From the air, a square, 40-acre splotch of dirt sits on a neglected edge of this city's downtown. At first glance, there's not much to look at, until you get closer and walk the dirt with a few passionate people, learn a bit of its history and a lot of its future. The dirt patch is the start of Encore, a mixed-use redevelopment project of apartments and commercial properties that holds promise for a major renewal to a blighted outskirt north and east of Tampa's downtown. The project is a venture between Bank of America and the Tampa Housing Authority. It's a project of good size and better imagination, cobbled together by a long list of financing sources. "We call it a city within a city," says an upbeat Roxanne Amoroso, who's leading this real estate project for Bank of America. "Do this well," she says, sweeping her arm across the project's still vacant acres, "and its success will spread."
That's the hope, at least. This part of Tampa has seen hard times. Some of the more derelict blocks even closer to downtown are still largely empty and waiting for help.
I recently toured the raw start of Encore with Amoroso and several other managers of the construction site. Their enthusiasm for this real estate development is clearly contagious. For Amoroso, who grew up in Tampa Bay, Encore's a labor of love. We walked dusty, bulldozed paths that are the start of Encore's principal road, to be called Ray Charles Boulevard. A park will feature sunflower-shaped solar panels that will help keep streetlights illuminated. A new middle school will also be part of the mix.
Somehow, Encore survived the recent, wrenching years of the Great Recession that killed many other Tampa Bay developments. Encore sits on land that was a small piece of an earlier, far larger redevelopment project called Civitas. Conceived in more ambitious times, Civitas failed to win city support as the economy cooled. But Encore lives on.
Thirteen months ago, Encore set up a job fair on site. More than 5,000 people lined up looking for work. So far, say economic consultants, Encore has created 4,103 construction jobs, 8,784 total jobs in the local economy for the 2010-2016 period, and will sustain 955 direct and 1,374 total jobs once the project is complete.
It now stands as one of the major developments still under way across Tampa Bay. Plans call for Ella to be the first apartment building, designed by Tampa's Baker Barrios Architects, with construction in May. The Trio apartment follows, along with a two-story grocery store.
On the technology side, ZMG Construction development vice president Scot Hamilton says the project will boast a cutting-edge, chilled water plant. With 6,000 linear feet of underground chiller pipes, it will circulate cooled water to Encore's primary buildings to lower their demands for traditional air conditioning.
Another beneficiary is adjacent Perry Harvey Sr. Park, which runs along Orange Avenue and is scheduled to get a facelift of its own.
None of this has come easy. "It's hard," Amoroso said, "but it's personal."
We'll track Encore, named for the area's musical past, every few months. The goal is not only to keep you up on the details of the project. I am just as curious about whether Encore can reshape the wider economy of this tired northeast corner of downtown Tampa. Can Encore help bridge the no-man's land between downtown and Ybor City to the west? Can Encore become a generator of fresh jobs to broader Tampa?
There's only so much any project can deliver, even one that's survived some hard economic years. What's Encore's potential?
Robert Trigaux can be reached at email@example.com.