TAMPA — For years, Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and the real estate executives he employs have been dreaming how to transform 53 acres of downtown Tampa into a major hub of living, working and entertaining in the city's core.
And for more than two years, they've been designing that new neighborhood without a name.
Today, Strategic Property Partners, the real estate firm backed by Vinik and Cascade Investment, is unveiling an official name for the highly anticipated $3 billion revitalization project.
It's Water Street Tampa.
"The goal of the project is to be grounded in what makes Tampa, Tampa," said James Nozar, CEO of SPP, in an interview on Monday. "We've been dealing with pretty much a clean slate, with surface parking lots that don't have a lot of history. One of the key attributes that we picked up was Water Street, which has always been part of downtown, even though it's changed names over the years."
Water Street will become the "main spine" of the new neighborhood, Nozar said, and will be the center of retail and cultural activity. SPP is planning to build a linear park along Water Street that will be flanked with a double layer of trees to create a canopy-like setting for pedestrians. While SPP did not reveal more details about retailers, restaurants or office tenants that are slated to come to the new district, Nozar said that the firm will break ground this summer on many of the buildings in the first phase of the ongoing development.
The unveiling of a name has been a long time coming.
In December 2014, Vinik announced plans to transform Tampa's urban core with new apartments, condos, retail, restaurants, rooftop bars and parks. The goal was to turn Tampa into a walkable and sustainable downtown for residents to live, work and play.
Those plans have evolved over the years to include two hotels with over 650 rooms combined, one of which will become Tampa's first five-star hotel, and an additional four-star hotel across the street from the Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina; more than two million square feet of office space, and the first office towers to be built in Tampa in 25 years; 3,500 new apartments and condos in brand new buildings; and more than 1 million square feet of retail, restaurant and entertainment space to be built over the next 10 years. In addition, the University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute will be built in downtown Tampa, as will an adjacent office building to house health-related businesses. SPP estimates that 23,000 people will live, work, and visit Water Street Tampa every day.
"We've spent the last year building our team internally and designing what this will look like," said Nozar, who took over as CEO of SPP a year ago. Since he was hired, he's grown SPP's staff from five to 40. "We spent that year building our brand and now we're ready to start sharing our plans with the public."
SPP hired 10 architectural firms to work in tandem on 18 distinct buildings and 12.9 acres of public space, like parks and bicycle trails, in the district. The first phase of construction, which begins this year, will include four million square feet of office, residential, hospitality and retail space across ten blocks of downtown. It's scheduled to be completed in 2020 before Tampa hosts the Super Bowl the next year. Additional phases will wrap up by 2027.
SPP also plans to demolish Channelside Bay Plaza, through a separate agreement with Port Tampa Bay, and redesign it with outdoor restaurants, apartments, parks and access to the waterfront. That could come online by 2024.
Without an official name for the project, locals and news reports have come up with various monikers over the years, some more popular than others. Having an official name will help SPP create a sense of place for the project — and it comes just in time for the firm to launch a targeted marketing push, Nozar said.
"When you come to Tampa or downtown Tampa, we want you to think of Water Street Tampa," said Nozar. "It's a memorable street, like Newbury in Boston or Broadway in New York City."
Water Street's origin in Tampa dates back to the 1820s, said Rodney Kite-Powell, curator of the Tampa Bay History Center.
"When Fort Brooke was decommissioned in the 1880s, the neighborhood slowly evolved into a warehouse district and became the earliest component to what became the port of Tampa," Kite-Powell said. "What we now know as Old Water Street used to be called Water Street, and it curved and continued up along the river. It was literally the boundary of land and water, until a series of dredging projects created land south of Water Street."
The current road, which is still known as Old Water Street, is being extended north from Channelside Drive to Cumberland Avenue to create a north-south connection as part of the ongoing construction. It will likely be renamed to Water Street in the future, said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn.
"This is a project that's focused on the water. The Riverwalk and the waterfront are our best assets," Buckhorn said. "This all fits nicely with the effort we've made over the last six years to not turn our back to the water, and instead making it the focal point of what we do. I think the name is absolutely fitting."
Finding a charming, historic name for this stretch of Tampa certainly wasn't easy. Most of downtown Tampa's urban development came online in the 1980s and 1990s, far later than most big metropolitan areas in the rest of the country.
"Water is such an important part of our history," said Kite-Powell. "It's why Tampa is where it is, going back thousands of years to the settlers who came in the 1820s."
Contact Justine Griffin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8467. Follow @SunBizGriffin.