Uptown leaders in North Tampa reset for resiliency amid pandemic$2-billion in new development

Influencers and innovators from the Uptown District in Tampa and beyond recently took a moment to reflect on the challenges of the past year and the opportunities ahead. They convened by way of a digital platform for Tampa’s !p Sixth Annual Innovation Gathering, the first of these conferences held entirely online. 

The virtual summit, hosted by Tampa’s Innovation Partnership (!p) on Oct. 29 brought together community leaders and urban studies scholars who are united in moving the Uptown District into the future. 

COVID-19 was a primary theme for the 2020 !p Innovation Gathering, an annual event that focuses on recent development and future plans within the 19-square-mile area of North Tampa bounded by Bearss Avenue to the north, Busch Boulevard to the south, and Interstates 75 and 275 to the east and west. But while the pandemic was certainly considered a major challenge for the community, it also is viewed as a previously unforeseen opportunity -- one that may further the goals of closing gaps in wealth and health within the communities adjacent to the University of South Florida and beyond throughout the Greater Tampa Bay Area. 

Resiliency is the key

The mission for the Uptown District was all about resiliency even before the pandemic wreaked a path of illness, death, and economic ruin across the country and around the world. The Tampa Bay Area thankfully had many resources ready to go from the moment the pandemic hit Central Florida, and the Uptown District was particularly well-suited to handle the health crisis. Uptown District leaders shined the spotlight on the many hospitals and healthcare facilities concentrated in the USF area, including AdventHealth, the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital, H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center, and Tampa Family Health -- all of which are currently undergoing multimillion-dollar expansions.
The growth in connective medical technology has been a key driver in responding to local health needs. “About 15% of our patients access virtual healthcare,” remarks John A. Kolosky, President and COO of the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center. “But that’s up from single digits. While [these patients] can’t get surgeries or chemo [virtually], they can get checkups or other services that way.”

Adds Bruce Bergherm, Senior Executive Officer of Acute Care Services for the West Florida Division of AdventHealth: “Acceleration of technology has allowed us to reach the next level.”
As leaders recognized during the Sixth Annual Innovation Gathering, bouncing back from the pandemic has also been reliant on the Uptown District’s service sector. Hundreds of restaurants, including more than 60 family-owned eateries, are located throughout the Uptown community. These, along with local food pantries, have worked together to feed thousands of families in the North Tampa community, many of them living below the poverty line.
The Innovation Partnership, in collaboration with the University Area Community Development Corporation, took a moment during the Innovation Gathering to bestow four awards to local organizations that have shown extraordinary leadership during these most unusual times.

The winner of the Community Catalyst Award was Fuzzy’s Taco Shop for its One Taco at a Time program, which delivered fresh tacos to frontline responders while helping to keep the restaurant’s staff employed. The Creative Cooperation Award was won by Tampa Family Health for its consistent communication, knowledge of programs and services, and excellent participation in community committees and events. The Community Impact Award went to Depository Trust & Clearing Corporation for its magnificent efforts in distributing food to more than 3,500 families a week at Mega Pantries in the Tampa Bay area. A fourth, special honor called the Uptown Resiliency Award was given to Feeding Tampa Bay for stepping up during the pandemic to distribute more than 1.3 million meals throughout the Uptown District. 

Resetting for the future
While the pandemic has highlighted a range of long-entrenched socioeconomic issues, the crisis is also giving communities around the world an opportunity to reset for the better. In a panel discussion segment led by urban studies scholar Richard Florida, the prevailing sentiment is that the pandemic is influencing community leaders to rethink development strategies and ensure that all residents become stakeholders in growth.
“Financial crises gave the United States a chance to reset how the nation’s economy works,” notes Florida, the University of Toronto instructor and author of the bestselling book The New Urban Crisis (Basic Books, 2017). “We have a once-in-a-century opportunity to reset for resiliency. Now we have the opportunity to build back better -- build back not just for a stronger economy, but also for racial and economic equality.”
Among the panelists was Innovation Partnership Chief Potential Officer Mark Sharpe, who says, “We need to create a place where people can come together. The defense industry recognizes that we need to connect [its] industry with technology, and we have the USF Institute of Applied Engineering.” The new USF-led innovator, which hires and works with many military veterans, is headquartered at RITHM at Uptown, the Fowler Avenue property formerly known as University Mall.
“One thing I saw early on is a lot of silos,” says RD Management Chief Development Strategist Chris Bowen, using the widely known agricultural term “silo” to refer to a type of mentality in which players in a particular group may share tasks with one another in their group but may not necessarily contribute those resources to other groups. “These silos can be broken down and inclusiveness can grow in the Uptown District.”
Chairman of The Community Enrichment Laboratory Shilen Patel believes the opportunity is ripe in Uptown. “One of the great things about Uptown is the intersection between medical, technology, and other sectors. The simple act of being willing to interact and engage between stakeholders is important.” He adds, “one thing I love about this community is that it is a blank canvas -- the USF area is a blank canvas for redevelopment and to put a new stamp on things.” 

Building back better

Since long before the pandemic, the Uptown District had been the canvas for exciting new growth. As of October 2020, more than $2 billion in projects are underway, including a new $400 million H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center total-care facility on McKinley Drive set to open in July 2023. About a mile northwest lay James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital and AdventHealth, with each soon completing $250 million projects that provide new towers offering more bed space and state-of-the-art medical technology.
USF Research Park is a year away from opening its $42 million multistory laboratories and office building at the northeast corner of Fowler Avenue and Spectrum Boulevard, and the University Area Community Development Corporation is helping oversee the construction of Uptown Sky, a 60-unit multifamily housing community at Fletcher Avenue and 12th Street aimed at providing homes for lower-income families.
While thousands of new jobs are coming to North Tampa through the expansion of health and technology services, thousands more will be added in the retail and entertainment sectors. Amazon is building a 2.9-million-square-foot distribution center near the intersection of U.S. Highway 301 and Harney Road while Yuengling Brewery is constructing a dynamic new entertainment complex at its campus on 30th Street that will soon offer a new hotel, museum, brewpub, beer garden, and conference space.
On Fowler Avenue, the 100-acre RITHM at Uptown property continues undergoing a massive, multiphase redevelopment. Among the changes is the adaptive reuse of a former JCPenney department store building that will soon transform into revolutionary Class A office space. Meanwhile, a residential and retail complex called Hub Tampa will rise by a cleared parcel where once stood a 250,000-square-foot Sears department store. Remarks Sharpe, “Chris Bowen has taken that old University Mall and is making life-developing changes at that property.”

Catch up on the latest from Tampa’s Innovation Partnership Sixth Annual Innovation Gathering
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

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.