Temple Terrace rekindles efforts to design town center for future

Temple Terrace is putting redevelopment back on its drawing board in a major way.

After years of delay due to a sour economy and a court settlement with a prior developer, plans to redevelop the city's downtown are on track for a future with real possibilities.

And the city's efforts are part of a broader vision for the area that includes decisions by the Tampa Innovation Alliance, the University of South Florida, Busch Gardens and the new owners of University Mall. The combined efforts shouldn't be downplayed, according to Martin Hudson, Temple Terrace's redevelopment director.

"I can't stress enough how these efforts are tied together," Hudson said. "We feel the timing has finally come. We also believe the efforts of the Tampa (Innovation) Alliance are definitely going to have a very positive influence on our downtown efforts. That's a big deal."

Temple Terrace, however, starts with one advantage, Hudson said. "We are probably further along to trigger projects this year."

In 2015 the city formally issued a request for developers to step forward with concepts, financial plans and an interest in "thinking out of the box" with innovative projects to revive the town center. "That was really our effort to tell the development community that we were back in business," Hudson said.

Since then Roy Eriksson has appeared before the Temple Terrace City Council twice to lay out his concept for a five-story, 150,000 square-foot office building at the juncture of 56th Street and Bullard Parkway. A vacant Burger King sits now at the intersection.

Eriksson's building would become the new headquarters for his company, Eriksson Technologies. His concept includes ground floor retail, parking garages and offices for his approximately 50 employees.

Eriksson Technologies is a structural engineering and computer software company with a long-time presence in Temple Terrace. 

"It's really nice to see someone coming forward from within the community," says Temple Terrace resident Phil Levy. "That's very positive."

The building would be eco-friendly, and an example of the kind of vertical, mixed-use development that the city needs, says Temple Terrace Councilman Grant Rimbey.

It could be a spark to encourage other development, he adds.

While Eriksson is alone in offering public glimpses of his vision, Hudson says, "We have had multiple feelers from developers in the area."

The next step probably will come in the spring, Hudson says, when the city puts out its requests for bids on specific projects.

City lays groundwork to shape what's next

In 2015 land use and zoning regulations for 20 acres owned by Temple Terrace were overhauled and given a set of core principles to guide development. Another 200 acres, in private hands, also is targeted as part of a wider redevelopment area.

The city's property is bordered by 56th Street, Bullard Parkway and the Hillsborough River. More than two years ago, the land became embroiled in a lawsuit between developer Vlass Temple Terrace and the city. In a settlement, Temple Terrace agreed to pay about $1.6 million to recover ownership of the property which it had deeded at no charge to Vlass.

The vision at the time was to create a town center with a Mediterranean-style facade.

"It gives its own flair," says Rimbey, who is an architect. But singular motifs also can "look fake," he says.

The new efforts favor architectural variety and avoid putting all the city's eggs into one developer's basket.

However, Hudson says, "It does require quality architecture. For each building we want it to meet the end needs of the user. It gives freedom to each project. We really focus on just the core elements in each project."

The city's goal is to approve buildings of no more than five stories, unless a waiver is granted for unusual circumstances. A high-density urban environment with walkable spaces is desired. Among permitted uses are apartments, townhouses, live/work dwellings that combine commercial and residential, library, museum and a performing arts facility.

Specifically banned are single family residences, appliance stores, golf course and driving range, car rental agency and gas stations with or without convenience stores.

Giving credit where credit is due

Many credit Hudson with restarting the stalled redevelopment efforts.

The city hired him last year for a position that had been vacant since 2008 when the real estate downturn crushed hopes for a downtown revival.

"My job was to kind of clean the system up," Hudson says. 

There was no one to steer the ship, says Rimbey. "But (Hudson) knows what he's doing."

Over several months the city reached out to not only developers but residents, business owners and property owners to craft a consensus. Public meetings, surveys and Facebook provided a map of what the community at-large wanted.

"In two or three years the things going on in Temple Terrace will be amazing," says Lee Bell, President and CEO for the Temple Terrace Chamber of Commerce. "There is just this big buzz about everything going on in this area. The city of Temple Terrace is sitting on a little pot of gold with its 20 acres."

Read more articles by Kathy Steele.

Kathy Steele is a feature writer and editor at 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.
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