Tampa Downtown Partnership forum offers insights on Tampa Bay Sun, Water Street

For Tampa Bay Sun co-owner Darryl Shaw and General Manager Christina Unkel, bringing women’s professional soccer to the Bay Area has special significance. 

During the Tampa Downtown Partnership’s annual State of Tampa’s Downtown Forum on May 7th, Shaw and Unkel shared why the club’s inaugural season, which kicks off in August, will be personally meaningful. Shaw says growing up, he was a fan of the Tampa Bay Rowdies, the team that first brought professional soccer to Tampa. In the Rowdies’ 1970s and 80s heyday, the club drew large crowds to the old Tampa Stadium. Shaw says his father brought him to the matches, fueling a lifelong love of soccer.

For Unkel, the Sun represents an opportunity she did not have. After she finished her college soccer career at Palm Beach Atlantic University, there was no women’s professional soccer league for her to continue her playing career. She went on to become an attorney and businessperson and forged a career in soccer as a referee and a television analyst.

Now, Unkel says times have changed for women’s sports. Look at the television audience Caitlin Clark and other hoops stars drew for this year’s NCAA women’s basketball tournament and the ticket sales Clark has generated since moving on to the WNBA.

“This isn’t a moment, it’s momentum,” Unkel says.  

As Tampa Bay's first women's professional soccer team, the Sun looks to build on that momentum. Unkel says season ticket sales have been brisk even though the schedule hasn't been released yet. She says the team will play 14 home matches and 14 away matches and follow a FIFA international schedule that allows players to play for their national teams without missing league matches.

The Sun is renovating the riverfront stadium in downtown's West Riverfront district where Blake High School plays to serve as a temporary home the team will share with the high school. Shaw says it’s a location where fans can come downtown before a match, have dinner and then do a “march to the match,” perhaps even a boat armada.
In the long term, the team plans to build a permanent stadium. Shaw, who is involved in a slew of historic renovation and large-scale new construction development projects in the Ybor City area, says he’d like that stadium to be in Ybor.

Tampa Downtown PartnershipTampa Bay Sun co-owner Darryl Shaw, with the club scarf draped over his shoulders, at the Tampa Downtown Partnership's annual State of Tampa's Downtown Forum.“We don’t have a timeframe,” he says. “I prefer it to be sooner than later."

Shaw says the goal is a dedicated soccer stadium of 12,000 to 15,000 seats that could one day also be home to a men’s team. He says the venue could host concerts, special events and international soccer tournaments.

While the location of the permanent stadium is yet to be determined, the Sun’s practice field and training facility have a home- the former Kforce Inc. campus on Seventh Avenue and Nebraska Avenue at the western edge of Ybor City. Shaw says the locker room and gym are complete and, after crews lay the sod for the practice field, players will arrive in late June or early July. 

“It’s a great location in the urban core,” he says. “If the players choose to live in the area, they can walk to practice. They can take the trolley to downtown, the Riverwalk and Water Street.”

Water Street

This year’s Downtown Partnership forum was at the Tampa Marriott Water Street. It's an appropriate venue for Strategic Property Partners CEO Josh Taube and Executive Vice President Brad Cooke to share insights on the firm's long-awaited, recently announced plans for what comes next at the massive, mixed-use waterfront district. Back in 2019, the renovation and renaming of this Marriott was one of the development's first projects. 

Today, the completed first phase of Water Street Tampa spans 4.2 million square feet of space, with three upscale hotels, luxury condominium and apartment towers, in-demand restaurants, retail shops and bars and a Class A office tower. The first phase officially finished in the fall of 2022 with the opening of the Tampa EDITION luxury hotel. After that, Strategic Property Partners kept mum publicly about what was next - until late April’s announcement of plans for a residential condominium building, a build-to-suit trophy office complex and an entertainment destination to complement Amalie Arena. 

“We’re kind of like that duck on the pond that looks like it’s gliding but the feet underneath the water are moving furiously,” Taube says during the Downtown Partnership meeting. “That’s kind of the way we felt. We’ve been willfully quiet trying to measure and wait for the right time and be really thoughtful because there were so many successes, I think, in our first phase.”Tampa Downtown PartnershipStrategic Property Partners CEO Josh Taube and Executive Vice President Brad Cooke discuss the next stage of development for the Water Street Tampa district during the Tampa Downtown Partnerhip's annual State of Tampa's Downtown Forum.

Cooke reflected on the massive scope of the first phase, which consisted of 12 buildings, with apartment and condo towers, three hotels and 500,000 square feet of office space, including Tampa’s first new office tower in three decades.

“We really needed to do all of that at once to create that sense of place,” Cooke says. “It was a huge investment. It was a huge leap of faith. But there was nothing there so we needed to create that sense of place across a wide range and mix of uses.”

Taube and Cooke say the development philosophy now shifts to looking at what Water Street has and filling gaps. For example, the next stage will add an area of green space for markets, concerts and other outdoor events along the extension of the roadway Water Street.

The planned office and residential towers will be located along that Water Street extension, which is currently under construction north of the 900 and 1000 blocks of Cumberland Avenue. The condo tower will be the Water Street development’s tallest building. The entertainment complex will be north of Amalie Arena between South Morgan and South Jefferson streets. It will have a select service hotel, an event parking garage and a variety of entertainment-oriented uses. 

Meanwhile, Water Street continues to bring in new restaurants, retail shops and corporate tenants. Chef Ferrell Alvarez’s Ash restaurant, which features Italian-inspired cuisine, the music-themed cocktail lounge Alter Ego and the locally-owned blow dry bar Sip & Dry opened in April. Orlando’s Tidewater Home & Gift is adding a Water Street location. Biomefit, a boutique fitness studio, opens at Sparkman Wharf in the summer.

In May, Toorak Capital Partners, a capital provider to the real estate lending industry, moved its headquarters from New Jersey to the sixth floor of the Thousand & One office tower. Investment bank PEI Global Partners, which already had offices in Thousand & One, moved to a larger space on the 11th floor.

For more information, go to Tampa Downtown PartnershipTampa Bay Sun, Water Street Tampa.
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by Christopher Curry.

Chris Curry has been a writer for the 83 Degrees Media team since 2017. Chris also served as the development editor for a time before assuming the role of managing editor in May 2022. Chris lives in Clearwater. His professional career includes more than 15 years as a newspaper reporter, primarily in Ocala and Gainesville, before moving back home to the Tampa Bay Area. He enjoys the local music scene, the warm winters and Tampa Bay's abundance of outdoor festivals and events. When he's not working or spending time with family, he can frequently be found hoofing the trails at one of Pinellas County's nature parks.