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Business Observer Thursday, Jun. 2, 2022 2 months ago

Former Tampa mayor takes a victory lap as construction begins on long-delayed project

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The ceremonial groundbreaking for the 31-floor Tampa high-rise brings a 10-year struggle to an end.
by: Louis Llovio Commercial Real Estate Editor

It’s about damn time.

That was the overwhelming sentiment at a ceremonial groundbreaking for a new 31-story luxury apartment tower in downtown Tampa May 26. Leading the chorus was the city’s former mayor, Bob Buckhorn. He'd been working on getting the project, which reimagined a section of downtown, approved and built for more than a decade only, to hear it from him, to face opposition from nearly every quarter.

“When we first started down this path, when we tried to explain how we were going to move these streets around, how we were going to take the back half of the library off and build to create a usable block, they looked at us like we had 12 heads,” says Buckhorn.

“Despite all the handwringing and all the bed wetting, today’s the day.”

Former Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn takes a victory lap at the ceremonial ground break of the Arts and Entertainment Residences, a 334-unit luxury tower being built at 300 W. Tyler Ave in Tampa. (Mark Wemple)

The building, the Arts and Entertainment Residences, is going up at 300 W. Tyler Ave. It's sandwiched on two sides between the parking garage for the Glazer Children’s Museum and the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, and the Hillsborough River and the John F. Germany Library branch on the other two sides.

In addition to the 334-unit luxury tower, a 514-space parking garage will sit atop 13,688 square feet of retail space on the ground floor.

The project’s developer is American Land Ventures, the second to work on building on the site.

The builder, Coastal Construction, says the units will include custom cabinetry, quartz countertops, up to 10-foot ceilings with floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors and balconies with views of the water and skyline. The building will be made up of studios, one-, two- and three-bedroom units.

Sean DeMartino, president for central and north Florida at Coastal, says crews are drilling the deep foundations and preparing to install the pile caps. He expects the building to begin coming out of the ground by the fall. “This will be topped out completely by this time next year.”

Coastal has been on the project for about two years. According to a development timeline it provided, the Art and Entertainment Residences is expected to receive its certificate of occupancy June 20, 2024.

Listening to Buckhorn discuss the project, one gets a sense of why it’s been delayed for so long. What city officials, developers and others did is essentially create an entire city block out of nothing and then fight for the approval to build the 31-story luxury apartment tower on that block.

The way he describes it, the tower is going up in a space where West Tyler once reached an apex, meeting up with other city streets. Buckhorn says the city was able to take down an unused portion of the library and move the road in order to create both a better traffic flow and a block of land that was “you, know, worthless dirt.”

The property is 1.014 acres.

To understand why this was such a controversy, one has to understand that the Tampa of 12 years ago is by no means the Tampa of today, where an entire city-within-a-city is being built on the east side of downtown and when the city was just about to begin its boom.

Buckhorn says in those days he got a lot of resistance to projects. The biggest blowback in the case of this particular project, he says, was the Straz Center.

In a 2013 St. Petersburg Times story, David A. Straz Jr., the Tampa businessman and philanthropist who died in 2019, questioned the project, openly wondering how a residential tower could fit into a space already having parking problems and why the art museum and library were not part of the discussion. (Straz would later run for Mayor, in the race to replace Buckhorn, losing to current Mayor Jane Castor in 2019.)

Buckhorn and developers ran into other obstacles as well, mostly from organizations he now says failed to see the vision and the benefits. The first developer wound up leaving the project.

The Straz Center, today, “is excited about having a new neighbor and we look forward to the added vibrancy the project will bring to our bourgeoning downtown,” a spokesman says.

But, a decade later, Buckhorn, even as he takes a victory lap, is still smarting.

“It took a lot of political will to get this done. But at the end of the day, the naysayers lost and the community won.” A moment later he adds, “We just overcame and pushed forward, and pushed and pushed and pushed. They were wrong. This was the right decision. And you’re going see in about 18 months what a beautiful building this is.”

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