Tampa's downtown has endured its share of ups and downs. From a dearth of residential housing to a condo bubble; from vacant north side storefronts to upscale hotels rising beside the city's convention center.
Chicago native Christine Burdick, voice of the business community as president of the Tampa Downtown Partnership for nearly nine years, says it's an exciting time for the city's center.
She recently talked with the Times about the impact of a future medical training facility, ideas for the convention center and, maybe, a downtown location for a new Tampa Bay Rays stadium.
What's the difference between the partnership and the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce?
We provide similar opportunities in a smaller geographic area for business people to get to know each other. We have a 25-year history of advocacy and convening public meetings on appropriate issues: land use, development regulation, traffic and parking issues. We manage $1.4 million a year raised from assessments in the downtown special services district. That pays for the downtown clean teams and guides, the website, guide books and transportation maps.
How many people live in downtown? Are those condo towers still mostly empty?
About 4,500 is our understanding. That doesn't include Harbour Island. We hear all the buildings have a minimum of 75 percent occupancy: Skypoint, Element, Grand Central, Seaport Square. Things are right-priced, there are values to be had. There's a determination to fill them one way or another.
What can be done to attract more business at the Tampa Convention Center?
The new management needs to look at un-mined opportunities. The space can be utilized differently to get more of the boutique uses, not the giant expositions.
You must be thrilled that the Tampa Bay Rays insisted their search for a new stadium site include Hillsborough. Would downtown Tampa be the best location?
The most important thing is that we keep the team in the region. They're good friends and (partnership) members with their retail store downtown. We know that a big share of their corporate season ticket base — or potential base — is over here. If it plays out that downtown Tampa is a good location for them and the region works together, we can definitely have a role.
Is there enough room for a stadium and all the necessary parking on downtown?
It's tight. But all those issues could be worked out. It's plausible.
What are the most important issues for downtown businesses in the Tampa mayoral election tomorrow?
There are three issues we've sought opinions on (from candidates). Transportation … the next light rail proposal. Parking problems. The bonds for the Ybor garage, the south regional garage and Fort Brooke expansion that are now $6 million in the red. And the urban development process. It's still based on a suburban model, and sometimes we miss development opportunities.
What's the most promising new downtown commercial project in the works?
USF's Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation, or CAMLS. It will bring surgeons and professionals from around the world. There's been investment by an Israeli-American company. USF Health already has some defense contracts. Long-term, it could generate the need for a new hotel.
Steve Huettel can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8128.