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New Bayshore high-rise would bring more luxury living to Tampa's waterfront

A new residential condominium has been proposed for the lot next to Fred Ball Park on Bayshore Boulevard, but the city isn't convinced by its development plan. Called The Sanctuary at Alexandra Place, the building joins a group of high-rises sprouting along the waterfront road, giving a 3D-rendered shape of things to come.

Bayshore Boulevard hosts some of Tampa Bay’s most coveted real estate, so it’s no wonder why developers have begun buying up old buildings with plans to erect high-rise residential towers in their place. The historic Colonnade Restaurant was purchased in 2016 for $6.2 million to make room for the Virage Bayshore, a 24-story, 71-unit condominium. Half-a-mile north at Bay-to-Bay Boulevard, construction is underway on a 15-floor, 32-unit condo called the Aquatica on Bayshore.

The Sanctuary will be built two blocks north of the Aquatica. Offering just 15 units -- one on each floor -- The Sanctuary is designed for luxury. Seamless glass on all four sides will give residents sweeping views of Hillsborough Bay. Polished porcelain tiles will occupy the floors, Gaggenau appliances will be fitted in the kitchen and Rohl plumbing fixtures in the bathrooms. Units will start at $2.3 million.

“[We] recognized that the residences that were selling fastest and in most demand were those that had a direct view of the water, of Bayshore, and the ones that were penthouses,” Brian Taub, whose company, Taub Entities, is leading developing, tells 83 Degrees. “So we decided to do nothing but essentially all penthouses. It will be the only building that is exclusive in so much as it's one unit per floor, glass on all four sides, and it's a small boutique building meaning you're not sharing an elevator with a lot of people.”

Before Taub and his partners can break ground on the building, they’ll have to convince the city to grant them approval on their current development plan. The developers have made a rezoning request to PD (planned development), a category that offers more flexibility in construction. Prior to its construction, the Aquatica also rezoned to PD.

“When you build your site plan according to what your zoning code, then you have to build to the very specific requirements that apply to that zoning code,” Thomas Snelling, Director of the Planning and Development Department for the City of Tampa, says. “With a PD you have the ability to craft regulations that will apply to you.”

The city has identified two inconsistencies with development code in The Sanctuary's rezoning request, including the removal of a non-hazardous grand oak tree.

“Grand trees are very large and they're very important to the city and the neighborhoods and communities,” Snelling says.

A representative for The Sanctuary will have a chance to argue their case at a public hearing at 6pm Thursday, April 26. 

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.

Publix under construction at USF Tampa, across from The Hub

Residents of student dormitories and other housing at or near the University of South Florida’s main campus will soon have a new shopping venue. A Publix Supermarket is rising on Fletcher Avenue at USF Palm Drive on the northern edge of campus. It’s expected to open in the last quarter of 2018 or first quarter of 2019.

“This is a brand new store from the ground up,” says Brian West, Media and Community Relations Manager for Publix’s Central, Western, and Southwest Florida region, who indicates the store will not replace any of the supermarket’s existing operations.

The Publix will be less than 30,000-square-feet, roughly half the size of its regular stores and comparable to the Publix opened in downtown St. Petersburg in March 2017, he says. 

It will feature an outdoor seating area and a grab-and-go food section with prepared foods such as sandwiches and salads prepared daily.

Construction began in February as part of a new walkable village-concept area on the northeast corner of the USF campus that includes new dorms, a fitness center, a food court and outdoor gathering spaces.

While traditional stores staff around 120, the number and timeline wasn’t yet available for the new Publix. But the company typically prefers to transfer existing employees to their new stores initially.

“There’s a very small number that are brand new to the company that would start at a brand new store,” West says. “We transfer existing associates.”

That way new employees are surrounded by experienced ones, he explains.

Job candidates can apply at kiosks at existing stores, and their applications are available at surrounding stores. It takes about 45 minutes and applications will remain active for 30 days. After that, applications would need to be renewed.

“Surrounding stores are always hiring,” he says. “We’re in a fortunate position where we’re always hiring new help.”

The Lakeland-based grocery chain, founded in Winter Haven in 1930 by the late George W. Jenkins, has grown to more than 1,100 stores. The privately-held company, with stores in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama and Tennessee, ranked 47th among the 2018 FORTUNE “100 Best Companies to Work For.” It ranked first in the Tampa Bay region followed by the Clearwater-based Baycare Health System, the 65th.

The northern fringe of the campus is lined with housing and medical-related facilities. The grocery will be in close proximity to University Community Hospital, John Knox Village and the USF golf course, The Claw.

On the western side of campus, a luxury student housing complex is being constructed on the east side of University Mall. Called The Standard, the complex is expected to open for leasing in fall of 2019.


Surban trend: Affordable homes for millennials who don't mind the commute

In an era in which many potential homebuyers may feel priced out of the downtown and first tier suburbs, homebuilders in the Tampa Bay Area offer affordably priced homes within 20-to-35 miles of Tampa.

First-time homebuyers, millennials and GenXers, are gravitating toward housing developments that offer a surban (suburban+urban) living experience (think West Chase) close to major traffic arteries like Interstate 75, U.S. Highway 301 or U.S. Highway 41.

“They want a nice home,” says Sean Strickler, Division President of PulteGroup’s West Florida Division, which caters to first-time buyers through its Centex brand. “They are a little bit more willing to sacrifice commute time to ensure that they find a home that meets their budget.”

Wesley Chapel has been a popular area. “Pinellas is pretty much built out,” Strickler says. “We are looking to expand our footprint into Polk. As land prices continue to rise, we need to consider areas that are a little bit further out but still are along major thoroughfares.”

Pulte has secured 104 acres for a new Westbridge community in Wesley Chapel, which will feature 350 single-family homes priced in the mid- to high-$200,000s. “It’s a great location, but price-wise it’s still going to be very affordable.”

Situated on Wells Road across from Wesley Chapel Elementary School, Weightman Middle School and Wesley Chapel High School, the community offers easy access to Interstates 75 and 275, State Road 54, the 140-acre Wesley Chapel District Park, and shopping at Wiregrass and Premium Outlet Mall.

Groundbreaking is planned in late summer or fall, with construction on models beginning in early 2019.

“We’ll have our first new homeowners in the second part of 2019,” he says.

Wesley Chapel has been attractive because of the small town feel, parks and open spaces. “People like that it’s north of the 275-75 split,” he says. “Families are really drawn to it, simply because of the good schools.”

Those with deeper pockets are being attracted to the Wesley Chapel area Epperson, a master-planned community of 1,500 homes which is part of “The Connected City” especially built on a fiber network allowing gigabit Internet speeds. It also features the country’s first Crystal Lagoon, a 7.5-acre lagoon using a patented purifying and clarifying technology.

Several builders are involved along with Pulte, which is finishing land development for the second phase. “It’s a very, very popular community right now,” he says. “The lagoon is drawing such excitement.”

Another affordable community in development north of Tampa is Talavera in Hudson, off U.S. 41 and State Road 52. The company is pricing its 100 homes in the 700-home community in low $200,000s. “We’re actually decorating our models,” he says.

The other builder is MI Homes.

“The home sites up there are very large,” he says. “You definitely get more property with your home.”

For those who want a new home closer in, there also are infill developments. A 140-unit townhome community in Mango will be priced from the mid-$100,000s for 1,500 square feet. Pre-sales have begun at Rego Palms off of Williams Road north of Martin Luther King Boulevard, and the first move-ins are anticipated early this summer.

With a median home price of $207,000, Tampa Bay was listed third among 14 top sites in the nation where people can purchase a house on a $50,000-a-year salary. In an article published at Thrillist Travel online in summer 2017, Tampa was listed after Lexington, KY, and Boise, ID.

“Tampa has always been a more affordable geography than say for instance Chicago or Seattle, where land is much more difficult to come by,” Strickler says. “You have that opportunity to serve the buyers, particularly with interest rates as low as they are.”


More private rooms, new main entrance coming soon to St. Joseph's Hospital in West Tampa

It was a different era of health care back in the mid-1960s, when St. Joseph’s Hospital moved from its original home in Ybor City to its familiar location on Dr. Martin Luther King Boulevard in West Tampa. Hospital rooms had at least two beds, often more, and communal showers were down the hall. That’s what patients expected. Private rooms were rare and for the wealthy.

In recent years hospitals across the country have been moving toward single-occupancy rooms. That’s the impetus behind a new six-story addition to the hospital that’s slated for completion in December of 2019.

“The reason we’re doing this is to respond to community need and to emphasize how important West Tampa is to us,” says St. Joseph’s President Kimberly Guy. “We really think of St. Joseph’s as an anchor for the West Tampa community. The sleek new tower will include 90 new private rooms for patients.

That will allow the hospital to convert some of its existing patient-care rooms into single-occupancy units.

Patients are more comfortable and content when they have a room to themselves, Guy says, but private rooms also improve patient outcomes. Patients get more rest, and the risk of contagion is lowered. St. Joseph's actually still has some areas where rooms don’t have their own showers. "We try not to use those for patients,'' Guy says.

But the new $126-million addition will be about more than private rooms. It will become the main entrance to the hospital, featuring a two-story lobby with a drive-up entrance, waiting rooms and on-call rooms. A pedestrian bridge will connect the new tower to St. Joseph’s Women’s Hospital, on the south side of Dr. Martin Luther King Boulevard.

St. Joseph’s Hospital-North in Lutz and St. Joseph’s Hospital-South in Riverview have also announced expansion plans, with new additions slated to open in 2019. The main St. Joseph’s campus has been a centerpiece of West Tampa since its founders, the Franciscan Sisters of Allegany, moved the hospital there a half-century ago.

Since then, the area around the hospital has become one of Tampa’s most important medical corridors.

The growth of nearby Hillsborough Community College, the building of Raymond James Stadium and the expansion of Interstate 275 over the past decades, along with the resurgence of West Tampa itself, have helped enhance the hospital’s visibility and importance to the Tampa Bay Area.

“I really think the sisters had some divine inspiration when they chose this location,” Guy says.

Bodega restaurant expanding into Seminole Heights

Bodega means grocery in Spanish. But the eatery of the same name, in St. Petersburg’s Edge District, has built a reputation for Latin Street Food -- particularly the Cuban sandwich, along with juices and smoothies made with fresh ingredients.

Since it opened five years ago as a small neighborhood restaurant at 1120 Central Ave., the Edge District has grown into a bustling area. Now Bodega is planning a second location opening later this spring at 5901 N. Florida Ave. in Tampa’s Seminole Heights.

“In order to build a second Bodega, it kind of had to look a certain way,” says Debbie Sayegh, who co-owns the restaurant with her husband George. “When we pulled up to this location, we knew. We said ‘OK, this is perfect.’ It kind of all went rather smoothly after that.”

Bodega was a great fit for Seminole Heights because of the diversity of the neighborhood with craftsman houses and lots of character. “We love Seminole Heights,” she says. “It reminds us a little bit of New York.”

Bodega’s new Seminole Heights location will feature the same menu and indoor and outdoor courtyard seating, two shuffle board courts, and a rum bar, Mandarin Heights, run in collaboration with St. Petersburg’s Mandarin Hide.

“It’s going to stay the same menu,” says Sayegh. “We’ve learned to leave things as they are to make everybody happy.”

She and her husband, both New Yorkers, had been looking around for a suitable location for a second restaurant since the third year Bodega was in operation.

George, who trained at the French Culinary Institute, fell in love with Cuban food when he worked as a cook in Miami. After moving to downtown St. Petersburg, the couple “reincarnated” the concept of a Cuban coffee shop they’d run in Brooklyn, she says, changing it to a Cuban sandwich shop with fast casual food.

The nostalgic name hails from their days in New York, where the bodegas were a go-to place for food late at night.

The restaurant, which strives for the Florida feel, also is popular for its pollo asado (roast chicken) sandwich, plus vegetarian selections like jicama slaw and smoothies (or batidos) with mango, coconut and other tropical fruits. Shots of wheat grass and turmeric also are offered.

They aren’t announcing an opening date or hours yet, but updates will be posted here.

In case you are wondering, Bodega’s Cuban sandwich follows the Miami tradition, with Bodega’s own roast pork and homemade mojo, or sauce. It’s served sans salami, lettuce and tomato. “Some people ask for lettuce and tomato. We don’t encourage it,” she says. “It’s not the way we make it.”

In Tampa, salami is popular, while lettuce and tomato is popular in Key West. “People have a lot to say about a Cuban sandwich,” she adds. “It really just depends on the person and what they were growing up with.”

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.”


SOHO Blind Tiger settles into walkable community

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Channel Club, new grocery opening soon in downtown Tampa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Half of the first floor will be occupied by Publix.

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

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

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

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


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.

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.


As urban core grows in Tampa, challenges begin to match ambitions

Spend a few years away from Tampa, especially as a native, and you'll better appreciate the great strides made in improving the urban quality of life in Downtown and its peripheral neighborhoods -- and the new/growing challenges that have yet to be fully addressed.

At a recent event organized by New Town Connections, guest speaker Randy Goers (the City of Tampa’s Urban Planning Coordinator) reminded the 30 or so attendees of all the public investments made since 2012 to accommodate young, educated, and non-native urban residents and workers that now live in approximately 13,000 new dwellings in and around Downtown.

Back then, the 2012 InVision Plan called for things that are now a reality, like a complete and continuous Riverwalk, several urban parks, public art, traffic calming and streetscape improvements, and more bicycle/pedestrian paths.

The wider context has changed drastically in that time too. Just think, in 2012 UBER and Lyft were in their infancy. The partnership that makes the free Downtowner shuttle service possible wasn’t yet hatched, and Jeff Vinik hadn’t announced that he would be enabling a $3 billion investment project we now know as Water Street Tampa, which will change the city in ways we can’t fathom. (So yay for big things to come!)

And yet, for all the ways we are better off now, we face more complicated issues. New housing and density is great for a sense of vibrancy and adding to the urban landscape, but how affordable is it? The median income in the region remains, well, more than a little sad.

Worsening congestion was also top of mind among those in attendance last week at local coffee roaster The Blind Tiger’s newest location on South Howard Avenue, which is just one neighborhood now flush with new infill density and no room to expand roads.

By making small tweaks with bike-ped infrastructure, leisure is easier, but we still aren’t quite a transit, bike, or on-foot city. We have too many broad swaths of pavement designed to move automotive traffic, and are largely still a car-centric urban area thanks to anemic investment in more robust transportation options and service.

Increasing parking woes at Oxford Exchange and Mise en Place near the University of Tampa are a good example of what we may face more of in the coming years if we remain in our cars. The city will inevitably begin to charge for street parking in busy areas like Tampa Heights and Hyde Park.

As one gentleman originally from Chicago pointed out: “Tampa’s parking is cheap!” Very true, and our valet stands usually only charge $5, if anything. Perhaps they should be charging more?

This group of intelligent, engaged urbanites sounded oddly rehearsed: Give us more options. Jane Jacobs, a famous urban activist and author, once said, “the point of cities is a multiplicity of choice.”

Those choices could be: where to live, how to get around, and where to buy take-out dinner. From a livability perspective, things will further improve with the addition of a Publix grocery store to The Channel District and another massive urban park, Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park, across from The Straz Center.

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.

Nonprofit buys former restaurant for new Wimauma Opportunity Center

A former restaurant, tucked away behind trees near Walmart at State Road 674 and U.S. Highway 301, is poised to become a hub for entrepreneurs in the growing Wimauma community of Hillsborough County’s South Shore.

Enterprising Latinas Inc., a nonprofit working to empower low-income Hispanic women in Tampa Bay, acquired the building and 2.25 acres of land from Roy and Rachel Loken for $735,000, says Liz Gutierrez, ELI Founder and CEO.

The property, formerly a breakfast-and-lunch restaurant called Rachel’s Country Kitchen, will be the site of ELI’s Wimauma Opportunity Center, a place where the community can meet and train for new jobs or entrepreneurial endeavors.

The purchase was made possible by a $250,000 grant from Alleghany Franciscan Ministries, which is investing in the community through its Common Good Initiative. Alleghany is providing another $250,000 to help create an economic development infrastructure, advance economic development and provide training.

ELI also secured a $520,000 loan from the nonprofit Raza Development Fund, the largest Latino Community Development Financial Institution, Gutierrez says.

The project will involve renovating the building’s interior for community learning and shared office use, and adding outdoor signage and lighting. Later on, a complete redesign of the front is anticipated.

“It’s really going to be a hub for all things related to community economic opportunity," explains Gutierrez. “We’re very excited to have a physical place where we can bring people together to expand the work that we already started.”

ELI, which has been leasing at Beth-El Farmworker Ministry on U.S. 301, will also be housed at the facility. It began moving in last week after the Jan. 8 sale.

“All of the customers are coming in looking for Rachel,” Gutierrez says. “They lost their little place. Hopefully we will convert it into a new place they can come back to.”

Located at 5128 State Road 674, the Wimauma Opportunity Center is expected to draw students to the commercial kitchen for culinary training -- including food service management -- starting in February.

“That’s an industry that’s booming all around us,” Gutierrez explains. “When it’s not being used for training, other people can use it be able to get licensed to sell tacos or sandwiches though food trucks. ... Hopefully, it will also be a catalyst of the food micro entrepreneurs that are here in Wimauma and also the surrounding area.”

As development in Hillsborough pushes south, the community with an average income of less than $26,000 a year between 2011-15 is transitioning from farmlands into new subdivisions that look much like homes in neighboring Sun City Center. With help from the Alleghany Franciscan Ministries’ Common Good Initiative, the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay and other concerned citizens, Wimauma residents have been working to direct their own path.

The decision to purchase a facility was made because ELI couldn’t find available rental space, Gutierrez says.

ELI, which has been training childcare workers, expects to again offer that training in February. It is in the process of developing an area transportation system in cooperation with the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority.

“We’re having conversations with a number of different funders that have expressed general commitment to provide startup capital,” she says.

ELI has hired Chamain Moss-Torres, Ph.D., formerly program director at the Children’s Home Network, as its director of economic opportunity initiatives. It also is leasing space to the Wimauma CDC, which is interviewing for an executive director to further the CDC’s mission and manage its staff and programs. The executive director also will serve as its primary fundraiser and spokesperson. Applicants for the position, expected to pay between $75,000-$90,000 annually with benefits, should submit cover letters and resumes to Connectivity Community Consulting at info@connectformore.com.

Adds Gutierrez: “We’re going to be very busy. Our goal over the next year is to touch 100 women and their families,” she says.

Learn more about how the Wimauma community is transitioning for growth though Alleghany Franciscan Ministries-funded On the Ground coverage in 83 Degrees.

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