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Hopes rise in Tampa as the Heights emerges from bankruptcy

TAMPA — After being tied up in bankruptcy court for more than a year, the project long known as the Heights is re-emerging with new ownership.

Riverside Heights Holdings, a company formed by Tampa investors Adam Harden and Chas Bruck, paid $2 million about two weeks ago for the 4.7-acre site of the old Trolley Barn, a red-brick warehouse with "Tampa Armature Works" painted across its top.

With that acquisition, Harden and Bruck, who run the private equity firm SoHo Capital, own all of the riverfront property of the Heights between Water Works Park on Highland Avenue and N Boulevard.

As the rest of the project comes free of Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceedings, Riverside Heights Holdings, along with a minority partner, Lakeland-based Hillsborough River Properties, expect to own or control a total of about 30 acres north of Interstate 275, across the river from Blake High School.

"We are excited by the redevelopment potential the historic Trolley Barn holds and believe that with good planning and some TLC it will become the heart and soul of a vibrant mixed-use development we will call Riverside Heights," Harden said in an email to the Tampa Bay Times last week.

While the developers need to talk to the city about several issues, they plan to reinitiate a delayed effort to clean up land that had been used for industry and to reintroduce the project to the market in mid 2013.

"We see the project being developed generally within the framework of the existing master plan," Harden said. As previously approved, that plan called for 1,900 multifamily housing units with a projected population of 4,300, plus 100 boat slips and 260,000 square feet of offices, stores and cafes.

Watching the Heights' bankruptcy wrap up has Tampa officials hopeful that the project may yet fulfill its potential.

"It's a great time for that property to come together and finally be put to use," said city economic opportunity administrator Bob McDonaugh, who recently told the City Council that Tampa officials have had several productive meetings with Harden's team.

But Harden and Bruck aren't interested in only the east bank of the Hillsborough River.

Along with three other companies, they also submitted a proposal this month to the Tampa Housing Authority regarding the west bank.

Working with Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the Housing Authority had issued a request for developers to create a master plan for redeveloping 120 acres west of the river, generally north of I-275 and south of Columbus Drive.

The first phase of that project would be to demolish the Housing Authority's North Boulevard Homes and Mary Bethune public housing complexes.

Housing for low-income residents would be replaced, but not be so concentrated.

And the 40 acres would be redeveloped as a mixed-income neighborhood.

In the long run, Buckhorn wants both banks of the river to become densely populated magnets for new development, with plenty of stores, restaurants and public access to the waterfront.

Toward that end, he wants to redevelop a 12-acre truck yard the city owns a block from the river and consider changes, including a waterfront restaurant, for the 23-acre Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park.

Through SoHo Capital, Harden and Bruck already own the 165-unit Columbus Court Apartments on the west side of the river, south of Columbus Drive.

For the Housing Authority proposal, they have teamed up with Lennar Homes, a national home builder; Columbia Residential, which has overseen mixed-use, mixed-income redevelopments in New Orleans and Atlanta; and the Richman Development Group, which specializes in helping affordable housing projects use tax credits in their financing.

In its proposal to the Housing Authority, SoHo Capital's team says its vision is to create "vibrant public places that support strong mixed-use and mixed-income communities," with new pedestrian and transit connections to downtown and West Shore.

The Housing Authority has said a contract could be awarded in November.

Officials hope to have a master plan for the 120 acres west of the river complete by March.

The four other teams vying for the contract include one each from New Jersey and Missouri, and two others in Tampa:

• A partnership between the Norstar/Primerica Multi-Family Redevelopment Group and the national design firm of Wallace Roberts & Todd.

• Urban Scape Community Development, whose lead contact is Roxanne Amoroso, the former Bank of America senior vice president known for her role in the successful start of Encore, the 40-plus-acre, mixed-use development rising on the northeast edge of downtown Tampa. The Encore project is a venture between Bank of America and the Tampa Housing Authority.

The Urban Scape team also includes developer Stew Gibbons; the NRP Group, a developer of affordable housing; David Weekley Homes, a national home builder; and ZMG Development and Malphus Construction, which collaborated on the infrastructure work at Encore.

Back on the east side of the river, the city continues to plan for a makeover of Water Works Park, south of the Trolley Barn.

The city also is working with Columbia Restaurant owner Richard Gonzmart and Bill Rain of Metro Bay Real Estate on plans for a $2 million privately financed redevelopment of the city's old Water Works building as a riverfront restaurant.

McDonaugh said he expects to take a lease for the Water Works building to the City Council within the next month.

Richard Danielson can be reached at danielson@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3403.

Hopes rise in Tampa as the Heights emerges from bankruptcy 10/22/12 [Last modified: Monday, October 22, 2012 11:38pm]

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