2018 Urban Excellence Awards: Celebrating innovation in Downtown Tampa

Downtown Tampa is in the midst of a boom that’s seeing developers funnel billions of dollars into real estate projects around town. 

From the outside, it might seem like the city is being born anew, but change has been coming for the last decade with fresh and established players leading the way to create a vibrant urban environment.

In celebration of downtown Tampa’s most creative movers and shakers, the Tampa Downtown Partnership presents the annual Urban Excellence Awards. This year's ceremony took place in November at Armature Works on the Hillsborough River in Tampa Heights.

The awards went to individuals, businesses, organizations, and projects completed within the past year that made a significant contribution to downtown and displayed creativity, community leadership, and an entrepreneurial spirit. Categories included arts and culture, downtown collaborations, and standout individuals in the private and public sectors.

Winners were selected by a panel of judges, who ranked nominees on a scale of 1-10 based on how well they satisfied topics of innovation, creativity, engagement, sustainability, advancement, and impact.

Here are the winners and their notable recent contributions to the downtown Tampa neighborhood:

1. Activating Spaces: Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority Pocket Parks Phase 1

The Activating Space Award recognizes the first stage in the Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority’s plan to design and build five small parks along the Selmon Greenway between Ashley Drive and Meridian Avenue, adjacent to downtown’s Central Business District and Channelside District. The award was given to the organization for helping generate a commercially vibrant environment through infrastructure and design.

2. Arts and Culture: Tampa Museum of Art, “Love is Calling” Exhibit

The Tampa Museum of Art “Love is Calling” Exhibit wins the 2018 Arts and Culture Award.The Arts and Culture Award recognizes the Tampa Museum of Art for exhibiting Yayoi Kusama’s “Love is Calling.” A world-renowned artist, Kusama’s work features mirrored walls with alternating colors that create a kaleidoscope effect for visitors. “Love is Calling” is on exhibit through February 14, 2019. The event was selected for stimulating economic growth, encouraging tourism, and enhancing downtown’s cultural image.

3. Downtown Collaboration: TECO Line Streetcar Reimagined: Free Fares and Modernization and Expansion Study

The Downtown Collaboration Award recognizes the TECO Line Streetcar for a campaign that saw the historic public transport system modernized. As part of the modernization process, TECO conducted an expansion study and received an $890,000, three-year grant from the Florida Department of Transportation, which makes rides between Ybor City and downtown free for all. The project was selected for complementing work by the City of Tampa and the Tampa Downtown Partnership.

4. Downtown Experience: “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” Franklin Street Block Party by Tampa Theatre

New seats installed at the Tampa Theatre. The Downtown Experience Award recognizes Tampa Theatre for hosting the Franklin Street Block Party prior to the new documentary on Mr. Rogers, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? During the Block Party, local restaurants set up tables on the sidewalk outside their venues, serving samples of their house favorites. The event was selected for exposing people to a positive downtown experience.

“Coming off of our major restoration at the end of 2017, we at the Theatre knew we wanted to find a way to re-introduce ourselves to Tampa in general and downtown Tampa residents specifically,” says James DeFord, Marketing Manager for Tampa Theatre. “A lot of threads came together at once. We’d had a successful but much smaller event a few weeks before where we brought out rescue dogs for our patrons to meet and play with, so we wanted to do something even bigger and work with other charities. Won’t You Be My Neighbor? was a movie we expected to have wide and lasting appeal to audiences and we had a meeting with Tampa Downtown Partnership about working together on an event. The idea to hold a block party and celebrate downtown and all of the great businesses and organizations in our neighborhood grew out of all of that.”

5. Landmark Development: Heights Public Market at Armature Works

The Landmark Development Award recognizes Armature Works and the popular Heights Public Market for its renovation of an iconic building into a magnet that attracts people to the downtown area. Armature Works was converted from an old streetcar storage and maintenance barn into a sprawling mixed-use facility including a front patio, central courtyard, 700-person event space, and food market, right on the Hillsborough River. The Heights Public Market features food and drinks from some of Tampa’s most recognized restaurants.

6. Marketplace: Duckweed Urban Grocery

Brian Edwards of downtown Tampa exits Duckweed Urban Grocery, winner of the 2018 Marketplace Award.The Marketplace Award recognizes Duckweed Urban Grocery for contributing to the downtown marketplace and providing a new and unique shopping experience in the neighborhood. Duckweed has locations at Channelside and downtown.

7. Private Sector: CW’s Gin Joint

The Private Sector Award recognizes CW’s Gin Joint, a popular new cocktail bar. Launched by Proprietor and Designer Carolyn Wilson earlier this year, CW’s Gin Joint offers a throwback, speakeasy vibe, with an emphasis on serving quality liquor. The venue was selected for demonstrating a commitment to assist in revitalizing downtown.

8. Public Sector: Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park

The Public Sector Award recognizes Julian B Lane Riverfront Park, the new waterfront park, which opened on the west side of the Hillsborough River in May. The 25-acre park features an event space, boathouse, two dog parks, athletic courts, picnic shelters, and a small waterpark for kids under 12. Some 16,000 people can occupy the park’s festival lawn, which the city utilized for Riverfront Rock!, an opening event with more than 24 hours of events and entertainment in May.

9. People’s Choice: Catherine Bennett of SkyPoint Condos

The People’s Choice Award recognizes Catherine Bennett of SkyPoint Condos, downtown Tampa’s first high-rise condominium, who threw the Halloween Resident Spooktacular, an annual Halloween event in the building. During the event, Bennett and staff handed out hundreds of goodie bags containing special offers and coupons for downtown businesses. Voted for by the public, the award recognizes people who’ve made a notable contribution toward creating a vibrant and diverse downtown community.

“All healthy downtowns depend upon a critical mix of residents, businesses and activated living spaces,” says Bennett. SkyPoint led the way in providing a concentration of the first modern-day ‘urban dwellers’ who, in turn, catalyzed the demand for the changes we have seen over the last decade in Tampa’s downtown.”

10. Person of The Year: Leo Rodgers

Leo Rodgers, recipient of the 2018 Christine Burdick Person of The Year Award.The Christine Burdick Person of the Year Award recognizes paralympic hopeful Leo Rodgers, a Tampa Bay bike mechanic who works downtown at City Bike Tampa, hosts bike charity events, and is often seen cycling the city streets. Rodgers works hard to encourage more people to ride bicycles and was selected for demonstrating leadership and contributing to a positive experience for downtown’s visitors.

“I was completely stunned. I didn’t know the city of Tampa was such a big community like that. To be appreciated, it was really emotional. I ride and try to get people out there to ride, to stay healthy and fit. It’s amazing. Going up against some of those other people.”
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Read more articles by Dyllan Furness.

Dyllan Furness is a freelance writer and born-again Floridian based in Tampa. He covers the Tampa Bay Area’s development boom for 83 Degrees, with an eye out for sustainable and community-driven initiatives.