Moving to downtown Tampa: The bustling apartment scene

The city of Tampa has been undergoing a residential renaissance over the last several years, but there’s been a mini-surge in the last month or two in announcements of new, upscale rental developments.

They’ll be pretty pricey, but they’ll offer the quality and the downtown location that is in hot demand in urban centers around the globe.

“We’re having an influx of new residents in the downtown area, more people who favor renting over buying,” says Christine Burdick, head of the Tampa Downtown Partnership. “The product of choice seems to be luxury residential.”

The recent surge comprises at least four new developments either announced or planned, all close to the heart of downtown.

The biggest and most impressive is the Gas Worx, with a rezoning request filed in April by the local Phillips Development & Realty firm, to be built on a former TECO People’s Gas site on Channelside Drive just east of Nuccio Parkway. 

In that location, it will form a link between the Channelside and Ybor City neighborhoods.

The 7.6-acre site is designed to include 1,432 residential units in twin, 284-foot, 29-story apartment towers, plus 67,104 square feet of retail space anchored by a grocery store, according to rezoning application documents.

Other downtown apartment projects 

Dallas-based Lincoln Property Co. plans a 416-unit development, The Aspire, adjacent to the Howard Johnson hotel just north of the Straz Center – one of a series of Aspire-branded developments owned by the company. It will include a clubhouse and a small amount of retail space.

Altman Development of Boca Raton, which has already built two Altis-branded developments in the Tampa area, plans a third at 504 Grand Central Ave., across from the Oxford Exchange and Mise en Place. It will have 273 units, according to a rezoning request filed in April.

The Tampa Tribune has announced it’s seeking to sell its 4.4-acre riverfront property on Parker Street, hoping for a leaseback arrangement to allow the newspaper to continue operating there temporarily. The Tampa Bay Business Journal reported recently that the site is under contract to a developer who plans a residential complex.

According to a report from City Hall on progress on the master plan for renovation of downtown, these are the latest in a string of developments over the last three years.

Since 2012, the report says, 1,206 dwelling units and 318 hotel rooms have been built downtown, and as of March 2015, approximately another 1,862 dwelling units were under construction.
Another 2,860 dwelling units are in design or announced for construction in the next few years, for a total of nearly 6,000.

Jennifer Doerfel, VP of the Tampa Bay Builders Association, says the surge in apartment construction is “a response to pent-up demand. Tampa has not traditionally had those urban choices, but now millennials and baby boomers alike are looking for that kind of product.

“More than at any time in the last 20 years, we’re seeing demand for diverse housing options.”

For various reasons, she said, the people demanding those options are choosing to rent, not own. One reason is that millennials saw their own families suffer in the housing bubble burst that triggered the 2007 recession, and are shying away from ownership as result.

Doerfel said the new developments are coming in response to developers’ success recently in filling their buildings at high-level rents.

Higher prices, lots of amenities

The Crescent Bayshore, with 367 units on Bayshore Boulevard just south of Platt Street, had rents starting at about $2.30 per square foot, and Dave Traynor, VP of development services at Smith & Associates Real Estate, says he expects the new apartments will be in that ballpark.

Recently built downtown apartments, he says, “are all out-performing expectations. There hasn’t been a slowdown as far as occupancy rates or rent levels.”

“The desire for downtown Tampa continues to increase week by week. It continues to grow with retail, restaurants, and the Riverwalk is being extremely well-used.”

But Doerfel says Tampa may be bumping into the ceiling on rents in the new luxury developments.

“That’s not sustainable” for an unlimited number of new developments. “The Tampa Bay area really doesn’t have that kind of wages.”

Burdick says she also expects to see the tide turn back toward condos after the surge of apartment construction.
She notes that there hasn’t been a new condo building in downtown since the economy began to revive after the recession, and says, “We’ve reached the threshold where we can expect to see condos.”
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Read more articles by William March.