Hillsborough River Photo by kellogg
Developer In For Long Haul
By JOSE PATINO GIRONA,
The Tampa Tribune
Published: March 8, 2008
– With a weak housing market and a waiting game for permits, patience is the operative word for The Heights, the $500 million, 48-acre development of condominiums, town homes, offices and commercial property adjacent to downtown
. The developer may build fewer condos and town homes than the 1,900 initially proposed and might build commercial property first – a deviation from mixed-use developments, which typically build housing first.
There also are plans to lease out the historical Tampa Armature Works building, 1910 N. Ola Ave., and two single-story buildings on Palm Avenue. The developer, A Better Place Group, has set a 10-year timeline for the project. “If it all gets done in the last three years, it’s still done in 10 years,” development manager Darren Booth said.
The developer applied more than two years ago for permits from the Army Corps of Engineers and the Tampa Port Authority to allow construction of a sea wall and boat slips, dredging and other work in the Hillsborough River. Booth anticipates getting the permits by the end of the year.
The developer planned to build roads and install infrastructure before selling land to other developers. Now it’s considering constructing some of the buildings in order to move the project forward, Booth said. The Heights is seeking city permits to build a three-story office building near Seventh and Highland avenues and is in talks with the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce to lease part of the building.
In five years, Booth anticipates that roads, water, sewer and stormwater lines, the sea wall, boat slips and a river walk will be completed or nearing completion. At that time, he also anticipates the completion of one or two restaurants and a small office building. Hotel construction should be under way along with residential sales. “If you can accept being patient, it is not frustrating,” Booth said. The city approved the property’s rezoning and a development agreement for The Heights in 2006.
Investors in the project include Bill Bishop, president of real estate development company Leslie Land Corp., and Don Wallace, the former president and chief executive officer of Lazy Days RV Center. Michael Hatchett, a city urban development manager, said the project’s slower pace is disappointing but out of the developer’s control.
“It is certainly a doable project,” Hatchett said. “The major hurdle has been crossed, and that is the developer owning the property. If the developer doesn’t own it, you can’t build on it. Your project is never going to happen if you don’t own the dirt.” Given the economic circumstances, the project’s pace and changes are logical, said Fran Roy, president of the Tampa Heights Civic Association.
“If anyone thinks that they are going to come out of the ground flying, you need a reality check,” Roy said. He’s excited that the developer is committed to the project, which he said will enhance the area. But he thinks the community can advance while The Heights finds its course.
The Bush Ross law firm opened its offices in December in Tampa Heights; the county bar association and bar foundation opened their two-story building Feb. 21 near the law firm; and a trio of investors is rehabilitating the 1927 Rialto Theatre to open a members club for business and social networking.
“The success of the neighborhood doesn’t hinge on The Heights project,” Roy said.
Booth said the project’s success is inevitable, given its proximity to the river, parks and downtown.
“I think the location is what it’s all about – being three minutes from downtown versus an hour,” he said. “That is what ultimately will make this project successful.”
View the Tampa Heights Redevelopment Project Map Here.
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