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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.


Better cafe, new rooftop experiences coming to Clearwater Main Library

A feasibility study is underway to determine the future of Clearwater Main Library’s first-floor café and rooftop terrace.

Library Director Jennifer Obermaier says the upgrades will be part of Phase I of Imagine Clearwater, a $55 million revitalization project the city hopes will reactivate its downtown waterfront and bluff, and spur economic development. The Clearwater City Council approved the study, which will cost just under $100,000, at its July 31 meeting.

The Main Library, the largest of the city’s five branches at 90,000 square feet, was built 15 years ago. “Back then, libraries were very different. They were very traditional,” Obermaier says. “The trend is, right now, and that’s the national trend, is to make things more interactive and move things around.”

For a little over a year, the library has focused on its four-floor Maker Studios. A different studio is featured on each floor -- Creation Studio for Arts & Design, Discovery Studio of Creative Learning, Innovation Studio of Technology & Business, and Heritage Studio of Community Memory. The purpose of the maker spaces is to provide library patrons with opportunities for hands-on learning and the use of advanced technology, including 3-D printers, green screens and video cameras, sewing machines, a laser engraver, scanners and more. The fourth-floor Heritage Studio is still under construction.

Now the café and rooftop terrace are the next areas “ready to be reactivated,” Obermaier says. Last November, city residents passed a referendum to permit modifications to the library. “Everything on the bluff or certain parts of the bluff has to go to referendum,” she adds. “Now we have the opportunity to rethink different areas of the library that aren’t well established.”

When the library was initially built, the rooftop served as a special events space for not only library events, but wedding receptions, banquets, fundraisers for various organizations and outside groups. There was even an event coordinator position designed for booking and managing that rooftop space. “But during the recession, that was one of the positions that was eliminated,” Obermaier says.

Since then, the rooftop terrace has been locked off from the public and only occasionally used for library programming, from Sunset on the Roof to various astronomy events.

“We’re using the space, but we’d like to use it in different ways and more often,” she says.

As for the café space downstairs, there are difficulties surrounding “restraints because they can only open when [the library is] open and there’s no external entrance,” Obermaier says.

She adds, “We had four vendors open in that space and they just couldn’t make a profit.”

For the past five years, the space has been utilized through a partnership with Pinellas County Schools. The school district uses the café as part of its on-the-job-training program for special needs students. “They’re very successful and they’re here during the school day as part of their school work,” she says.

Clearwater Library staff is working with architects Williamson Dacar Associates, Inc. on the study, which should be completed by December. 

The city council will ultimately decide on which option is best for these spaces, once the study is completed and the library presents possibilities to them.

“We’re hoping the architects will look at these spaces and say here’s one possibility, or another, or they’ll just suggest modifying a space for more programmatic activities or a lounging area to sit and read,” Obermaier says. “There are so many possibilities. I’m excited to see what they propose.”

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.”

Enterprising Latinas to graduate first class of childcare workers

Little Angels Wimauma, an early learning family childcare home that will accommodate 10 children in a South Shore community with few childcare options, is expected to open its doors August 30.

The home is the first of at least seven new childcare facilities in the area “that will create a critical mass of opportunity for children in the community to access quality early childhood education in the community where they live,” says Liz Gutierrez, Founder and CEO of Enterprising Latinas, a nonprofit organization working to empower low-income Hispanic woman in the Tampa Bay Area.

“We’re going to change the landscape of the community. We’re going to create opportunities for women,” she asserts. “We’re going to address a major challenge in the community, which is the lack of school readiness among children.”

Little Angels Wimauma’s owner, Jackie Brown, was part of a childcare class offered by Enterprising Latinas, which through its Opportunity Center is working to help the community by activating women. Brown’s staff will include a couple of part-time substitutes from her training class.

“I am doing my part as best I can to help families to realize dreams and goals,” says Brown, a Wimauma CDC member who grew up in the community. “It means everything to me because I live here. I work here. I’m advocating on the part of Wimauma every day.”

A ribbon cutting ceremony, which is open to the public, is slated for 4 p.m. on August 29th, at 5803 North St., Wimauma. It is followed by a 5 p.m. graduation and reception for the class of 30 that completed the Wimauma Cares training program. The graduation and reception will be at the Opportunity Center at 18240 U.S. Highway 301 S., Wimauma. Space is limited, so interested parties are asked to RSVP by emailing Sara Arias or calling 813-699-5811.

The celebration culminates a year-long endeavor enabled by financial support from Allegany Franciscan Ministries, the Children’s Board of Hillsborough County and Hillsborough County.

“They took a chance,” she says. “We are very grateful. Without this, we couldn’t have done this.”

While the class may appear to be a simple task to English-speaking individuals, it seemed to be an insurmountable challenge to some of the women who endured. “If English is not your first language, passing this course is no easy feat,” Gutierrez explains.

“They’ve been able to prove to themselves that they could do this,” she says.

Plans already are underway to open more childcare facilities, one of them at Peniel Baptist Church near Wimauma Elementary School. “We are working with them right now, so they can get the work done on the property,” Gutierrez says.

Development in the South Shore area of Hillsborough County is expected to increase the need for community-based childcare.

A waiting list of 70 for the next childcare class in South Shore is a testimony of the popularity of the class. Another 12 are waiting for a Tampa class. “They [the people from Tampa] heard about this and they’re working in lousy jobs and they want the training. They want us to do a Saturday course,” Gutierrez explains. “There’s a lot of interest. We’re going to do it.”


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.

Vision Zero: How to make local streets safer for everyone? Join the conversation August 22

Are you passionate about making streets throughout the Tampa Bay region safer for drivers, passengers and vulnerable road users like cyclists and pedestrians?

Team up with the Hillsborough MPO's Vision Zero coalition at the Tampa Theatre on August 22 for the fourth in a series of public workshops geared toward creating a more bike-friendly culture and improved safety measures for all users of the streets of Hillsborough County -- which is currently recognized as one of the most deadly places in the United States to be a pedestrian. 

Following 10 months of research and data collection, brainstorming, outlining plans, gathering community input, revising plans and hammering out details: the four Vision Zero "Action Tracks'' will present their one-, two- and five-year action plans to make Hillsborough County streets safer for all users at the August workshop.

The four Vision Zero Action Tracks are as follows: 
  • Paint Saves Lives: low-cost, high-impact engineering strategies for safer streets
  • One Message, Many Voices: public education and awareness strategies
  • Consistent and Fair: community-oriented law enforcement
  • The Future Will Not Be Like the Past: context-sensitive design for walkable communities

Like previous Vision Zero community workshops held in 2017, the workshop at Tampa Theatre will focus thematically on one of the campaign's four core Action Tracks -- in this instance, ''One Message, Many Voices.''

Vision Zero Hillsborough aims to put a human face on the impact of traffic violence through the power of storytelling, with a series of short films and speakers from the Tampa Bay area whose lives have been affected directly by tragedy.

The message is a sobering one: Too many lives are lost on Tampa area streets to tragic and preventable traffic accidents. 

Speakers at the upcoming workshop will include Valerie Jones, whose daughter, Alexis Miranda, a 17-year-old Chamberlain High School student, was killed attempting to cross Busch Boulevard on her way to school in 2015. 

"We are encouraging people to attend that have been victims of some sort, and who could give a testimonial on their experience," says Hillsborough MPO Executive Planner Gena Torres. ??"We also welcome anyone in the audience [to speak]. You'd be surprised by how many people have someone they love who was hurt or killed in traffic accidents," Torres adds. 

The "Vision Zero" resolution of reducing traffic fatalities and injuries to zero was adopted in 2017 by the Hillsborough County Commission, the Tampa City Council, Temple Terrace City Council, Plant City Commission and the School Board of Hillsborough County. 

Join the Vision Zero coalition for its fourth workshop of 2017 on August 22 from 9 to 11 a.m. at the Tampa Theatre, 7111 N. Franklin St.

Learn more about Vision Zero and join the movement at the Plan Hillsborough website.

Read more stories about Vision Zero in 83 Degrees.

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.


New James Museum transforms 100 block of Central Ave., Downtown St. Pete

A 105-ton stone mesa will frame the entrance to the Tom & Mary James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art Museum, St. Petersburg’s newest addition to its growing collection of arts and cultural organizations.  

Located at the corner of 100 Central Avenue and First Avenue South in the heart of downtown, the James Museum represents the vision of Tom James, chairman emeritus of Raymond James Financial, and his wife Mary.

The James’ have donated $50 million to build the museum, which is expected to be completed by the end of 2017 with a grand opening in early 2018.

The museum will display a portion of the James’ vast collection of more than 3,000 pieces of western and wildlife art and sculpture, as well as Native American jewelry.  The couple began collecting western and wildlife art in the late 1950s and now have one of the largest private collections in Florida.

“When my wife Mary and I decided to share the best of our collection through the establishment of a museum, it made perfect sense to build that museum in the city that has been our home for over 50 years and so much a part of our family’s success,” says James. 

“Anchored by the Dali Museum, St. Petersburg already has such a strong arts presence in downtown,” says James. “We wanted to augment the array of cultural attractions and further establish the city as a cultural destination, while providing educational and entertainment opportunities for the community.” 

The final steel beam that will support the 219-foot foot tall stone mesa was lowered into place at the end of June during a “topping off” ceremony.  The event marked slightly more than the halfway point for construction of the 84,000-square foot museum, which when completed will be larger than The Dali Museum.

From parking garage to museum

The  location of the new James Museum will be a first for the city. Rather than taking shape as a free-standing entity,  the museum is being built within the bottom two floors of the SouthCore Parking Garage, a distinctive pink landmark in the 100 block of Central Avenue.  The new ONE 41-story luxury condo tower is under construction across the street. 

Last year, St. Petersburg City Council approved a 50-year lease between the city and the museum. Parking for the museum and the public will continue to be available in the remainder of the eight-story public parking garage.

In a prepared statement, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman says he is enthusiastic about the city’s partnership with the museum, which will bring another significant landmark to the downtown core.

The Beck Group is overseeing construction of the museum, which will include a 30,000-square-feet gallery space, 6,000-square feet event space, 120-seat theater, indoor sculpture court, commercial catering kitchen, café and museum store.

St. Pete Design Group, a joint venture between Harvard Jolly Architecture, Architect Yann Weymouth and Wanemacher Jensen Architects, are designing the exterior and interior.  

Weymouth designed The Dali Museum, now a major draw for visitors internationally to the city. The design for the new James Museum is expected to be just as distinctive architecturally. In addition to the 105-ton stone mesa on the front of the building, interior features include a two-story stone arroyo and waterfall.

Driving economic development

The museum’s construction presents significant development opportunities for the 100 block of Central Avenue.  

Besides transforming a 30-year-old city parking garage into a museum, the team will be creating 35,000-square-feet of retail space on the east and west side of the garage -- prime street level property that is expected to transform this corner of downtown.  

The Sembler Company is leasing ground floor retail units and Echelon Real Estate Services is leasing the Class A Office space located on the second floor.

“When we selected the museum’s location, we had in mind that we should help build and beautify that part of downtown, encourage development of hotels and other amenities for residents and visitors and make the area more attractive and pedestrian friendly,”  Tom James said at an event last year announcing the launch of the new museum. “We could have given our collection to other museums or have sold it, but we thought what better opportunity to continue the development of our city.”

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.”


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.

Homebuilder buys land in Westshore Marina District

Premier homebuilder WCI Communities has purchased 2.35 acres for $2.5 million as part of a $14.5 million, two-phase land deal in the Westshore Marina District, a walkable planned community off Westshore Boulevard south of Gandy Boulevard.

The developer, Fort Lauderdale-based BTI Partners, announced the land deal with WCI, which plans to build 35 three-story townhouses in the 52-acre master planned community. WCI also has agreed to purchase a second, 9.5 acre waterfront site, with a closing anticipated by early 2018, BTI Partners announced.

WCI declined to provide details.

It [Westshore Marina District] is adjacent to some of the best housing and residential areas of Tampa,” says Beck Daniel, BTI Partners' Executive VP of Development.

Although land in the area has historically been industrial, it’s not regarded as such now. “We haven’t really looked at it as an industrial area. We’ve just looked at it as ripe for redevelopment,” Daniel says.

Earlier plans to develop the property didn’t materialize because of the economic downturn. 

BTI Partners addresses neighborhood issues like lack of usable waterfront, walkability, and traffic in its development plan, Daniel says.

The community, designed to transform the waterfront, may include up to 1,750 residential units, a 200-room hotel, retail, restaurants and office space, 185 to 240 marina slips and a 1.5 mile-waterfront park. The 14-acre marina basin will be the largest in the area.

We like the Tampa market,” says Daniel.“We’re all over the state. We try and stick to the big metros.”

Earlier this year, BTI Partners sold eight acres in the development to Miami-based Related Group, which also is building an eight-story apartment complex on the site of the former Tampa Tribune building at 202 S. Parker St.

Twenty acres in the Westshore Marina District remain unspoken for. “We try not to talk too much about the future phases until we get there,” Daniel says. “We’re hoping to announce some retail parcels soon.”

BTI Partners is proceeding with the infrastructure.“By the end of this year, we’ll have an entry road coming into the project,” he asserts. “We’re excited because everything seems to be moving forward without a hitch.

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