The developers of the Heights are armed with a keen sense of urgency for a project with decade-long timeline. Another key driver? Avoid debt.
Developer. SoHo Capital Project. The Heights Key. Three other projects are also in the works in and around downtown Tampa.
Entrepreneur Chas Bruck, co-creator behind the Heights, what could be a transformative $820 million, 43-acre development just north of downtown Tampa, has a lot to be excited about.
But he's truly giddy about one specific aspect of the project.
It's not necessarily the sleek office village or the extension of the Tampa Riverwalk. It's not The Pearl, a 314-unit apartment complex in an area in need of more residential units. And it's not the adaptive reuse of the historic brick Armature Works building, a once dilapidated warehouse that was a maintenance barn for TECO streetcars and trolleys 100 years ago.
(Though the Armature Works phase, to transform the building into a nationally known, hipster-cool, foodie-centric market/food hall is one of Bruck's favorite parts.)
Instead, what really gets Bruck jazzed about the Heights is a water tower. Not just any water tower. But a 165-foot tower Bruck discovered in Bartow, Polk County, that's a near-replica of a water tower that stood on the Armature Works property a century ago. Bruck spotted the tower at an orange grove on his way across the state, and worked out a deal with the owners. The tower was moved to a site near Port Tampa Bay, where a crew sandblasted and renovated it to ready it for the Heights. The project cost about $600,000.
“When we started to look through old photos of the project, we thought this looked really cool, and we should put that back,” says Bruck, a principal at Tampa-based SoHo Capital, a private equity firm he co-founded founded in 2006 that's the development firm behind the Heights. “It's what we want to be the landmark spot of the project.”
The Heights project, which could take 10-12 years to reach final build out, is one of four landmark developments with potential to redefine Tampa. That ranges from adding thousands of residents to wooing corporate headquarters to the city's global image. Other projects include the much anticipated and talked about Channelside redevelopment, a $2 billion-plus project from Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and several partners; the West River, a $500 million project from the Tampa Housing Authority and the Related Group; and the Port
Authority Tract, a project, worth at least $1 billion, in the city's central business district.
Longtime Florida commercial real estate executive Bruce Erhardt, author of a recent study on the projects, says the Heights has a lot going for it. His pro list includes financially capable, experienced developers in Bruck, 33, and SoHo Capital co-founder Adam Harden, 53; a can't-beat location that hugs waterfront; and a stylish vibe that can help sell parts of the projected to coveted millennials.
“It's going to be eclectic,” says Erhardt, executive director of Cushman & Wakefield's land brokerage business in the Americas, who notes people will be able to access parts of the Heights by kayaks. “I think it's a very exciting mixed-used development. It will be first class.”
Developers behind the Heights, while aware of other area projects, have a blinder-like focus on their own development.
“We feel like the Heights is the last chance for us to have a real urban village here,” says Harden, director of operations for Lennar Homes for 13 years before he teamed up with Bruck a decade ago. “It's time for us to execute on being the next great city.”
The first phase and centerpiece of the Heights, where work is already underway, is Heights Market, which will replace the 73,444-square-foot former Armature Works building. In addition to the market, plans call for two event spaces, restaurants, a shared workspace and a rooftop social area. This phase could be completed by early next year, and once fully functional, have at least 300 employees.
The larger of the two event spaces, a 10,000-square-foot hall, will have state-of-the-art audio and lighting against exposed brick walls and hardwood floors repurposed from the original roof. It can hold up to 800 people. The events side also includes a family component: Bruck's wife, Taryn Bruck, is director of events.
Opposite the event space will be Heights Market, what Chas Bruck calls the “heart and soul” of the entire project.
To get the best concept and design, Bruck, Harden and team hit the road. They visited at least a half-dozen popular public markets nationwide, from Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia to Pike Place Market in Seattle. They spoke with landlords, tenants and customers. They heard what worked and what didn't work.
The market hall strategy seems timed correctly: Several large retail development firms nationwide, for example, have also recently gotten into food hall spaces. New York-based urban planner and architect Anthony Deen, who has written about the market/food hall trend, says the concept follows what customers want. That's fewer quick service chains, he says, and more natural, local and authentic food purveyors.
Deen, with ESI Design, cites Atlanta-based Jamestown Properties as a leader in the trend, with a variety of projects in Georgia and New York. And a high-end food hall is a key component of a $500 million renovation project Bloomfield, Mich.-based Taubman Centers announced earlier this year for the Beverly Center in Los Angeles.
“I really think a lot of the troubled malls should look at this model,” Deen says. “The food hall trend will grow for the next several years. It's an idea that definitely has legs.”
Bruck and Harden made a key hire for Heights Market earlier this summer, when they brought on Tim Jarrett, former general manager of the Centre Club in Tampa. Jarrett was named COO of the Heights Market in July. He has been in the hospitality industry for more than two decades, and spent the past two years overseeing a major revitalization of the Centre Club.
Now Jarrett will oversee a facility that will be a cornucopia of tastes and senses. It includes stations and booths that will sell everything from cocktails and craft beer to cheeses and coffee. Project officials hope to include an interactive kitchen for cooking classes, in addition to pop-up dinners with Heights Market tenants. Some of the tenants for the market, more than a dozen in total, include:
Ichicoro Ramen, a mod-casual Ramen restaurant;
Tailored Twig, a floral boutique;
Chocolate Pi, a bakery with European-style pastries and cakes;
Fine and Dandy, a cocktail emporium with package sales, craft cocktail kits and classes; and
Chaat Corner, an Indian street food booth.
While developers anticipate a novelty and wow factor to Heights Market, Harden also points out there's a practical side, given the lack of places nearby to buy fresh food and produce.
The progress SoHo Capital has made on the Heights has brought some unexpected challenges, says Bruck, mainly in working with city officials on a variety of approvals and issues.
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, says Bruck, has been and is one of the Heights' biggest cheerleaders, but the project's complexity has slowed down some phases. “These are all things that have never been done before in urban Tampa,” Bruck says. “There's a big learning curve for everyone.”
The recent development history of the site dates back to 1995, when the city officials approved a rezone permit there. Several other developers got started, then stalled. Says Harden: “No one has ever attempted to put it all together like this.”
Every element of the Heights, says Bruck, is wrapped around a trump card: proximity to the Hillsborough River. “We are very accessible,” says Bruck. “When you look at Tampa out three miles we are really at the center of everything.”
Before SoHo, Bruck spent a year after college in Arizona, interning for a commercial development firm that worked on big-box retail deals. He and Harden started to talk about and plan for the Heights in 2009. They bought most of the land for the Heights piecemeal over the next few years, some out of bankruptcy.
The partners decline to say how much, in total, they have invested in the Heights so far. Bruck says the group, which includes a few silent investors, will consider some loans or financing for certain aspects. The Pearl apartment complex is one, financed in part with a construction-specific loan. But the developers, in general, eschew debt. “When you start taking on debt,” Bruck says, “that's when bad things could happen.”
The lead developers behind the Heights, Chas Bruck and Adam Harden, have completed at least a dozen projects with SoHo Capital, the firm they launched in 2006. Several more projects, in addition to the Heights, are ongoing. The list includes:
South Bay at Wellington, a finished project with 22 residential lots sold to Lennar Homes;
SoHo Capital Center, a two-story, 6,500-square-foot office building off of South Howard Avenue and West Horatio Street in Tampa. The building includes the firm's corporate office and other tenants;
The Safety Harbor Strip Center, an 8,615-square-foot plaza on Main Street in downtown Safety Harbor.
The Heights is an $820 million, 43-acre development between North Boulevard and North Tampa Street, parallel to the Hillsborough River and at the final expansion of the Tampa Riverwalk. Components of the project include:
The Pearl, a 314-unit apartment complex, scheduled for completion by September 2017, that includes 28,500 square feet of ground-level retail space
Heights Market, a market/food hall with a wide variety of vendors
Event spaces and a rooftop social area
A mix of residential units for sale and rent
A hotel and an office village
On-street and structured parking