Tampa's next hot neighborhood? The Heights creates urban space to live, work, play and stay

How do you create a neighborhood where people want to live and visitors want to play?

It’s a tricky dichotomy that unites new urbanism principles with utility and efficiencies. The result can be a high quality of life neighborhood for residents, a fun destination for suburbanites and profits for developers.

The developers and architect of The Heights, Tampa’s newest mixed-use development, think they’ve got the right formula for a neighborhood where people will want to live, work and play. Unlike office parks, which are used by people just eight hours a day, five days a week, The Heights is designed to hum with human activity nearly every day from the morning to midnight.

“One of the most important things is having districts that are reasonably active throughout the day, throughout the month and throughout the year,” says Tim Clemmons, principal with Mesh Architecture. Clemmons designed The Heights’ master plan with developers Chas Bruck and Adam Harden of SoHo Capital.

“It plays into the financial aspect,” Clemons says. “If you create a block, a neighborhood where there are good levels of activity from 8 in the morning to midnight, Wednesday through Saturday, January, June and October, the quality of life, the efficiency — there are so many advantages to that. If you can pull in people, you have social life, urban economics and sustainability.”

The Heights master plan covers 43 acres along the Hillsborough River between North Boulevard and North Tampa Street. The development is adjacent to Water Works Park and will be connected to downtown Tampa by the yet-to-be completed, last phase of the Riverwalk.
“Our biggest amenity is the river and the Riverwalk,” Bruck says. “Our property is the largest private property on the river. We feel we are a bookend of the Riverwalk with the other being Channelside.”

Reimagine, redesign, rebuild

The development is centered by the Armature Works, a former maintenance and storage building for Tampa’s early 20th century streetcars. The building is being redesigned using as much of the building’s original brick, wood and metal as possible.
When completed and enlarged, the 73,344-square-foot building will house a market with specialty food vendors -- all local -- serving everything from craft beers to baked goods to high-end meats. Two event spaces, one seating 800 patrons and the other 200, will give locals a classy venue for weddings, meetings, lectures and concerts.

Bruck also wants the Armature Works to be a place where people can work and entrepreneurs can gather. He studied what successful “shared-work spaces” in other parts of the country were doing, including the Grind in New York City, and We Work, an international company also headquartered in the Big Apple.

The shared-work space will cover 10,000 square feet on the second floor, a steel structured addition that was not in the original Armature Works building. Bruck says the space will include conference rooms, private offices and open space. He expects to have 500 paying members work there.

“That goes back to us wanting to populate the building in the daytime and get those people working here, then using the market hall, the restaurants and bar,” Bruck says.

Key to the economic sustainability of the project, which when built out will be valued at $820 million, is the residential component. The first element of that will be the Pearl, a 324-unit luxury apartment building that will include 28,500 square feet of ground-level retail space. Construction on the building will start in July 2016 and be completed by September 2017.

More residential dwellings, both rental and owned, will be added in later phases. At buildout, The Heights will have 1,520 units and roughly 3,000 residents, according to the SoHo Capital partners.

In the true spirit of new urbanism, Bruck and Harden say they want the new neighborhood to connect and interact with the current one, an older area that includes many architecturally significant homes, as well as some that have seen better days.
The front of The Pearl will have front porch stoops and will face the existing home across the street.

The surrounding neighborhood is “here, it’s established and we just want to be good neighbors and fit in,” Harden says.

Green spaces, sidewalks, outdoor venues

The Heights will include plenty of greenspace, wide sidewalks and narrow, walkable streets, design elements that will encourage outdoors recreating and social interaction. For instance, a “pocket park,” 100 by 150 feet, will be built at the southwest corner of The Pearl, open to visitors as well as residents. Harden says the developers will plan 452 new trees along the streets and in the parks, all “Florida-specific,” including oaks, maples and palms.

Clemmons, the project’s architect, says there will be “scattered green spaces” throughout The Heights.

“It creates little oases scattered throughout the district,” Clemmons says. “A lot of people are dog owners — more than ever before — and need a place to walk the dog. A big appeal of the urban life is the social life and the café scene, the outdoor scene. Some of those activities take in large and small parks.”

The largest of the parks will be a 3-acre plaza leading down to the river where concerts, weddings and other events can be held. Clemmons, who lives in St. Petersburg, describes the plaza as a smaller version of Vinoy Park, which nestles along the waterfront in Tampa’s sister city across Tampa Bay.

“In addition to making it a balanced place to live, work and play, we wanted it to be a place that would draw people from the outside to the Hillsborough River,” Clemmons says.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn was on the City Council in 1995 when the land was first rezoned for development along the river. The project first known as The Heights emerged in the mid-2000s, only to crash with the real estate market in the wake of the nation’s economic downturn. Harden and Bruck started buying parcels, many of them out of bankruptcy, in 2010.

Buckhorn speaks of the 43 acres as “maybe one of the most valuable pieces of land in the southeastern United States.” The mayor gushes over the view corridor that follows the Hillsborough River from the Eugene Holtsinger Bridge on North Boulevard, through downtown to the Tampa Convention Center. 

“This is pivotal piece of land,” Buckhorn says. “This is the most amazing view corridor in the urban core of Tampa.” 

Commitments so far

Here’s a list of vendors signed up for the Heights Market:
Ichicoro Ramen, mod, casual and authentic Ramen restaurant. The owner/chefs: Noel Cruz, Branden Lenz, Masa Takaku.
Commune and Co. Coffee, founded by owner Joel Davis, is a local company whose flagship product is pressure brewed iced coffee.
Tailored Twig, owned by Darin Bahl, is a floral boutique that specializes in elegant centerpieces and bouquets for any occasion or theme.
Chocolate Pi, owned by chief pastry cook Kim Yelvington, is a bakery focusing on pastries and cakes made in the European tradition with American creativity.
Fine and Dandy, a cocktail emporium, is a new establishment founded by SoHo Capital, the developers of The Heights. The store will focus on package sales, craft cocktail kits and classes. No website yet available.
Steelbach Ranch is another new creation of SoHo Capital that will feature a boutique butcher with charcuterie and artesian cheeses. No website yet.

Chaat Corner, an Indian street affair. No website yet.

The developers also have a commitment from Studio Cabello, a hair salon on Davis Islands, to open a new Aveda salon called Rejuv within the Pearl. It will be in a 3,600-square-foot space with separate areas for men and women, and a retail area for hair care, skin care, body care and makeup. The owner is Elaine Taylor.

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Read more articles by Mike Salinero.

Mike Salinero is a feature writer for 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.