Signs of Growth
Drive around the Tampa Bay region and it doesn't take long to come across clusters of construction workers, cranes and earthmovers -- all signs of a big residential growth spurt.
In downtown St. Petersburg, Tampa's Channelside and Clearwater Beach, high-rise condos and loft apartment projects are rising up. In north
Hillsborough, Pasco, Hernando and Polk counties, new subdivisions are ubiquitous.
Single-family housing starts in the region were up 10% in 2003 over 2002, to 18,967, according to Fishkind & Associates. One of the few areas still lagging in residential building is downtown Tampa, and city leaders hope the residential renaissance in the Channelside area will spill over into downtown just a few blocks away.
The growth will take a toll on the region's infrastructure. The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce estimates the area will need $5 billion over the next 20 years for highway and road construction just to keep up with the growing population. A proposal to put a 1/2-cent sales tax referendum on the November ballot to help pay for road construction was recently voted down by the Hillsborough County Commission.
On the business front, economic development officials are trying to attract manufacturers, specifically makers of biomedical equipment. "We want to take advantage of the research opportunities coming out of Moffitt and USF and translate that into jobs," says chamber President Kim Scheeler.
Key Trend: More than 200,000 cars drive through the I-4/I-275 interchange known as "malfunction junction" every day, creating the 16th-worst bottleneck in the country, according to the American Highway Users Alliance. The good news is that the Florida Department of Transportation is spending about $80 million to fix the problem, adding more overpasses and lanes. Construction should be completed in two years. Despite all the traffic, nobody's taking the off-ramp to downtown Tampa after dark. Mayor Pam Iorio wants to change that. To attract tourists and residential development downtown, she proposes a riverwalk along the portion of the Hillsborough River that weaves through downtown. She also would like to see a cultural arts district in the same area, playing up the location of the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center and the Tampa Museum of Art. Even so, redevelopment is probably a decade away.
People to Watch: Pam Iorio, finishing her first year as mayor, wants to transform blighted neighborhoods, such as the 40th Street corridor near Busch Gardens, into vibrant city enclaves and bring more mixed-use projects downtown and to Ybor City. "We want to create a unique destination where creative energies flourish," she says. ... Christine Burdick, president of the Tampa Downtown Partnership, is working closely with the mayor to help downtown reach the heights of Channelside, which has three condo developments in the works.
Businesses to Watch: Switch and Data, a telecommunications service provider primarily for businesses, has seen its revenue grow 75% from 2002 to 2003, to $70 million. It added 30 customers in the fourth quarter last year. ... The University of South Florida recently broke ground on a research park. USF plans to develop the 87-acre research park into a hub for biotechnology and life sciences research with entrepreneurs working together with researchers. ... Pinnacle Group Holdings is building a 624-foot space needle, similar to the one in Seattle, along with two 37-story towers in Channelside. The $350-million project, called Pinnacle Place, will include a 4,000-seat amphitheater, a four-star hotel, about 70,000 square feet of retail space, 150,000 square feet of office space and about 400 residential units.
Key Trend: The city was recently named one of 26 most-livable cities in the U.S. by the non-profit group Partners for Livable Communities. Downtown residential projects -- more than a dozen condo and townhouse projects are under way or planned this year -- and a new shopping center are adding momentum to a burgeoning downtown scene. Redevelopment is spreading into the low-income Midtown area that abuts downtown: There's a new health center and a St. Petersburg College branch campus. Construction on a grocery store is to begin this year along with the reconstruction of the historic Manhattan Casino and Royal Theater. Also, city officials "are in active discussions with a number of companies" to sell 16 acres in the blighted Dome Industrial Park near downtown, says Ron Barton, the city's economic development director.
Businesses to Watch: Urban Development Solutions has teamed up with St. Petersburg's Sembler Co. to build Midtown's first grocery store -- a Kash n' Karry. Urban Development President Larry Newsome will play a big role in the reshaping of Midtown. ... All Children's Hospital plans to build a $270-million hospital next to its current location. Hospital executives still need to raise about $75 million before construction can begin.
Person to Watch: Deputy Mayor Goliath Davis has been instrumental in attracting new businesses -- 22 in the last two years -- to struggling Midtown.
Business to Watch: PODS, the portable storage container company, has grown from about 20 locations mainly in Florida in 2001 to 229 locations in 32 states this year and recently received an investment of about $15 million from the Lafayette Investment Fund and an additional $3 million from private investors.
Person to Watch: Reg Owens, Clearwater's director of economic development and housing, helped attract the city's first mixed-use development project downtown in 15 years. Beck Development announced that it will build a $42-million, 14-story condominium, restaurant and retail tower next to the city's historic post office. To help spur more residential development in the downtown area, Owens is scouting for a movie theater to open downtown and is still trying to negotiate a good price for the City Hall building, which is on prime waterfront property.
LAKELAND & Polk County
Major Trends: Distribution centers continue to be Polk County's bread and butter. With the recent hiring of a new economic development director, officials will work this year on helping some of the county's smaller cities create growth plans. ... City and county leaders hope to cash in on the area's location, between two major urban centers, Tampa and Orlando, by touting its old Florida feel to companies and tourists. ... The county commission recently passed a 5-cent tourist development tax that will help save 30 acres of Cypress Gardens, which had closed last April. ... Verizon is hiring 250 workers for a new call center in Lakeland.
Person to Watch: Tom Patton, who once handled economic development for two counties in Washington state and most recently played the same role in Haines City, is the new director of the Central Florida Development Council of Polk County. He plans to target technology and manufacturing businesses and tout Polk County's old Florida feel to help attract tourism. "There's so much character" in Polk County, he says.
Business to Watch: Crispers, a salad and sandwich restaurant, started with one location in Lakeland in 1989. Since Publix, another Lakeland company, bought a stake in the company in 2002, Crispers has grown to 20 restaurants in Florida. It plans to add nine locations this year.
NEW PORT RICHEY & Pasco County
Major Trend: Close to 6,000 housing permits were issued in Pasco County in 2003. That's up almost 25% from the year before. In fact, the county is the 100th-fastest-growing county in the country, according to the Census Bureau. Companies from surrounding counties have been moving in because they've found that "a good population of their workers already live in Pasco," says Mary Jane Stanley, executive director of the Pasco Economic Development Council. Officials are concentrating on building more business parks. Stanley hopes to attract more manufacturing businesses, such as medical and electronic components suppliers.
Business to Watch: Enodis, with its global headquarters in New Port Richey but board headquarters in England, is one of the largest food service equipment manufacturers in the world. The local operation creates state-of-the-art ovens, fryers, refrigeration systems and other equipment at its technology center. The center recently created a convection microwave oven that cooks as fast as a microwave but as effectively as a conventional oven. It also created, in conjunction with a major fast-food chain, an automated french fry station.
Major Trend: Close to one-third of the land in Hernando and Citrus counties is government-owned, protected property, a major obstacle for business growth. Both counties have experienced a housing boom, which makes for a large retail industry but doesn't create many high-paying jobs. Hernando has about 25,000 residents commuting to surrounding counties. Brett Wattles, executive director of Citrus County's Economic Development Council, says that the expansion of the Suncoast Parkway would be a major boost in attracting more manufacturing companies, but lawsuits from environmentalists have stalled the project. "We don't have good access to transporting goods and services," he says.
Businesses to Watch: Crystal River-based Technology Conservation Group, which recycles, recovers and reuses electronic scrap from technology companies, expanded to a 79,000-sq.-ft. facility, more than doubling its size. ... The Weeki Wachee Springs theme park owners donated the park to the city of Weeki Wachee last year. The park needs millions of dollars in repairs that the city, with just 20 registered voters, may not be able to afford. The Southwest Florida Water Management District owns the land and has required the city to make the repairs and turn a profit this year. If the city fails, the 57-year-old park could close. ... The city of Weeki Wachee itself is in jeopardy of being absorbed by Hernando County. County officials have asked the Legislature to dissolve the independent city after officials there tried to buy the Spring Hill Utility, which the county had also been trying to purchase.
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