For 26 years, the Tampa Downtown Partnership has gathered development industry insiders and local government officials together to share their insights on the current state of the downtown and the progress and obstacles ahead.
After shifting to an online format during COVID, the Downtown Development Forum was back in-person once again this year. During the May 6 event at the Tampa Hilton Downtown, several speakers said they relished the opportunity to connect face-to-face again.
Connections were, in fact, a recurring theme of the day.
Executives from Strategic Property Partners, the developers of Water Street Tampa, described how the street layout, public art and community spaces of their transformative $3.5 billion mixed-use project help connect it to the rest of downtown.
Graham Tyrrell, a senior vice president with real estate development firm KETTLER, said Gas Worx, the 50-acre retail, residential and office project they are building in partnership with Ybor City developer Darryl Shaw, will fill the gap to connect Ybor to Water Street and the Channel District.
“Mixing together the urban fabric will create that sense of place,” Tyrrell said. “That continuum of an urban place makes a city successful.”
Vik Bhide, the mobility director for the city of Tampa, said that moving forward, connecting public transit to new residential development in and around the urban core is a priority to develop viable transportation alternatives to the car and to help create affordable housing.
Nearly every speaker who took the stage shared their excitement that the private and public sectors were connecting their efforts to build on the current momentum and make Tampa a true live-work-play downtown.
New Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority Executive Director Greg Slater may have provided the most telling example of that phenomenon. Slater, who started with THEA in January, said the agency was expanding its focus beyond the Selmon Expressway to take on projects such as a Whiting Street extension that will feature a more safe and pedestrian-friendly design.
“We want to be a partner in connecting the downtown grid,” Slater said. “We can’t treat everything like an expressway … that’s a really different perspective and that’s what we are focused on at THEA.”
Slater said THEA is also working alongside the city’s Parks and Recreation Department to activate more areas along the Selmon Greenway with public parks and bring in more public art.
Overall, the forum provided a dive into the city’s boom and a glimpse at some potential challenges looming ahead.
Tampa’s boom of recent years has earned media attention from a slew of national outlets, including the top spot on Forbes’ list of emerging tech cities in the country.
“Tampa’s hot,” said Dave Traynor, the vice president at real estate firm Smith & Associates.
During a talk on The Pendry Hotel and Residences, a luxury project with 220 rooms and 207 upscale condominiums set to open along Riverwalk in 2024, Traynor gave some insight into the demand for condos in downtown. The luxury condos that will occupy the top floors of the five-star The Tampa EDITION in Water Street have already sold out. Out of approximately 3,000 condo units spread across 17 buildings downtown, 21 were currently on the market, Traynor said. Meanwhile, the downtown market averages 20 sales a month.
“That means we have one month of inventory available,” Traynor said.
To the east at Water Street, the retail leadership team from Strategic Property Partners said Sparkman Wharf is 100 percent leased and has experienced a 60 percent increase in foot traffic from last year. Three restaurants that started in repurposed shipping containers along the waterfront have been successful enough to move into permanent retail space.
For the overall development, David Bevirt, executive vice president with Strategic Property Partners, said Water Street Tampa has completed construction of 4.2 million square feet of construction in its first phase of development. The full plan is nine million square feet of office, retail, residential, hospitality and hotel space finished by 2027.
Bevirt used a baseball analogy to share his big-picture perspective on downtown.
“Tampa is in the second or third inning of our growth, compared to Nashville, which is in the sixth inning, or Austin, in the eighth inning,” he said.
Keeping with the baseball theme, Gas Worx is a power hitter in the on-deck circle -- one that may possibly include a new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays. While talks continue on that possibility, Tyrrell with KETTLER, says construction on Gas Worx is slated to start this summer with two residential developments that will combine to total nearly 700 apartments.
The plan for Gas Worx also includes repurposing a large brick warehouse into a community hub with restaurants, offices, and arts, community and events space. Tyrrell said it will be a new downtown destination and a centerpiece of the overall Gas Worx development.
Challenges to navigate
There was a consensus that the private and public sectors need to navigate some looming challenges, particularly with transportation and affordability, looming ahead to take Tampa to the next level.
“That (transportation) is our Achilles heel and we need to find better ways to get around, more affordable,” said Bhide, the mobility director for the city of Tampa.
Some potential solutions in the works include the planned expansion of the TECO Line Streetcar, which recently achieved a record monthly ridership of more than 100,000, north of Interstate 275. Bhide said that extension could connect workforce housing to downtown jobs.
He also noted that the Tampa City Council is closing in on a final decision to reduce the current parking requirements for developments downtown by 50 percent, a move that should help reduce construction costs and signals a continued policy shift to develop additional transportation options in the urban core.
Hillsborough Area Transit Authority (HART) Executive Director Adelee Le Grand said that as condominium and apartment development booms downtown, some people move farther out in search of affordable housing. The challenge is providing them with transit to reach their jobs. Le Grand says she is focused on using a business model to develop HART into a not-for-profit mobility agency that is able to generate sufficient revenue to pump back into its services and develop “a blend of modes” that provide access to affordable housing and employment centers.
To learn more about Tampa's downtown, visit the Tampa Downtown Partnership.