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At Vinik-Cascade project, healthy design will mean choices, not bans

TAMPA — Thanks to a new partnership with some New York-based wellness gurus, Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik's plan for a $2 billion downtown development now includes a major commitment to promoting healthy living.

But still, this is America.

And America is about freedom and choice.

So while salad could be plentiful and sugary drinks scarce in at least some office buildings, planners say the new district will still be a place where you can find a burger and a beer.

"With anybody who's coming into the district, obviously, they're going to have to be sensitive to what we're trying to do to promote wellness, but we're open to talking to anybody about any particular kind of business," said Jac Sperling, managing member for Strategic Property Partners.

SPP, which is developing the 40-acre district, is a joint venture between Vinik and Microsoft founder Bill Gates' Cascade Investment capital fund. This week, it announced a partnership with Delos, a New York real estate company that has pioneered innovation in designing buildings to be healthy for the people inside.

So how about fast food? Or a bar?

"I think we'll have all forms of entertainment, all forms of beverages, all forms of food," Sperling said this week.

But along with being open to, say, a fast-food restaurant, it's possible that district designers will try to subtly nudge consumers toward healthy habits in how they consume such products.

"We want to make this a fun place that gives people options for a healthy life," Sperling said. "Will there be bars? The answer is, I hope so. I think so. And there will be, yes. And the same thing: Will there be a lot of food options? The answer is yes, all sorts of tastes and cultures."

The point, the development team says, is to promote healthy choices, not mandate them.

Delos has created a WELL building standard — similar to the environmentally friendly LEED building standards — after spending seven years talking to medical and design experts about how buildings can be designed to improve the health of their occupants.

The WELL standard for buildings looks at more than 100 different criteria: Is the air filtered? Are paints, adhesives and flooring selected to minimize volatile organic compounds? Do lights adjust from daytime to nighttime? Is pollution managed during construction? Do the vending machines sell anything other than junk food?

In Tampa, what Delos and SPP plan to do is create a WELL standard — the first anywhere — that can be applied across an entire community.

And that might mean that the broader community standard differs a bit from the WELL standard applied to a standalone building.

"It's way too early to look at specifics of the WELL building standard and infer exactly how they would apply to the WELL community standard," Delos founder and CEO Paul Scialla said.

Still, in the office buildings coming to SPP's 40 acres, the employee cafeterias could have a bowl of fruit next to the cash register. The staircases might play music to make skipping the elevator a little more appealing. Having farmers markets, communal gardens and bike paths nearby would be meant to entice residents and office workers to go outside.

And no one is talking about hockey fans losing the option to enjoy pork and whiskey at Amalie Arena.

But there again, healthy choices.

"We should offer fresh fruit," Vinik said. "We should offer fresh vegetables."

At the arena, he said that could mean putting "fruits and vegetables and healthy food at the front of the line so that people fill up their plates on that rather than on the less-healthy alternatives."

That's consistent with the larger philosophy at Delos.

"You have to start with encouraging and educating folks," Scialla said.

The more people know about what's healthy for them, he said, and the more their environment provides cleaner air, better lighting, routine access to parks and gardens, the easier the case becomes for making smart choices.

"I'm not sure people tend to listen or want to listen to what they can't do," he said. "I think people get excited and optimistic when they understand what they can do that is not a major shift in lifestyle and can have a meaningful impact on their health and wellness."

While innovative, the project that SPP and Delos are planning is a step in an ongoing evolution in urban planning. Wellness design is a real thing, especially on the West Coast.

It's such a trend that the Urban Land Institute San Francisco and ULI Northwest did a survey of 10 existing healthy design projects in the San Francisco Bay and Seattle areas.

ULI came up with five characteristics of healthy design that tend to show up consistently in Vinik's talking points:

• Transportation strategies set the stage for health. (Wider sidewalks, water taxis, possibly a bigger and better streetcar.)

• Healthy food and open space bring communities together.

• Health care organizations make excellent partners. (SPP is donating an acre for the planned University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine and USF Health Heart Institute.)

• Health is driving innovation for home and workplace,

• Place-making brings all these together.

In Tampa, this is a work in progress, but the broad themes are clear.

"Right now it's a little hard to talk about the standards specifically," Sperling said, "but in general the goal is to create options and alternatives for healthy lifestyles, not to prohibit activities."

Times assistant metro editor Michael Van Sickler contributed to this report.

At Vinik-Cascade project, healthy design will mean choices, not bans 10/02/15 [Last modified: Friday, October 2, 2015 10:28pm]
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