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Will Le Meridien Hotel Jumpstart Investments In Downtown Tampa?






The long-awaited start of renovation work to transition the Classic Federal Courthouse in downtown Tampa into a boutique hotel called the Le Meridien is as important for preserving the architecturally significant historic building as it is as a symbol of community progress when it comes to revitalizing the city’s urban core.

The Franklin Street Courthouse, a behemoth of a building complete with granite columns, marble floors, brass fixtures and solid oak door frames (mahogany too?), tells the stories of Tampa like none other (think “If Walls Could Talk,’’ the HGTV series) -- tales from the infamous federal prisoners held in basement cells to the animated and well-coifed lawyers strutting the hallways to the black-robed judges presiding over trial details chilling enough to make courtroom chandeliers shiver.

While developers plan to salvage many of the original fixtures and material for the enjoyment of future hotel guests, the renovation is most significant because it will help shape what's next in the surrounding neighborhood.

Le Meridien is just one of several ongoing and proposed projects poised to take off as the economy heats up and investors return to considering the possibilities.

According to the Tampa Downtown Partnership, more than 1,500 housing units will be added downtown within the next year to a housing stock that now includes about 4,300 mostly apartments and condos.

Projects Underway In Or Near Downtown Tampa

Possibly the most exciting and potentially controversial is a proposal calling for a high-rise apartment building on the east side of the Hillsborough River along the Tampa Riverwalk. Proposed by Greg Minder of the Intown Group along with business partner Philip Smith of the Framework Group, the project would add a 36-story tower next to the John Germany Public Library, with retail on the ground floor, five floors of parking and 30 stories of moderately priced apartments on top. Mayor Bob Buckhorn is pushing the project for its promise to provide housing for coveted young professionals on an important piece of property close to the Straz Center and the Tampa Museum of Art.

Over in the Channel District, Pierhouse Apartments is being built by Related Group LLC. The new construction will mean 356 additional apartments on Meridian Avenue.

Just north of downtown, Encore Tampa is under construction, initially offering new apartments for seniors (The Ella opened in December) and soon to offer a planned community complete with apartments, family homes, parks, shops, cafes, schools and walkable streets.

On Bayshore Boulevard just south of downtown, Crescent Resources is building Circle Bayshore, an eight-story, 367-apartment building going up within an easy walk of downtown and Davis Islands.

And just west of the University of Tampa, NoHo Flats is coming out of the ground -- 300+ new apartments being built on Rome Avenue, adjacent to a new Tampa General Hospital rehab center.

Office Space Growing Too

Downtown Tampa office space is at 90 percent occupancy and growing.

Still pulling together commitments is the proposed Southgate Tower project across Florida Avenue from USF’s new CAMLs building near the Tampa Bay Times Forum. TrammelCrow is offering 400,000 square feet of flexible floor plans with easy access to Interstates 275 and 4, plus the Crosstown Expressway and the Tampa Port.

The FirstWaVE Venture Center opens in March in the renamed Rivergate Tower (the round building) and will soon house dozens of startup companies looking for coworking space and synergy necessary to launch. A new Kahwa Cafe and the Florida Museum of Photographic Art in the same building add to the urban ambience and energy that permeates the space. 

Places To Eat

A new Tun-du-ree Indian restaurant opened on Franklin Street earlier this year, joining dozens of ethnic restaurants and popular coffee shops that line Tampa, Franklin and Florida as well as cross streets in between.

Bay Bistro, a Florida light cafe, opened about the same time at the Tampa Convention Center near the popular Sail Pavilion. And the Columbia Cafe at the Tampa Bay History Center and the SoNo Cafe at the Tampa Museum of Art enjoy steady weekend traffic, particularly around events in Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park and Cotanchobee Park.

Things To Do

There's lots going on to draw a crowd coming up, especially during March when Gasparilla festivals showcase the arts, film  and music of the region.

Also check out the increasingly popular Sunday Market along Zack Street, Rock The Park on first Thursdays at Curtis Hixon Park, featuring local bands, The Mayor's Food Truck Fiesta on first Wednesdays in Lykes Park, and Flicks and Food Trucks, a third Thursday monthly gathering in the Channel District.

More Boutique Hotels In Downtown Tampa

Also in the planning stages: Aloft Downtown -- the former Mercantile Bank building at the southwest corner of Kennedy Boulevard and Ashley Street is being converted into a boutique hotel.

At Florida Avenue and Cass Street, the renovated Floridan Hotel is a fun spot for cocktails after work and is now being reserved for spring and summer weddings as well as for housing during upcoming conventions.

The former Hyatt Regency on Jackson Street is being renovated and is already flying the Hilton flag.

More Movement

The renovated Exchange National Bank building on Franklin Street is now open as The Vault for events and meetings.

The newly renovated Oxford Exchange on Kennedy Boulevard is one of the hottest places in town to meetup. The high-end gift shop along with afternoon teas and lofty meeting spaces, including The Library upstairs, are unique attractors.

And The Element, one of downtown’s premier condo buildings, is for sale.

Additional shops, restaurants, night clubs, apartments and even a major grocery store are on a variety of drawing boards.

Diane Egner, a longtime journalist and former editorial writer at The Tampa Tribune, is publisher and managing editor of 83 Degrees Media. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.
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