What are the most anticipated projects in the Tampa Bay area in 2015?

The Tampa Bay region is buzzing over what’s next for Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik’s plans for Tampa’s waterfront, the possibility of a new baseball stadium for the Rays and the likelihood of USF's medical school moving south into downtown Tampa. 

In addition, Downtown Tampa is gearing up for the next influx of urban dwellers ensconced in sky-high residential towers along the Riverwalk and Franklin Street. 

And Downtown St. Petersburg is eagerly awaiting its own residential towers sprouting up on the last remaining infill parcels near Beach Drive. 

The fate of Tropicana Field minus the Tampa Bay Rays is an open question with a ready slew of developers eager to mobilize creative teams and construction crews.

More jobs are coming as the urban revolution marches on, backed up by more restaurants, shops, offices and entertainment.

Even in local suburbia, development is king. Pasco County, once known mostly for its sleepy-eyed bedroom communities, is experiencing renewed interest by developers -- especially along Interstate 75. The prospect for outlet malls and big box tenants leaves shoppers ecstatic.

It's a surfeit of investments and optimism.

Here is an 83 Degrees Media list of the most anticipated local development projects, either dreamed about or ready-made for a ground-breaking in the next year.

1. Tampa’s downtown waterfront 

Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik plans to invest $1 billion to create a "live, work, play and stay" neighborhood in downtown Tampa's Channel District that will propel economic growth in Tampa for decades.

"We have a virtual blank canvas of 40 acres ... to develop an entire district to revitalize downtown and change this area for an entire generation," says Vinik.

In the last four years Vinik's real estate team, Strategic Property Partners, quietly amassed vacant lots surrounding Amalie Arena, the Lightning hockey and concert venue. Vinik compares the purchases to the under-the-radar land deals made decades ago for Disney World in Orlando.

For many, his vision for Tampa holds the promise of being a seminal moment in the city's history.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn tags Vinik as a "city builder."

"We are on the precipice of something absolutely amazing. ... This is a day they will look back on and they will say this is where it started," says the mayor.

Over the next five to seven years Vinik proposes to create the Tampa Waterfront District as a vibrant 18/7 retail, dining and entertainment mecca as well as a business center for corporations, entrepreneurs and innovators.

Plans are to add nearly 3 million square feet of commercial and residential development. Upon completion, estimates put annual economic output at about $900 million. About 3,700 direct jobs will be added to Hillsborough County's employment rolls with an average salary of about $78,000. Annual tax revenues will be boosted by as much as $35 million, based on projections by Oxford Economics.

Seattle-based Cascade Investment, founded by billionaire Bill Gates, is the funding partner. "We do have financing to complete the billion dollar project and hopefully go beyond when it is done," Vinik says.

On land donated by Vinik, USF plans to build new facilities for the Morsani College of Medicine and USF Heart Health Institute. Student housing also is a possibility. 

The struggling Channelside Bay Plaza will see its shell torn away to open up views of the waterfront and Harbour Island. A bridge across Channelside Drive will link the dining and shopping plaza to an existing parking garage. A water taxi, ferry, wharf, a new park and boardwalk will connect residents and visitors to the district's prime asset -- the waterfront.

A mixed-use development on a vacant lot across from the Marriott will have a hotel, residences and a retail row that will connect Tampa Convention Center and Amalie Arena. Improvements to the Marriott, which Vinik recently acquired, also are planned.

The TECO Line Streetcar will be expanded.

Vinik emphasizes that he is working from a vision plan. A master plan is yet to come and he wants input from everyone in the community. A crowdsourcing website, Tampa Waterfront 20/20, invites comments and suggestions.

In 2015 Vinik says his team will concentrate on marketing Tampa and the Channel District's future.

The Lightning owner says people who've never been to Tampa often don't understand the potential of what the city can become. He recalls some questioned his decision to re-locate to Tampa when he bought the hockey team. "This is a great place to live, a great place to work, a great place to stay," he says. "The quality of life is second to none."

And Tampa is attracting millennials and young professionals, as well as empty nesters, who want to enjoy the urban lifestyle. "The millennials, they don't want to be in suburbs. They don't want cars anymore. They want to rent," Vinik says. "This trend is well-documented. It's a reason we feel so confident in what we are doing." 

2. Tampa Bay Rays' baseball stadium

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn says he'll support whatever it takes to keep the Rays in the Tampa Bay region but oh, how he yearns for a 30,000- to 35,000-seat stadium snuggly fitting into Tampa's downtown core. Preferably he'd like it on about 21 acres of land linking downtown with Ybor City and belonging to a nonprofit controlled by the International Longshoremen's Association and Sybil Kay Andrews-Wells.

That means convincing owners to sell, tearing down the rent-subsidized Tampa Park Apartments along Nuccio Parkway, and accommodating Booker T. Washington Elementary School. That's a tall order, but Buckhorn says that may be the best of a handful of options that include the Tampa Greyhound Track off I-275 in the Sulphur Springs neighborhood north of downtown, the Florida State Fairgrounds off I-4 east of Tampa and the ConAgra Foods industrial site near the Selmon Expressway in downtown Tampa.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman isn't giving up on the Rays and is trying to negotiate a deal in which the Rays' owners could shop all over Hillsborough County while not forgetting St. Petersburg and Pinellas County. The St. Petersburg City Council rejected the latest terms of the negotiated deal over questions about who keeps profits gained by future development rights for the land surrounding Tropicana Field. Kriseman -- like Buckhorn -- wants to find a way to keep the Rays' happy and rooted in the Bay area. 

But, is there money for a new stadium? Not yet, though it would take hundreds of millions from somewhere. And no one wants to repeat the taxpayer soaking that came with building the Raymond James Stadium for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Look for a complicated equation to come up with public and private dollars. 

"The Rays need to be at the table as equal partners," Buckhorn says.

And then there is the question of what to do with a vacant Tropicana Field if the Rays leave St. Pete. Investors and developers could do a lot with land big enough to house an old baseball field and a sea-size parking lot easily accessible from I-275. Speculation is on a bio/medical research park for a burgeoning medical district surrounding All Children's Hospital and Bayfront Health St. Petersburg. Some investors also envision more residential, shopping and office opportunities. The city is hoping for a home run that will boost its financial health.

3. The Pier re-design in St. Pete

In the 1970s The Pier's inverted pyramid was the cat's meow. Now to some the waterside shopping oddity seems stale and out-of-fashion next to an energized Beach Drive and a downtown that buzzes nearly 24/7 with street life.

More than two years ago, competitive re-design bids produced a futuristic, geometric swirl, dubbed "The Lens." But that design and taxpayers couldn't see eye to eye so the city of St. Petersburg is again peering at a set of new designs submitted in September. Among 16 bids, eight teams are moving on to the next stage of adding details to their designs and working up a budget. They are ahha!Design Group; Alfonso Architects; FR-EE; Ross Barney Architects; Rogers Partners, ASD and Ken Landscaping Architecture; St. Pete Design Group; VOA; and W Architecture.

Most pay homage to the pyramid, either morphing its existing design or giving it an abstract futuristic spin. A couple say goodbye to the iconic structure. Everyone envisions connecting the new St Pete pier with the new urban energy of downtown St. Petersburg. Spa beaches, a lagoon, an environmental discovery center, an observation deck and garden, boat docks, fishing, festivals, restaurants and a walkable promenade are among the ideas.

The group of eight will be whittled to a trio of designs that will be inspected and voted on by the public in January. Next a selection committee will rank the three designs before sending its recommendations to St. Petersburg City Council for a decision in February. Contract negotiations would begin in March with council approval scheduled for April. Mayor Rick Kriseman's goal is to open The Pier by 2017.

4. Tampa's downtown residential towers

The pace of Tampa's downtown residential growth will accelerate in 2015.
Two of the most transformative developments  are Intown/Framework Group's 36-story, 360-unit luxury residential tower to be built next to the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, and the 22-story combo-hotel and residential tower proposed for the historic S. H. Kress Building on North Franklin Street. Atlanta-based HRV Hotel Partners and Tampa-based developers with EWI Construction and Walson Ventures are partners on the Kress deal.

Both projects also add shops and restaurants to downtown Tampa’s commercial market. The Straz project has Tampa City Council approval; the Kress building, and a pending contract to sell, are on hold until city planners and council review the project.

Add in the proposed 23-story, 375-unit residential tower on the "Grant" block of Franklin, one block north of the Kress and Tampa's skyline and street scape will be altered forever. Atlanta-based Carter & Associates is behind this project.

5. Tampa's downtown grocery store

So when is downtown Tampa going to get a really big grocery store? It is a question with an elusive answer. Developers, both public and private, are trying. They just can't reel in a big fish like a Walmart Neighborhood Market, Aldi's or Publix.

Chain grocers with slim profit margins say they don't yet see the critical mass of residents in downtown to make the numbers work -- just yet. 

Tampa Housing Authority officials say they were snubbed three times by grocers who walked away from deals to build a grocery store at ENCORE! Tampa, the multimillion dollar village center under construction between Nebraska Avenue and Interstate 4. ENCORE’s urban design is suited for a parking garage but national chains are of a more suburban mind-set. They still think a large surface parking lot better suits customers and their bottom lines.

6. University of South Florida medical school

The University of South Florida is poised to take a major step into the university's future as well as propel development in downtown Tampa. The USF board of trustees plans to seek funding to co-locate the Morsani College of Medicine and the USF Heart Health Institute on land donated by Tampa Bay Lightning Owner Jeff Vinik.

Plans for the site at Meridian Avenue and Channelside Drive include a 12-story building, with potential for additional floors; a 10-story medical building; and a parking garage for about 1,800 vehicles. USF officials say about $60 million of the estimated $157 million project cost will be sought from the Florida Legislature.

USF officials anticipate an uptick in recruitment from students who want easy access to urban amenities such as restaurants, shops and cultural events. The move also brings USF's teaching college in close proximity to Tampa General Hospital and CAMLS, the Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation.

USF and city officials agree the medical school is a clear winner as an economic engine for the school and Tampa's growth over the long haul.

7. Central Avenue in St. Petersburg

West Palm Beach developers, the Kolter Group, are bucking the apartment trend to build a 41-story, 253-unit condo tower on a 2-acre vacant lot between Central Avenue and First Avenue North.

Rising next to it will be a 13-story boutique hotel with 174 luxury guest rooms.

A parking garage and 15,000 square feet of retail will fill out the parcel, just west of Beach Drive, the upscale dining and drinking destination in downtown St. Petersburg.

In the meantime, dozens of more bohemian cafes, shops and galleries are popping open all along east-west Central Avenue connecting Beach Drive on Tampa Bay’s western edge to Treasure Island on the eastern shore of the Gulf of Mexico. 

8. North Boulevard Apartments/Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park

Major changes are on the way for North Boulevard Homes, a 1940s era public housing project, and Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park, a city-owned swath of parkland with an envious location along Hillsborough River.

In September the city unveiled its master plan for the park. Among the features are a great lawn for special events and festivals; a play area with a splash pad; a history walk to honor Phillips Field, Roberts City and surrounding neighborhoods; a community center and public boathouse; an oak-lined promenade; a half-mile trail with exercise stations; an extension of the city's Riverwalk; a fishing area; and a paddle learning area created by a floating boat dock.

Colorado-based developer Civitas is taking conceptual ideas and developing detailed drawings. The city has about $8 million in seed money for what will be a multiyear project. Final costs could top out at $20 million or more.

Tampa Housing Authority is moving forward with its multiyear plans to relocate North Boulevard residents, tear down the complex and build a mixed-income "village center" much like the on-going ENCORE! Tampa development on the north side of downtown.

As part of the city's larger InVision Tampa project, what is being dubbed "the West River area" eventually will be linked with sidewalks, bike trails and greenways to the University of Tampa and Tampa's downtown.

9. Starkey Ranch in Pasco County

In February a ground-breaking kicked-off construction at Starkey Ranch, a master-planned community of more than 5,000 homes in Pasco County, located off State Road 54 and Trinity Boulevard. The sprawling residential community is situated on a portion of the former 2,500-acre cattle ranch owned by the Starkey family.

Paving of roadways and trails throughout the massive land tract is under way. The first building to open will be the Starkey Ranch Welcome Center. Developers with Wheelock Communities anticipate the first of the ranch's homes - about 130 -  will be available in Whitfield Park subdivision in 2015.

In addition, there are plans for a district park with a new kindergarten through 8th grade school, a library and theater, and ball fields. 

Also proposed are a downtown village area with retail and more residential; a business park that could include a hotel, offices, medical and light industrial uses. Other out parcels also are available for development.

Starkey Ranch is expected to unfold in phases over the coming years.

10. Tampa Heights neighborhood, Tampa

Ulele restaurant and Water Works Park are first steps in redeveloping Tampa Heights and extending the Tampa Riverwalk. Still to come are renovations of Water Works Armature building and the planned community, "The Heights", under development by SoHo Capital.

Within sight of Ulele and Water Works, North Franklin Street from Interstate 275 to Palm Avenue is showing signs of renewed investment interest. Now long-timer Cafe Hey is being joined by new businesses on a stretch of Franklin so far largely untapped.

Hope Donnelly and George Carter II renovated the historic Rialto Theatre as headquarters for their company, 8 Count Studios (http://8-countproductions.com/) and an event venue for art and photography exhibitions, weddings, fashion shows and dance classes. Next door, co-owners Joshua Garman and Austin Good are renovating a warehouse that will open in 2015 as Hidden Springs Ale Works.

A 2-story former night club, at 1701 N. Franklin St., is owned by A2 LLC partners, Jeanette Alonso and Maureen Ayral, who are renovating the 1940s structure for future development.

11. Cypress Creek Town Center, Wesley Chapel

Nothing gets shopaholics juices flowing like the prospect of a new mall.

Premier Outlet Malls at Cypress Creek Town Center is under construction and heading for an opening date by pumpkin-carving season in 2015. Mall developer, Simon Property Group, is building the shopping mecca at I-75 and State Road 56 interchange.

The outlet mall's announced anchor is Saks "Off 5th" outlet shop. As many as 110 retailers are anticipated. Other Simon malls include chains such as Nike, J. Crew and Banana Republic. The approximately 440,000-square-foot mall will be contemporary and "Key West" in design with palm trees and a fountain, according to a company news release.

Ohio-based developer Richard E. Jacobs Group is planning to open a Costco membership warehouse at Cypress Creek Town Center. Additional tenant announcements are anticipated in early 2015.

Tampa-based developer Sierra Properties owns about 170 acres of town center property, located north and south of State Road 56. Retail, offices, hotels and multifamily residences are being planned.

12. Courtney Campbell Trail, connecting Hillsborough and Pinellas counties

Bicyclists and pedestrians can celebrate the completion of the Courtney Campbell Trail in 2015. The approximately 9.5 miles of trail, running parallel to the Courtney Campbell Causeway on the south side, is a major step forward in long-range transportation plans to connect Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.

The trail is a boon for recreation but also for the Westshore Business District, adjacent to the Tampa International Airport exchange. It is part of the Westshore Alliance's master plan. The area is booming with new businesses and more apartments. 

Work on the Hillsborough County side of Old Tampa Bay was finished in 2013 along with the city's new Cypress Point Park playground and a 45-foot high bridge at the county line between Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. When finished, the trail will allow pedestrian and bicycle access from Veteran's Expressway in Tampa to Bayshore Boulevard on the eastern edge of Clearwater. 

Kathy Steele is a freelance writer living in the Seminole Heights neighborhood of Tampa. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.

So which are your faves? Did we miss something big? What do you think? Post your comments below. 

Read more articles by Kathy Steele.

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