Urban investors, construction crews reshape downtown Tampa near waterfront

In downtown Tampa’s Channel District, construction crews and residents walking dogs are common sights these days.
 
They may at first seem like two unrelated observations. But their presence shows the ongoing transformation of this former warehouse district between downtown and Port Tampa Bay into a vibrant, mixed-use urban hub.
 
In the upcoming months, construction will finish on multiple developments that will continue the area’s metamorphosis and, more broadly, the redevelopment boom in downtown Tampa.
 
On Meridian Avenue and Madison Street, the 22-story Channel Club welcomed its first residents in mid-October and is slated for full completion by year’s end. Developer Ken Stoltenberg, the director of Tampa-based Mercury Advisors, says the 324-unit apartment complex is drawing significant interest from prospective residents.

“Our rents are strong and our leasing velocity is good,” he says.

In May, the Channel Club’s adjacent Publix will open for business as the district’s first full-service grocery. Stoltenberg, says that addition will be a significant milestone for an area he and his business partner first invested in during the early 2000s.
 
“Our thinking is with the Publix opening up, the Channel District is officially going to be a walkable neighborhood where you can get everything you need and work without getting in your car,” he says. “It’s exactly what we envisioned 15 years ago.”

Additional parks and greenspace are also in the plans. Brad Suder, the superintendent of planning and design for the City of Tampa Parks and Recreation Department, says the design is complete for the neighborhood park long-planned on Madison Street east of the Channel Club. The next step will be putting the park out to bid for construction.

The park may be small -- less than one acre in size -- but will be packed with amenities that include a dog park, putting green, multi-purpose court, benches, picnic tables, and playground.

“It is very much the definition of a neighborhood park,” Suder says.

Jobs for the future
 
Jobs are, of course, a key ingredient for any urban area to thrive and the Channel District is picking up steam as an employment center as well. Earlier this year, transportation and logistics company Quality Distribution Inc., (QDI), relocated its North American headquarters from the suburbs to the Grand Central at Kennedy.

Soon, hotels will enter the mix, bringing more jobs and more customers for the district’s businesses.
 
On the southeast corner of Meridian Avenue and Kennedy Boulevard, construction crews are going full bore on the Channel District’s first hotel development. The 10-story, 215-room hotel will include the Hilton brands Hampton Inn and Home2 Suites and a Starbucks coffee shop.
 
Tampa-based hotel development and management company the Liberty Group expects to open the doors by the end of April, says Executive Chairman Punit Shah. He says the project is already drawing interest, particularly with Tampa slated to host the Super Bowl in 2021.

Shah expects to draw more than business visitors and tourists. He envisions the Starbucks as a neighborhood gathering spot in a neighborhood emerging as the “hottest area in Tampa.”
 
That momentum will only build as Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and real estate firm Strategic Property Partners progress with the $3 billion dollar Water Street Tampa project.

More broadly, Shah says downtown Tampa is generating a buzz outside of Florida and drawing national investment interest.

“It’s definitely picking up traction nationwide,” he says. “It’s becoming a highly sought-after investment city. In key gateway cities such as New York, Boston, Chicago, and L.A., it’s just gotten cost prohibitive to develop or invest. Tampa has become attractive as an alternative to these major major markets. But I think people have also started to appreciate the geography, the location, the culture. And the cost of living here is attractive for people who are just starting out. All those different elements open a lot of people’s eyes to Tampa and make it a really attractive climate.”

10th hottest real estate market

Indeed, Emerging Real Trends in Real Estate 2019, a joint report by the Urban Land Institute and PwC, listed Tampa/St. Petersburg as the 10th hottest market in the country for overall real estate prospects.
 
For the Channel District and Tampa, the hot streak should only continue in 2019 and beyond.

In 2019, the University of South Florida’s Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute will relocate to a 395,000-square-foot, 13-story tower under construction at the corner of Channelside Drive and Meridian Avenue, bringing 1,800 students, faculty and staff to study, work and live in the area. 

“The medical school opening will be a huge step,” Stoltenberg says. “That’s going to stimulate a ton of employment in that area and the next wave of residential demand, which will not just be apartments but condominiums as well.”

Against that backdrop, Mercury Advisors, which already has Grand Central at Kennedy and the Channel Club in its portfolio, is planning a condominium tower as its third project in the Channel District. Elevé 61 will be a 35-story, 61-unit condominium tower along Channelside Drive near the Morsani College of Medicine and Water Street.

Among many other things, the massive Water Street project includes plans to revitalize the former Channelside Bay Plaza, which struggled despite its prime waterfront location, as the mixed-use Sparkman Wharf office, retail and restaurant complex. Water Street has also broken ground on its first residential building, 815 Water Street.

As construction on Water Street gets underway near Amalie Arena, where the Tampa Bay Lightning play hockey, Stoltenberg says the Tampa Bay Rays' interest in relocating from St. Petersburg to nearby Ybor City could be the future development that pushes the Channel District boom to a whole new level.

“A baseball stadium would be nice,” he says.

Read more articles by Christopher Curry.

Chris Curry is a freelance writer living in Clearwater. Chris spent more than 15 years as a newspaper reporter, primarily in Ocala and Gainesville, before moving back home to the Tampa Bay Area. He enjoys our local music scene, great weather and the wealth of outdoor festivals.
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