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Straz Center considers building a parking garage

TAMPA — A 36-story apartment tower isn't the only big project that could be built near the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts.

The Straz Center itself is thinking about building a 600-car parking garage on what is now a parking lot between the center and the Tampa Bay Times office building on Ashley Drive.

The project could cost an estimated $10 million to $12 million. A feasibility study is expected to be done in the next month. The center's finance team also is looking at ways to pay for the project, though the effort may not get that far.

"If the parking study comes back and says, 'Forget about it, it's not going to work,' we'll stop looking for money," Straz Center president Judith Lisi said.

Likewise, Lisi said it has not been decided whether the Straz Center would buy the land, currently owned by Denholtz Associates, the landlord for the Times building.

But presumably, officials say, the garage would allow Denholtz to consolidate daytime parking that it now has spread over two lots: the one next to the Straz Center and a second one north of W Fortune Street, next to the Howard Johnson Plaza Tampa.

Company CEO Steven Denholtz did not respond Tuesday to a request for comment, but last month he said through an assistant that while there have been discussions about a potential garage in the area for years, there was nothing definite to discuss.

Lisi said the center has talked to Denholtz and he seems open to a parking garage but "there's a lot of ifs here."

Intrigued by the idea, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said consolidating the daytime parking into a garage would allow Denholtz to put something else on the lot next to the hotel.

"If you put a garage here you open up all of that other stuff … for development, which would be pretty exciting," Buckhorn said in a recent interview.

Lisi said the parking garage idea is entirely separate from the apartment tower that developers Greg Minder and Phillip Smith propose to build next to the Straz Center and behind the John F. Germany Public Library.

Parking is an acute, long-term problem, Lisi said, and the Straz has to address it whether or not the apartment tower is built.

"The garage is really separate from the tower," she said. "We are struggling. … On show nights, it is terrible here."

But City Hall isn't likely to pay for a parking garage — its parking fund is running $5 million to $6 million a year in the red already.

Parking is also bad on weekends when there are events at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, people going to the Tampa Museum of Art and the Glazer Children's Museum and matinees at the Straz itself.

"There is just not any parking in this end of the city," Lisi said.

Still, there could be some overlap in the players involved in each project. Lisi said she would expect Minder and Smith's team to be interested in bidding on the garage project if the Straz builds it.

Meanwhile, Minder and Smith are scheduled to meet this week with potential financiers for their $82 million tower. On Monday, they met with the full board of the Straz Center and its foundation. Board members asked questions but took no position on the apartment project.

While one board member anticipated that adding 500 new residents to the area would exacerbate the area's parking crunch, the developers said they didn't expect that problem. For one thing, the tower will have 635 parking spaces of its own, enough for residents, ground-floor retail and some center parking. The city also anticipates turning Cass and Tyler streets into two-way streets with on-street parking.

"The parking inventory would actually increase in the area instead of decrease," Minder said. If the garage is built on the Denholtz property, he said, it could increase by more than 750 spaces.

Among those in attendance Monday was David A. Straz Jr., who is on the foundation's board and whose gift to the performing arts center in 2009 led to his name being put on its building.

Straz has said he has questions about the project's impact on the arts district, but did not speak at the meeting. Afterward, he said the developers had "done their homework, and it's interesting."

"It merits further scrutiny," Straz said of the tower. "I continue to be concerned about parking. There's almost never enough parking."

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

Straz Center considers building a parking garage 02/05/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 6, 2013 12:02am]
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