 minutes, and will operate Monday to Thursday, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Friday and Saturday, 9 a.m. to midnight.

“[Traffic is] always a problem at spring break,” Jonson says “For the citizens and our guests, we’d like to mitigate is as much as we can.”

In the past, the city created additional parking areas or offered discounted trolley rides. About a year ago, the public/private North Beach Parking Plaza with 702 spaces opened, he adds. “I still think it’s the best-kept secret on Clearwater Beach.”

Last year, the city and PSTA thought they might be able to increase trolley ridership to the beach if they offered free rides rather than discounting fares. 

“We figured let’s just make it free and see if people will ride it,” Jonson says. Though they saw a slight increase in ridership last spring break, he hopes those numbers increase again this year.

“It’s a really good alternative for someone who doesn’t want to pay the parking rates and who’s willing to sit back and read a magazine or something [on the trolley] as they head to the beach,” he says. “We’re going to offer it to people, and if they ride it, we’ll continue to offer it each year.”

It will be needed even more, he adds, as Clearwater Beach’s tourism appeal continues to grow. 

“We have a fantastic beach. We have fantastic amenities out there and during spring break, there are a lot of people who choose to enjoy them,” he says. “When they choose to enjoy them, all we ask for is some patience. We’re trying to make it as easy as possible for people to visit.”

For more information, visit the City of Clearwater's website.

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.

A new facelift for historic Downtown Tampa landmark

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


From blank to swank: Gin Joint opens in Downtown Tampa

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

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

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

Live piano performances 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Popular Clearwater Beach restaurant sports new look, new name

Iconic eatery Crabby’s Dockside, formerly Crabby Bill’s, now boasts a new name -- Bill’s was dropped after a partner left the group -- and a fresh look that matches the slate of modern hotels that have popped up along Clearwater Beach over the last two years.

The original restaurant, which stood at 37 Causeway Blvd. for 17 years, was demolished after spring break 2016 to make way for the new three-story structure that now includes a first-floor outside bar and sidewalk seating, and an open-air rooftop seating area.

The most “stunning” features of the new restaurant are the unobstructed, panoramic views, says Greg Powers, CEO and co-Founder. “You have a 360-degree view of Clearwater Beach from the rooftop.” Floor-to-ceiling second-floor windows also provide “gorgeous views” to indoor diners.

About two years ago, Clearwater officials decided that the restaurant, which sits on city-owned property next to Clearwater Beach Marina, needed an upgrade. The city put out a request for proposals and Crabby’s Dockside won the bid, paving the way for the $4.4 million project.
 
Powers says he worked closely with Klar and Klar Architects and city staff to create “a new vision for the restaurant that was part our style, and part based on what the city is looking for and what the beach is becoming.”

The design of Crabby’s Dockside “is representative of a new beach,” says Principal Architect Steve Klar. “It’s modern. It’s contemporary.”

He predicts that other shops and restaurants along the beach will slowly adopt a similar look. 

“Clearwater Beach is not trying to be some small, little, sleepy area,” he says. “We’re not trying to replicate or recreate an Old Key West. This new look is different and contemporary. We like the trend and we like where it’s going. Modern architecture stands the test of time.”

Upscale Hyatt brand arrives in downtown St. Pete

The first upscale Hyatt hotel will be coming to the downtown St. Petersburg waterfront.

The 15-story, 175-room Hyatt Place St. Petersburg Downtown officially cuts the ribbon on Tuesday, Sept. 26.  

The hotel will be located in the same block as the 41-story luxury high-rise condo ONE and across the street from the James Wildlife and Western Art Museum, which is expected to open in early 2018.

Director of Sales Ryan Tarrant hopes the hotel will become the “connector” between St. Petersburg’s Beach Drive waterfront arts district with restaurants and museums, and the more eclectic Central Avenue shops, galleries and cafes.

Tarrant is a co-Executive Director for the Suncoast Film Festival and a former St. Petersburg Area Chamber Member of the Year. He and his wife Heather also own Cinema Squatch, a cinema event company known for its free outdoor movies at the Museum of Fine Arts, Williams Park and similar venues.

Tarrant says he hopes to develop the Hyatt Place to be “very St. Petersburg-centric with a focus on everything that makes the city unique, especially local artisans and entrepreneurs.”  The hotel will be partnering with St. Petersburg Distillery and local craft brewers, as well as Black Crow Coffee Co.

He is also working with local artist Ya La’ford to create a custom mural to add to the city’s growing collection of urban art murals on downtown buildings. In addition, The Body Electric http://thebodyelectricyoga.com/ will be offering yoga at the hotel’s rooftop pool, which will feature limited engagements open to the public, including the possibility of “dive-in” movies, says Tarrant.

The hotel is being developed and managed by Kolter Hospitality and will feature a 5,000-square-foot restaurant and sidewalk café; and 4,500 square feet of event space, including a 2,700-square-foot ballroom and three conference rooms. There are also two full-service bars on the first floor and a 5,500-square-foot rooftop pool deck and bar. Tarrant hopes to offer live entertainment two or three nights a week.

The hotel will be part of the World of Hyatt loyalty program, in which members earn points and exchange them for rewards when they stay at one of the Hyatt hotels worldwide. 

“There will finally be a Hyatt product in St. Petersburg, which is something World of Hyatt Rewards travelers have been waiting for, for quite some time,” said General Manager David Cuadra in a news release.

Local restaurants Rococo Steak, Urban Comfort and Orange Blossom Catering, will provide catering services for special events and weddings.

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

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

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

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

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

Around 300 residents attended the opening with their furry friends.

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

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

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

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

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

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

7 potential routes identified for Tampa's streetcar expansion

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

The study has identified the following potential expansions:

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

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

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

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


What's next for downtown Clearwater? Craft breweries, winery, beer fest

As the City of Clearwater anticipates a waterfront revival thanks to the recent City Council approval of the Imagine Clearwater redevelopment project, Jay Polglaze, executive director of the Clearwater Downtown Partnership and former city councilor, says the downtown area could get an additional boost from an unexpected source: local craft brewers.

Over the past 15 years, the Tampa Bay Area has enjoyed the economic benefits of “the microbrewery craze,” he says. This movement has largely bypassed Clearwater, however, because of laws on the books that prohibited the manufacture and distribution of craft beer downtown. These laws were finally modified last year, when Polglaze was still on council, to pave the way for breweries to operate downtown.

Though he lost his re-election bid in March 2016, he immediately began working for the Clearwater Downtown Partnership, where he focuses on the economic vibrancy of the city’s downtown area. One of the major missing components that would help create a thriving downtown is craft beer, he says.

“My best advisors are my 27-year-old son and my 24-year-old daughter,” Polglaze says. “When I ask them what’s missing, they’re pretty specific: 'craft beer'.”

He recently attended an “inspiring” presentation on “craft urbanism” that featured Tampa Bay-area brewers, including Joey Redner, founder of Tampa’s Cigar City Brewing, and Mike Harding, founder of 3 Daughters Brewing in St. Petersburg.

“You can get this urban core reignited by creating this community of microbreweries,” Polglaze says.

He adds, “It works. Look at Dunedin, St. Petersburg, Tampa, all across the country. It’s a huge movement right now.”

This is why the Clearwater Downtown Partnership has partnered with the city of Clearwater’s Community Redevelopment Agency to launch the first annual Downtown Clearwater Craft Beer and Music Fest Saturday, May 20, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., on Cleveland Street between Fort Harrison and East Avenues.

The free event will feature more than 50 brewers from throughout the state, including 3 Daughters, Cigar City, Cycle Brewing, Big Storm Brewing Co., Hidden Springs Aleworks, MIA Brewing Company, and House of Beer Brewing, which is one of the co-producers of the event.

Eight musical acts will perform on two stages throughout the day. There will also be a variety of arts and crafts vendors, food trucks, and an activity area for children.

Polglaze says he expects the event to draw between 8,000 and 10,000 people. He also hopes that it will show visiting brewers the potential of downtown Clearwater. The city is actively “courting” local brewers, including the Dunedin-based House of Beer.
 
“We’re really close to being able to announce our first couple of breweries,” he says. He anticipates having contracts signed with local brewers and also a local winery by the end of June.

Looking north, Dunedin already has nine breweries within city limits, he says. “So the next logical expansion is Clearwater.”
He hopes to have an anchor brewery open on Cleveland Street with other brewers setting up shop on side streets.

The impending downtown renaissance, especially if it features local brewers, will build on what is already a popular tourist destination, he adds.

Polglaze says, “We want to create a great companion downtown to America’s number one beach. There’s a lot of great things going on in Clearwater. We’re getting a lot of movement right now. I really believe the beverage and food industry will be the spark plug that gets this thing going.”

Tampa Downtowner shows success in first 6 months

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Cross-Bay Ferry initial run exceeds expectations, likely to return in fall

As a sixth-month test period comes to a close, the Cross-Bay Ferry is scheduled to stop making runs on April 30.

But action taken by the Hillsborough County Commission indicates it will likely be back.

The commissioners directed county staff to find funds in the 2018 budget that could be invested in a seasonal ferry linking the downtowns of Tampa and St. Petersburg. Last year, Hillsborough allocated $350,000 to the pilot program, along with Pinellas County, Tampa and St. Petersburg.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman says the county received somewhere between $40,000 and $50,000 back on its initial investment and the ferry project is headed in the right direction.

“We’re knee deep in transportation issues right now and we’ve build a great case for a successful project,” she says.

Proponents of the ferry say it performed beyond expectations during the trial run, proving itself as a viable transportation option.

“It’s had good revenues, strong ridership and very strong corporate sponsorship,” says Ed Turanchik, project adviser.
According to Turanchik, ridership for April is on track to reach 10,000 people. In total, more than 36,000 passengers have boarded the ferry for a trip across the bay.

The 149-seat catamaran runs from downtown St. Pete’s waterfront to downtown Tampa near the convention center seven days a week with the heaviest ridership on weekends. The pilot program served as a demonstration of the non-commuter market, which accounts for the majority of travel.

“This really shows us there’s a strong market for non-work-based transit,” Turanchik says.

Now that it has some momentum, Turanchick is looking at the next phase for the ferry.

“Now it’s not a question of a pilot,” he says. “It’s using seasonal service to transition into permanent service and build the market.”

With public-private partnerships to fund the initial investment and operating costs of the new transportation system in the works, big things are possible ferries in the future of Tampa Bay. Champions include Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman.

“I can readily envision there being a dozen to 16 ferries operating in the bay area when all these things finally are deployed,” Turanchik says. “There’s a market for this and it’s only going to grow.”

Tampa Bay History Center grows up and out, stays on track with $11M expansion

The Tampa Bay History Center is experiencing smooth sailing so far on an expansion project that will bring the area’s pirate lore to life.

“Knocking on wood, everything is going well,” says C.J. Roberts, History Center President and CEO.

Roberts says construction crews are slightly ahead of schedule on the building expansion that will house the new “Treasure Seekers: Conquistadors, Pirates & Shipwrecks” gallery -- an addition that includes a 60-foot replica of a sailing vessel as its centerpiece and will focus on the stories of Florida’s early explorers.

As construction continues, the Pinellas Park-based Creative Arts is working to design the exhibits and a theatre company out of Boston is writing an “immersive pirate theatre experience” to complement the new gallery, which should be complete before the end of the year.

The expansion is just one part of an $11 million capital campaign, which Roberts says he is hopeful will be completed successfully in another year or so.

The goal of the capital campaign is to raise $5 million for the new gallery and maintenance on the existing structure, $5 million for the center’s endowment -- which funds about 25 percent of operating costs annually -- and $1 million for the new Florida Center for Cartography, a joint effort with the University of South Florida.

“We’ve raised $7.5 million dollars to date,” says Roberts.“We’ve got good wind in our sails, and I am optimistic that we’re going to be successful in completing this campaign.”

The full-size ship included in the gallery aims to provide an immersive experience that will help dispel some myths or misconceptions about pirates while providing a unique chance to learn about navigation, engineering and mathematics.

“These stories of early navigation and maritime exploration really lend themselves very well to pulling out those kinds of educational opportunities,” Roberts says.

Roberts hopes this expansion will broaden the center’s reach by telling stories that go beyond our backyard in the Bay Area.

“This is not a Tampa or Hillsborough story, as many of our other exhibits are,” he says. “This really is a Florida story.”

The Tampa Bay History Center’s expansion project is just one part of a period of exciting growth for the downtown area and Roberts is eager for the next chapter in Tampa’s story.

“We’re excited about the contribution this will make to an already growing downtown,” he says. “I think that we’re in a good place, and the future for both downtown Tampa and the history center looks pretty bright.”

City of Tampa invites public input on streetcar route extension

The City of Tampa is looking for input from residents as it continues the first phase of a project that aims to update and extend the Tampa Historic Streetcar System.

At a series of public meetings, city officials have discussed the project while surveying attendees. The most recent “brainstorm session” took place on April 4 and focused on evaluating corridor options for potential additions to the streetcar line.

City Director of Transportation and Stormwater Services Jean Duncan began the meeting by saying that the decisions made in updating the streetcar system must reflect the ongoing development of downtown and surrounding neighborhoods.

“We want to make sure that our transportation decisions are supporting those near-term and long-term land development plans,” she says.

So far, the city has received about 800 comments during phase one of the two-phase InVision: Tampa Streetcar project and Duncan says it is looking forward to receiving more.

“That is valuable information for us to take into consideration,” she says.

According to the city’s website, the planning effort is being funding largely by a $1 million contribution from the Florida Department of Transportation. The city has dedicated $677,390 to the effort.

The first phase of the project will establish options for extensions of the line and seek to open the door to federal funding before proceeding with a more detailed second phase. Lead consultant on the project is HDR Engineering.

At the April 4 meeting, Steve Schukraft of HDR said right now his team is looking for feedback on what areas are best suited for potential extensions.

“We’re trying to understand different corridors downtown and in surrounding neighborhoods that have the characteristics that might support transit,” he says.

An important factor in determining if a corridor is viable is whether or not it can generate enough ridership to justify an investment, Schukraft adds.

The final public meeting will focus on results gathered at the previous two sessions and is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on May 2 at the Hillsborough Community College Ybor City Campus.

For more information or to submit a comment on the project, visit the city’s website.
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