Some development has emerged recently: Two residential projects are under construction in the Channelside area blocks away from the business district. And in an effort to stimulate residential development downtown, the city is selling about one acre of city-owned land in Curtis Hixon Park and soliciting proposals for housing.
Officials expect to choose in January between competing proposals from developers Byrd Corp. and Trammell Crow, apparently leaning toward the Byrd Corp's. plan for a $25-million, 25-story condominium tower. Byrd also is offering $2 million for the land.
"We believe Tampa is one of the cities that has the best shot" at revitalizing its downtown, says Bob Abberger, managing director of Trammell Crow's Florida development services.
Both developers expect to attract residents from the ranks of suburban commuters frustrated at spending an average of 40 minutes in their cars twice a day. "There's more people on the road, and everybody has the same 24 hours on the clock," says Ray Sandelli, senior managing director of CB Richard Ellis in Tampa. "The ability for people to live, work and play in proximity to each other is very attractive."
Also helping the prospects for residential development are city investments in cultural and transportation infrastructure.
A new $32-million streetcar system connects Channelside to Ybor City, with stops on the fringes of downtown and a plan to expand. The new, $52-million Tampa Museum of Art is under construction, and the city's marketing arm is touting the "cultural district" around the museum to attract shops, restaurants and bars.
"Philosophically, a downtown is really thought of as the personality of a city," says Christine Burdick, president of the Tampa Downtown Partnership, which is charged with marketing the area. "Tampa needs to have, wants to have, a lively downtown."
Even if the Curtis Hixon Park project succeeds, however, it may not fuel a boom in downtown housing. Infrastructure costs are a consideration: The city will need to pay for stormwater retention, utilities and more parking just for the park project.
In addition, skyrocketing land prices downtown in the last several years may make it impossible to build housing that's affordable for younger couples and office workers, Sandelli says. "We need affordable housing downtown, but will it work with property values?"
DOWNTOWN RESIDENTIAL PLANS
BuilderProjectCostStatusBank of AmericaCondos$50 millionApprovedTrammell Crow*Apartments$37.7 millionProposedByrd Corp.*Condos$25 millionProposedCHANNELSIDEGiunta GroupLoft condos$25 millionApprovedAdama DevelopmentLoft apartments$3.2 millionApproved*Competing to develop city-owned Curtis Hixon Park site
IN THE NEWS
Cape Coral -- Grosse Pointe Development Co. has begun building Tarpon Pointe Marina in Cape Coral with 976 homes on 148 acres at the mouth of the Caloosahatchee River. Home sites will run from $275,000 to about $2 million.
Clearwater -- Lincare Holdings (Nasdaq-LNCR) has acquired St. Louis-based Provide Medical, a medical equipment company, for an undisclosed sum. The acquisition is Lincare's 23rd this year.
Largo -- PCB Bancorp has acquired Fort Lauderdale-based Gateway American Bancshares for $11.5 million. PCB Bancorp, a bank holding company, now has 16 branches with $625 million in assets.
Lee County -- The Federal Aviation Administration has given the Lee County Port Authority $8 million in grants for construction of the Midfield Terminal Complex and for security operations. The new 28-gate terminal at Southwest Florida International Airport is expected to open in 2005.
Sarasota -- Ohio developer Casto Southeast and Sarasota-based Zenith Insurance have proposed a $20-million, 145,000-sq.-ft. development in downtown Sarasota that would include a grocery store, residences and office space. The proposal includes a request for the city to provide a garage, impact fee credits and $5 million to offset the costs of building the apartments and a grocery store.
Southwest Florida -- The Trust for Public Land, a non-profit group that acts as a steward to preserve land, has opened a southwest Florida office, its fourth in the state. John Garrison, former president of Friends of the Virgin Islands, a private land trust, will run the southwest office, covering an area from Citrus County to Collier County.
St. Petersburg -- Insurance claims processor Insurance Management Solutions Group (OTCBB-INMG.OB), spun off from parent company Bankers Insurance Group 3 1/2 years ago, is going private again. Bankers, a majority investor in IMSG, plans to buy out minority shareholders for $3.08 a share, or about $12 million, in exchange for a $7-million loan from IMSG at a 10.75% interest rate. In early November, IMSG stock was trading at about $2.90 a share. Bankers' credit rating was recently downgraded to a B rating by A.M. Best.
Starting next month, Florida Power will take the name of its Raleigh, N.C.-based parent company, Progress Energy.
Tampa -- Tampa's non-profit business incubator, TechVillage, is closing this month after just a year and a half. The incubator, which was supposed to attract technology companies to the area, got off to a shaky start just as the technology bubble was bursting. Like the startups to which it leased space, the incubator struggled to find money. In October, it was down to its last $1,100.
Tampa-based Sykes Enterprises' stock (Nasdaq-SYKE) fell to an all-time low in October to about $3 a share following an announcement by the call center operator that it lost two large contracts, expects to pay $30 million to end a shareholder lawsuit and will close several call centers. The company did not say which call centers will close or how many jobs will be lost.
BBJ Environmental (Nasdaq-BBJE.OB) has sold 4.7 million shares for 11 cents a share to a European bank. The Tampa company, which develops, manufactures and markets environmentally friendly products for air conditioning and refrigeration units, says the $517,000 from the stock sale will help keep it afloat through 2004.
Tampa Bay -- Tampa Bay Water launched its $144-million Regional Surface Water Treatment Plant in October. The plant will filter 66 million gallons of water a day from the Hillsborough River, Alafia River and the Tampa Bay Bypass Canal.
In the Spotlight
RECORD LAND DEAL
SOUTHWEST FLORIDA -- A 969-acre parcel of land straddling Collier and Lee counties has been sold to Parklands Development Limited Partnership of Naples for $42 million, the largest land deal in Lee and Collier counties this year. The land is zoned for 2,893 residential units, an 18-hole golf course and 120,000 square feet of commercial space. The Naples office of Coldwell Banker brokered the deal.
UNDER NEW MANAGEMENT
HAINES CITY -- Aercon Industries will take over the former Ytong Florida Ltd. plant in Haines City following Gov. Jeb Bush's approval of a $1.65-million grant to build a rail spur to the vacant building. Aercon's primary product, aerated concrete, is similar to what Ytong was producing there until the plant closed in 2000. Indianapolis-based Aercon will employ about 64.