Building anticipation: New places and spaces opening soon in the Tampa Bay Area

The Tampa Bay Area’s forward march continues into the 2020s as builders and other contractors put the finishing touches on several major residential and commercial developments expected to open this year. 

In Tampa alone, dozens of construction projects are underway in response to phenomenal population growth in the past decade and projections that the region will grow by another 6-to-7 percent from 2020 to 2023. Others are aiming to open in time for Tampa to host the Super Bowl in 2021. While still others are in the works but won't open till 2022 and beyond.

Downtown St. Petersburg continues to evolve as a major arts and culture destination, and smaller communities like Clearwater, Safety Harbor, Gulfport, Plant City, Temple Terrace, and others are working diligently to reimagine themselves to attract merchants, restaurants, and galleries to their downtowns and people from around the globe to live in local neighborhoods.

Luxury apartment and condominium towers are popping up on both sides of the Bay as are office buildings, restaurants, hotels, and co-working spaces, making this area of Florida one of the fastest-growing regions in the nation. 

Here are some of the projects building anticipation:

USF Health Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute 

Classes began this week at the University of South Florida’s new downtown medical school. The project culminates nearly five years of design and construction of a 13-story building, which is already helping to attract the best in education and research. Offering cardiovascular and other specialty med school courses as well as a research facility that focuses on active learning vs. lecturing, USF decided on the Water Street Tampa location for the Morsani College of Medicine to be in close proximity to Tampa General, USF's longtime teaching hospital. Tampa General will operate an urgent care clinic on the first floor of the med school and clinical practice space on the ninth floor. 

A Physician Assistant program begins there in May 2021, and courses will begin to train future pharmacists in the fall of 2021. 

“When we broke ground in late 2015, we said we would build the future of USF Health and the Morsani College of Medicine,” says Charles Lockwood, Senior VP of USF Health.

“One thing to be sure of: This building is a mecca of modern innovations in both form and function. From classroom and lab layouts to technology capabilities and beyond, this is one of the most sophisticatedly designed spaces in the city.”

According to USF estimates, the building is projected to have a local and statewide economic impact of more than $70 million.

Embarc Collective

Describing itself as “a startup collective -- curators of experiences, resources, and environment that help forward-thinking founders and their teams thrive in Tampa Bay,” Embarc Collective celebrated its brick-and-mortar soft opening last week in the former District 3 warehouse north of Amalie Arena.

Part of the Water Street Tampa development by investors Jeff Vinik and Bill Gates, the new state-of-the-art office space in downtown Tampa sports sleek spaces designed by KWJ and the Kreher/Barna Design Studio and amenities such as podcasting and event facilities, an event space for groups of 250 or more, a public cafe, a lending library, and an outdoor lounge.

The 501c3 nonprofit assists startup executives and entrepreneurs with individualized support from executive advisors and function-specific experts. The 32,000-square-foot collaboration facility at East Whiting and North Jefferson streets houses Endeavr Coffee, a new cafe concept from Blind Tiger Cafe owner Roberto Torres, which also soft-opened to the public this past week. Torres recently acquired the New York-style Jewish deli, Cass Street Deli. Working with the deli staff at 1331 W. Cass St., Endeavr will fulfill catering orders at the Embarc building, where his team is the preferred caterer.

Junior Achievement of Tampa Bay has also launched an entrepreneurship academy and lab with Embarc Collective, who’s also planning to partner with the University of South Florida, University of Tampa, Tampa Bay Wave and the Florida-Israel Business Accelerator.

Heights Union 

With an overall design harmonious with the historic character of the Tampa Heights neighborhood, Heights Union can be found on the southwest corner of West Palm Avenue and North Tampa Street -- near Armature Works, Water Works Park, The Pearl apartments, and the Tampa Riverwalk. The two, six-story, Class AA office buildings will have an adjacent 1,500-space parking garage, 42,000-square-feet of ground-floor retail, and a tree-lined linear park. A rooftop deck will offer a panoramic view of downtown Tampa and the Hillsborough River. Amenities at the 2002 N. Tampa St. project, designed by Alfonso Architecture of Tampa, will include bike share and bike storage, a fitness center, and showers. It will have exposed structural elements, high ceilings, and large industrial windows as well as a communal workspace with WiFi and meeting areas. It is scheduled to open in mid-2020.

JW Marriott Tampa

The 26-story hotel tower marks the debut of Marriott International’s luxury brand in Tampa Bay. Expect the Water Street Tampa hotel to feature four distinct dining and drinking options, a full-service spa, a 3,000-square-foot fitness center, two expansive rooftop pools, a rooftop lawn and sun terrace, and street-level retail space.

A glass-enclosed four-story atrium, which developer Strategic Property Partners says has been “designed to encourage socialization and collaboration” will welcome guests in the lobby, while the hotel’s 26th floor will feature an indoor and outdoor rooftop venue space that offers “sweeping 360-degree views of downtown Tampa and Hillsborough Bay.”

The JW Marriott Tampa will also provide 100,000 square feet of meeting and event space, including one of the largest hotel ballrooms in Tampa Bay -- at 30,000 square feet -- located steps from the existing Tampa Marriott Water Street via a new sky bridge. Together, the two hotels will create the largest collection of hotel rooms and meeting space in Tampa Bay, with 1,246 rooms and 150,000-square-feet of meeting and event space across the street from the Tampa Convention Center.

St. Pete Pier
For many of us, the demolition of downtown St. Pete’s iconic inverted pyramid feels like it happened yesterday, but its redesign process has been underway for more than a decade. 

When Mayor Rick Kriseman took office in 2014, the inverted pyramid was closed and the pier leading to it had been fenced off and locked up. One of his first acts as mayor included unlocking that fence. He initiated a rigorous process of public engagement, including forming a citizen committee to oversee citizen input around pier function. The Pier Selection Committee deliberated and voted for the new St. Pete Pier slated to open this spring. 

A top request from residents: Make the new Pier more family-friendly. The new site accommodates. At the heart of Pier Plaza will be an interactive feature that’s both a water fountain and a splash pad. 

The Tilted Lawn provides a relaxing, grassy spot to take in views of the waterfront and skyline, and The Coastal Thicket teaches kids about native vegetation. In addition, the Discovery Center will provide information about the Tampa Bay Estuary, and an expanded Spa Beach will refresh with watersports and sunbathing.

Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille will serve seafood, sandwiches, salads, and much more. The Driftwood Café at the Pier Head will offer casual fare and the café at the Pavilion will provide several quick-serve items to enjoy at the beach or Family Park.

“The new St. Pete Pier will be an endless source of activity where kids of all ages can have a place to burn off energy in a safe, creative environment,” says Kristin Brett, Pier communications director.

Museum of the Arts & Crafts Movement

The five-story museum, designed by famed Tampa-based architect Alberto Alfonso, has a list of postponed opening dates going back to 2017, but should be completed in early 2020, we hear. The museum will house collector Rodolfo “Rudy” Ciccarello’s collection of more than 2,000 objects from the early 20th century. Works include furniture, ceramics, tiles, glass, and lighting. In addition, there will be 40,000-square-feet of permanent gallery space, a grand atrium, a museum store, a cafe, Ambrosia restaurant, and a research library. The website is also still under construction but will ultimately be live at

Ground-breaking, immersive art attractions 

A trend spurred by the popularity of Meow Wolf in New Mexico, immersive art installations resembling carnivals, roadside attractions, and amusement parks have pooled the talents of artist communities across the country. Similarly in St. Petersburg, the new Fairgrounds will mix enlightenment with entertainment while providing a creative space for artists at The Factory in St. Pete’s Warehouse District, 2788 Fairfield Ave. S. The project will encompass 12,000-square-feet as an immersive experiential art exhibition featuring artworks by local and international artists, performers, writers, musicians, and storytellers. Follow Fairgrounds Projects on Facebook for updates on progress and upcoming calls to artists. 

And in Tampa, multimedia arts collective Crab Devil is getting off the ground in Seminole Heights. Project partners include Tempus Projects, Cunsthaus, LiveWork Studios, Experimental Skeleton, and others. To start, Crab Devil plans to open Deviant Libation, a new brewery, and new Tempus Projects galleries at a 2020 date to be announced. The collective plans to produce Peninsularium, “one of the largest, collaborative, multi-disciplinary arts efforts that Florida has ever seen” in 2021. 

Deviant Libation, Tempus, and the Peninsularium will be sharing approximately 8,000-square-feet of building space, says member Devon Brady of LiveWork Studios. The collective’s concept will invoke the roadside attractions of yesteryear with a family-friendly cabinet of curiosities. 

“Crab Devil will be using the common spaces and a small portion of the gallery as an entrance to the Peninsularium,” adds Brady. “The majority of The Peninsularium will be built out in shipping containers on the adjoining lot over the next year. There will be signage for all three entities at 3800 N. Nebraska Ave. There's already a big Crab Devil sign flying over the site.” 


Nearing completion, the tallest condo tower on Bayshore Boulevard, the Virage, boasts 10-foot ceilings, floor-to-ceiling windows, panoramic views of Hillsborough Bay and downtown Tampa, private elevator entrances, an infinity-edge pool overlooking the waterfront, a state-of-the-art wellness center, pet grooming facilities, and a 24-hour staffed reception. At the center of the property, a grand oak tree remains unharmed under the continuous care of an arborist. More than 150 years old, the oak is the signature element of the Virage's arrival court. A handful of units are left with prices ranging from $1 million to a little less than $5 million. Move-ins are expected in March.

Sanctuary at Alexandra Place

Located next to the iconic Fred Ball Park, another tall structure adds to the emerging skyline of Bayshore Boulevard in South Tampa. The Sanctuary, named to convey the building’s verdant, natural surroundings, is estimated to cost around $45 million with units starting at $2.7 million. Impressing prospective residents with more than unobstructed views, the residential tower provides residents an “impact-rated” frameless glass system -- the first of its kind in the state of Florida. The Sanctuary is the only condo tower in Tampa offering one condominium per floor. The amenity deck, nestled next to Fred Ball Park’s tree canopy, will offer private poolside cabanas, a fire pit, a hot tub area, and an outdoor kitchen. Two units are still available through Smith & Associates. The completed building is scheduled to open in late 2020.

Hotel Haya

The four-story boutique hotel will open in the heart of Ybor City in 2020. "Hotel Haya offers a rare opportunity to reflect on the deep layers and stories of one of America’s most unique, historic neighborhoods, and bring new life into its future evolution in a very meaningful and purposeful fashion,” says the hotel group’s co-founder, Kevin Robinson, in a prepared statement. If you’re not a hotel guest, you can visit an Italian-Cuban cafe on the property.

Fly Bar & Restaurant 

A favorite of local cocktail connoisseurs, the Fly Bar, once situated on North Franklin, expects to emerge from its cocoon and land within the historic Lafayette Arcade at Grand Central, a flatiron building on Kennedy Boulevard just west of downtown Tampa. Neighbors will include the Oxford Exchange, Falk Theatre, Mise en Place, and the new Altis Grand Central apartments. Diners seated at north-facing tables can enjoy a lovely view of the University of Tampa and its iconic minarets. Expect jazz-inspired drinks, their famous nachos, a new look, and a freshened-up drink menu.

Cigar City Taproom

Brew and Bolts fans: The Cigar City Brewing Taproom, as part of a sponsorship deal with Cigar City Brewing, is now officially open at Amalie Arena. You can find it under the Pam Iorio Parking Garage, just off the west plaza. It will be open on event days and select non-event days. The Amalie will also host Hunahpu’s Beer Festival on March 13. Hunahpu's, Cigar City’s popular celebration of the brewery's Hunahpu's Imperial Stout, which comes out only once a year. This year's festival marks the 11th anniversary of the event. Cigar City's Jai Alai, Guayabera, and Florida Cracker are available for sale throughout the arena, as well as on tap at the Cigar City Brewing club level bar located at sections 211-212.

Catrinas Tacos and Tequila Bar 

This new addition to NoHo, in Old West Tampa’s late 1800s Bank of Tampa building, should delight with authentic, robust Mexican fare served in a stylishly colorful setting filled with Day of the Dead imagery. Karol Ortiz and Tisbeth Mejia, owners of the now-shuttered Cocina Y Galeria on MacDill Avenue, have rebooted in the historic quarter with counter service/made-to-order service and a private speakeasy vault room that can be reserved for up to 10 people. The 1,500-square-foot Catrinas Tacos and Tequila Bar eatery will feature familiar menu items and sangrias, freshly made tortillas and an open-kitchen concept. A soft opening is planned for Jan. 17. 

Xochitl Cocina Mexicana

Pronounced So-Cheel, the Tampa Heights Mexican restaurant will feature handcrafted, elevated Mexican cuisine, a full roster bar in an upscale setting, located near the Tampa Riverwalk on the ground floor of The Pearl apartment complex. It’s just across the street from Armature Works. When entering, a 12-foot-by-5-foot mural, depicting the restaurant’s Aztec princess-namesake, welcomes diners with open arms. St. Petersburg-based artist Daniel Barojas, nearly finished with the majestic figure, has painted her with vivid color and adornments. It is scheduled to open by March.

La Pergola St. Pete 

Lanfranco Pescante, David Anderson, Lou Dommer, and Executive Chef Fabio will bring a high-end Italian concept to the heart of downtown St. Petersburg this spring. Anderson and Pescante, co-founders of the Nocturnal Hospitality Group, gained recognition in the nightlife scene with Tampa Heights’ Franklin Manor. Renowned chef Viviani has appeared on Bravo’s “Top Chef.” La Pergola will be Nocturnal’s first restaurant outside downtown Tampa, where the team opened restaurants along Franklin Street, including Osteria Bar & Kitchen and Mole y Abuela, and the upcoming Shibui. Their new 6,000-square-foot, high-end Italian restaurant will occupy the former Raymond James offices at 200 Central Ave. and feature café sidewalk seating. “La Pergola will feature Nocturnal’s signature flair for mixing exquisite food with a lively lounge and bar scene serving unique craft cocktails,” says the restaurant’s news release.


David and Erica Benstock, owners of Best of the Bay-winner Il Ritorno in downtown St. Petersburg, will soon serve fast-casual Italian fare at Sparkman Wharf in Water Street Tampa. The pasta-centric, waterfront-facing restaurant plans to open at 615 Channelside Drive later this year. Semolina outsizes its shipping container neighbors with 1,600-square-feet, 42 seats inside and 20 outside. The eatery promises fresh pasta made in-house daily, wine, bread, cheeses and more.

Book + Bottle

Sip some vino and hash out allegories and narrative structure with literary-minded cohorts in a new bookstore bar opening in St. Pete this spring. Not sure what to read? Not to worry: The staff recommends monthly wine and book pairings. According to the Book + Bottle website, the new venue curates the best in literary fiction, celebrity book club picks, bestsellers, and other mind-opening reading material. Additionally, there are small sections dedicated to women, local lit, and Russian lit (as a tribute to St. Petersburg’s founding father, Peter Demens from St.  Petersburg, Russia). No opening date is scheduled yet, but the website says “early 2020.”

Two Shepherds Taproom

Tampa's first and, so far, only indoor and outdoor dog bar and park, will soon be available by the day for $7; monthly memberships are available for $25 and annual memberships cost $250. Human customers can enjoy craft brews from 20 rotating taps and a respectable selection of wines. Their furry counterparts can romp around in 7,000-square-feet of indoor, air-conditioned play space. The taproom will be centrally located off Dale Mabry next to Al Lopez Field. Proof of vaccinations required. Upload documents to the Two Shepherds Taproom website. An opening date is expected to be announced soon.

Sunshine Kitty Catfe 

Cats finally have their moment away from dog bars that are more common. But you don’t bring your pet kitties here. You (shhh!) hang out with other furry friends. St. Pete's first feline haunt has cats on-site and offers opportunities to adopt a cat and take one home. The Catfe’s purpose, according to Founder Amanda “AJ” Jones, is to supply a cage-free foster home for cats while they await adoption. The Sunshine Kitty Catfe is partnering with Friends of Strays, a no-kill animal shelter in St. Petersburg, to provide their future guests with the opportunity to give a forever home to a pretty kitty.

Sundial food hall

The developers behind the Heights Public Market at Tampa’s Armature Works are crossing the Bay to open a new food hall in part of downtown St. Petersburg’s Sundial. The 25,000-square-foot space at 153 Second Ave. N., St. Petersburg, will include the real estate occupied by Locale Market and FarmTable Cucina and is slated to be completed by the end of 2020. “We’re reimagining the whole space,” says Eric Blankenship, Armature Works’ chief marketing officer. “I wouldn’t expect to see the same food concepts as (Armature Works). The plan will be to have all-new, unique concepts for St. Petersburg residents.”

Busch Gardens & Adventure Island

No more teeth-rattling on a wooden coaster. The Iron Gwazi steel roller coaster expects to open in the Spring at Busch Gardens Tampa. It is being built and designed by Rocky Mountain Construction using RMC's patented I-Box Track technology. The coaster will be 206 feet tall at its peak and features a 91-degree drop and speeds up to 76 mph. Adventure Island plans to celebrate its 40-year anniversary with the launch of America’s first dual tailspin water slide. Solar Vortex will have a 52-foot tower and send you whooshing up to 20 mph.

Dunedin Stadium 

Hand-picked as the Spring Training home for the Toronto Blue Jays in 1977, Dunedin has rallied to remain the Canadian team’s home away from home. The renovated and upgraded TD Ballpark will be home to the Toronto Blue Jays Spring Training and the Dunedin Blue Jays under a new 25-year lease agreement between the Blue Jays, the City of Dunedin, Pinellas County, and the state of Florida. The renovated stadium is slated to open to the public on February 24.

Snowcat Ridge Alpine Snow Park 

Florida's first snow park will open in Dade City next to TreeHoppers Aerial Adventure Park at 27839 Saint Joe Road in time for next winter. The chilly fun will include snow tubing, snow play, and an Alpine Village. It is scheduled to open in November.

Read more articles by Julie Garisto.

A graduate of Largo High, USF, and the University of Tampa's Creative Writing MFA program, Julie Garisto grew up in Clearwater and now has a home in the Ocala National Forest. Between writing assignments, she's teaching English courses at Saint Leo University and other colleges. Julie has written arts features in Creative Pinellas' online magazine ArtsCoast Journal, Creative Loafing, Florida travel pieces  (Visit Tampa Bay and Visit Jacksonville), the Cade Museum, and features and reviews in the Tampa Bay Times. Her previous journalistic roles include arts and entertainment editor for Creative Loafing, staff writer for the Tampa Bay Times, and copy editor for the Weekly Planet. Lately, she's been obsessed with exploring Florida's State Parks, small towns, and natural springs.