Uptown Tampa hones its identity, investments

One of Tampa’s busiest neighborhoods is rebranding itself for a new generation of innovative development. The area surrounding the University of South Florida, Busch Gardens, AdventHealth hospital, and other North Tampa landmarks has officially been renamed Uptown, a moniker that defines the community's distinct urban vibe as the northern neighbor to downtown Tampa. 

This area of North Tampa, bounded by Busch Boulevard to the south, Bearss Avenue to the north, and Interstates 75 and 275 to the east and west, has recently seen not only huge population growth but also an increasing number of new and investment-worthy commercial and medical developments. The thought leaders at Tampa !p (Innovation Partnership), formerly known as the Tampa Innovation Alliance, hope to see continued growth in entertainment, science, and technology throughout the Uptown District. If recent developments are an indication, it appears the Tampa !p team and other community leaders are getting their collective wish. 

It may take a while for residents and businesses to refer to the community by its new Uptown name. However, some major corporations, such as Chick-Fil-A, which opened a restaurant at 2811 E. Fowler in May 2019, have already officially adopted the “Uptown District” name. Others, including University Mall, are also slated to incorporate the Uptown branding in their marketing campaigns. 

Along with an official rebranding, the announcement of a new partnership between the City of Tampa and Hillsborough County ensures that new zoning laws in the Uptown District, which covers both the city and unincorporated areas of the county, will accommodate the type of innovative growth targeted for the community. Tampa !p Executive Director Mark Sharpe explains the new city-county partnership is critical for the success of the overall community plan. 

“This [pact] is very important so that the city, county, and the Tampa Innovation partnership can work together for the development of a district-wide plan,” he says. “We will be working closely with MOSI, as well as our six anchors, and our hundreds of partners to create a governance structure for a well-defined boundary for an innovation district that will have certain authority. We hope that because the city and county are coming together, some of that will include permitting and zoning so we can better coordinate ... [and] can avoid a complexity that people find when they try to create a development in the University Area.”

The partnership is gaining praise on all sides. 

“Tampa is going to change more in the next 10 years than it has in my entire lifetime,” says Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, who was born in Tampa in 1960. “We have one opportunity to create the city that we want to live and work in. When you look at the communities that are being created, from the urban core in downtown and the growth there, Water Street, what’s happening in Ybor City, Midtown, West Tampa, Westshore, and now in Uptown, and to be able to partner in this with [Hillsborough] County is nothing short of amazing.”

Hillsborough County District 7 Commissioner Kimberly Overman says one of the biggest keys in turning that intergovernmental partnership into action for Uptown is in creating a special zoning district for the area.

“We’ve created a new, very specific zoning called Innovation Corridor Mixed-Use 35. This [zoning designation] is one I really like,” she says, as it will permit higher-density developments than previously allowed in the Uptown District and pave the legal way for more of the innovative developments the Tampa !p partnership hopes to attract. 

New Yuengling placemaking project 

One of the most promising updates from the Uptown District is a recently announced hotel and entertainment complex slated for the site of the Yuengling Brewery on 30th Street between Busch Gardens and the University of South Florida. Plans call for a 150-room hotel, 12,700-square-foot restaurant, microbrewery, conference center, museum, gift shop, and a beer garden. While zoning plans filed with the city call for potentially all of those elements, not all may be implemented, at least from the onset of the project. 

“Since 1999, when we first began brewing Yuengling beer in our Tampa brewery, we have considered the Tampa community to be our second home,” says Wendy Yuengling, sixth-generation Yuengling family member. “Our vision for the Tampa campus This expansive lawn on the northwest side of the Yuengling Brewery property on North 30th Street will soon give way to a new hotel and entertainment complex.project is to build upon our affinity for the community and to create a first-class destination that helps us to tell our unique, 190-year story of ‘America’s Oldest Brewery.’ We look forward to giving consumers the opportunity to experience our rich history and enjoy our portfolio of beer brands and are excited for the development of this project to continue. Stay tuned for more updates on the Tampa campus project later this year.”

The Pottsville, PA, brewing company, which was established in 1829, had offered brewery tours as its primary guest experience for those visiting the North Tampa landmark, which previously had been a Stroh brewing plant. “We are thrilled with the project,” says Eddie Burch of Tampa !p. “Placemaking is one of the five priority areas adopted by our advisory board and a pillar of any innovation district. The Yuengling development will be a convergence point and gathering place for the brilliant minds living, working, and studying in the Uptown area.”

He adds, “we are extremely excited about this as a social/recreation spot and a place where creative, innovative people can gather to collaborate and share ideas. This is exactly the type of thing that an innovation district needs to amplify the assets of its educational and research institutions.”

Elsewhere in Uptown

While the Yuengling hotel and entertainment project is one of the largest new projects to kick off in the Uptown District, there are many other recent developments throughout North Tampa. 

Below are some of the latest.

Uptown hospitals 

At the northeast corner of Fletcher Avenue and Bruce D. Downs Boulevard grows the $256 million AdventHealth patient and surgical tower. When AdventHealth, formerly known as Florida Hospital, opens its six-floor, 300,000-square-foot tower in summer 2021, it will include 24 operating rooms, more than 100 private patient rooms, and a 132-bed capacity with room for future expansion on the sixth floor. 

Two cranes are working in tandem along with a talented team of workers who are helping build a state-of-the-art medical tower at AdventHealth Hospital in the Uptown District. The building, designed by Florida architectural firm HuntonBrady and Alabama engineering company Robins & Morton, will host a plethora of technological advances, including voice-activated controls for the television, blinds, and lights in the patient rooms. The new tower will also feature more natural lighting than typically encountered in a hospital setting and live plants throughout the facility. The new facility will employ nearly 600 people by its fifth year of operation. 

Just southwest of the new AdventHealth tower is a rising bed tower at the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital. The new five-story facility will have 96 medical-surgical single-patient rooms along with 40 ICU beds. It is slated to open in 2022. Meanwhile, the Haley VA hospital team is in the process of decompressing some formerly four-patient bedrooms to more luxuriously accommodate two patients, and a new 13,800-square-foot wound care center will be opening in 2020. 

Mark Sharpe says the construction of the two new towers along the same stretch of Bruce B. Downs necessitates safety enhancements for motorists and pedestrians.

“We’re going to be adding two new [traffic] lights on Bruce B. Downs to slow traffic down and make it easier for traffic to turn into those two institutions,” he says of AdventHealth and the Haley VA hospitals. “We want to find ways to make it safer for people to move around and get in and out of these institutions.”

A request, Sharpe says, will soon go to the state Legislature to build a $3 million walkway connecting the VA hospital and University Mall, soon to be renamed Uptown Mall.

And nearby Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute is preparing for a major expansion, including nearly 200 new patient rooms, 24 surgical suites, and expanded treatment facilities. The total projected value for two phases of the project to be completed by 2023 is expected to be between $400M and $475M. (Moffitt is also planning a major new campus for expanded research labs and patient care in mid-southern Pasco County, north of its Tampa campus.)     

Busch Gardens & Adventure Island

Just south of the AdventHealth and VA hospitals are Busch Gardens and Adventure Island, which like their medical neighbors to the north also sport tall cranes signaling progress. Busch Gardens, celebrating its 60th anniversary in 2019, is building a new hybrid wood-steel roller coaster to be named Iron Gwazi. 

The new ride, which reuses much of the former wooden structure from the dueling roller coaster known as Gwazi, will send riders to heights of 206 feet before plunging them down a 91-degree drop at speeds up to 76 mph. Iron Gwazi will send guests through three upside-down elements along more than 4,000 feet of track. When Iron Gwazi opens in spring 2020, it will be the tallest hybrid roller coaster in North America and the steepest and fastest hybrid roller coaster in the world. 

Across Malcolm McKinley Boulevard from Busch Gardens is sister water park Adventure Island, where crews are replacing the 24-year-old Key West Rapids raft ride with Solar Vortex. The new 55-foot-tall multi-passenger raft slide will zip riders though hairpin turns and three “AquaLucent” tunnels at speeds of more than 20 mph. Solar Vortex will open in spring 2020.

University Area CDC

The neighborhood Community Development Corporation is focused on the redevelopment and sustainability of the at-risk areas surrounding the University of South Florida's Tampa campus.

The nonprofit, government-supported organization providing youth programs, adult education, and resource assistance will celebrate the grand opening of Harvest Hope Park on November 21st. Park highlights include community gardens, a teaching kitchen, sports fields, playgrounds, walking trails, and a one-acre natural pond. 

Fowler Avenue corridor

“Something exciting is coming to the corner of Nebraska and Fowler Avenue,” hints Mark Sharpe. While he won’t yet divulge the details, the intersection is presently flanked by two aging strip malls and is in close proximity to the I-275 interchange at Fowler Avenue – one of the busiest sections of Tampa’s interstate system. 

“How do we move people from the University Area to downtown? These studies are being done by Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART) and the Florida Department of Transportation,” Sharpe says. “They’re looking at the Nebraska and Florida Avenue corridors for bus transit solutions.”

Meanwhile, he says local and state transportation organizations continue pursuing rail options and other innovative concepts to help move people around town more safely and efficiently.

“We’ll even be talking to SkyTram about the use of aerial pods,” he adds. “You’ve got to be open to all concepts.” 

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Read more articles by Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez.

Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez is a freelance writer who was born and raised in Tampa. He earned his BA in English from the University of South Florida and spent more than three years as a full-time copywriter for a local internet marketing firm before striking out on his own to write for various blogs and periodicals, including TheFunTimesGuide, CoinValue and COINage magazine. He has also authored local history books, including Images of America: Tampa's Carrollwood and Images of Modern America: Tampa Bay Landmarks and Destinations, which are two titles produced by Arcadia Publishing.
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