TAMPA — Building a $2 billion urban district from the ground up isn't easy.
Building one that's billed to be the first in the world with a certification for being healthy is even harder.
That's what Strategic Property Partners, a real estate firm backed by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Cascade Investment, aims to do with its 40-acre redevelopment project of downtown Tampa.
SPP has joined with Delos, a health and wellness company, to develop an entire downtown community that aims to be certified as promoting healthy living practices like pedestrian and bike-friendly lanes, more natural lighting in buildings, and high air and water quality.
"The wonderful thing about what Jeff (Vinik) is doing is it's an open canvas," said Paul Scialla, CEO of Delos. "They are starting from scratch and can implement our standards from the design phase."
While there are many individual office buildings, hotels and hospitals designated as "WELL certified," SPP's project in downtown Tampa aims to be first region to get the certification. Delos and SPP will invest $20 million specifically for health-related technology and design that will promote wellness, exercise and clean living that meets the standards of a WELL certification, which is about creating healthier, more productive and ergonomic places for people.
Developing buildings and streets with the WELL certification in mind doesn't come without challenges. Tampa isn't known for being a particularly healthy place. The city's downtown area isn't pedestrian friendly. There's a lot of vehicle traffic coming in from neighboring congested highways. And the region is known for being the home of chain restaurants like Outback Steakhouse and Checkers.
"There are hundreds of aspects that go into a WELL certified district," said James Nozar, CEO of Strategic Property Partners. "We're working with Delos now through layers of planning to develop a pilot program."
The WELL certification isn't dissimilar to LEED, which is a certification for buildings by the U.S. Green Building Council, which requires buildings to be constructed with sustainable materials and energy-saving practices in mind. Where WELL differs is that it focuses on the healthy amenities offered to the people working, living or visiting a certified building, which could be a store, office, hotel, hospital or mixed use center like a mall. Or in Tampa's case, that includes the amenities of an entire region, said Meagan Rossi, a senior associate with Delos, who spoke at an Urban Land Institute seminar in Tampa last month.
Seven goal areas
The WELL certification focuses on seven core areas: air quality, water quality, access to healthy food, lighting, fitness, comfort and access to health programs. Some of these concepts are more detailed than others. Clean water and air, natural light from more windows in buildings and well-lit walkways are just good planning principles, Nozar said.
"A lot of what Delos stands for are what we already believe in," he said.
Acoustics, like traffic and event noise, also plays a role in the certification process. But other WELL concepts include access to mental health programs, which can range from substance abuse centers to parks, Rossi said. It also requires safety from the elements, like more shade from the sun and fewer open, asphalt parking lots.
"In a place like Tampa, traffic and sun exposure is a concern," Rossi said to a group at the ULI seminar in Tampa.
Delos requires marketing and promotion of healthy foods, which can be challenging in downtown Tampa, with fans at Amalie Arena typically drinking beer and eating fried food at sporting events.
"The arena is one of our challenges," Nozar said "But it's more about providing options beyond chicken fingers and fries and marketing that so it's well known. We're already seeing that happen in the arena with the local businesses."
Irish 31, Cafe Mise en Place and the Cask & Barrel Bar are among some of the new local additions inside Amalie Arena that offer food that isn't fried.
Healthy food marketing also applies to grocery stores that could open in the district. That means a grocery store could advertise apples and oranges but not necessarily a deal on potato chips.
"The biggest piece is not being in a food desert as we are now," Nozar said about downtown Tampa. "There's already a Publix on the way, but we want to add at least one grocery store in the center of our district so it's walkable to all our users. There could be different formats, maybe a store and a smaller market, that we still have to figure out."
Sustainability is key
Health and wellness is a trend that has seeped into almost every industry, including architecture and real estate development, said Taylor Ralph, the founder and president of REAL Building Consultants in Tampa. He cited the extension of the Riverwalk from the Heights development to the Channel District and the city's effort to make safer bike and pedestrian lanes as recent developments. But Tampa is still far behind other cities.
"The development community hasn't embraced sustainability here in the way other cities have," Ralph said. "SPP's commitment to this standard is something Tampa hasn't always had. On a large scale, I hope it inspires others to do the same because it can only be good for Tampa."
The WELL certification could also help SPP lure a major office tenant for the office buildings the company plans to build, Ralph said.
"These companies from out West embrace sustainability, high-performance buildings and unique spaces," he said.
Residents and visitors to downtown Tampa can expect to see some of the wellness changes coming online as early as next year. Work began last month on $35 million in road and infrastructure development, which will expand sidewalks and add bike lanes. The construction also includes laying the chiller pipe lines for a new district cooling facility, which will clear the rooftops of future high rise buildings of air-conditioning units and make way for bars, restaurants, dog parks and other rooftop uses.
"A lot of companies have reaped the benefits from productivity and overall employee happiness that comes with WELL certified," Nozar said. "We're helping Delos take what they've started in office spaces and transition into other aspects, like into the hotel and even the arena."
An entire floor of rooms at the Tampa Marriott Waterside now features wellness devices that include air purifiers, "circadian rhythm" lighting, aromatherapy and showers with Vitamin C in the water.
"Working with Delos is taking it to the next level and helping us differentiate from what other people are doing locally and worldwide," Nozar said.
Contact Justine Griffin at [email protected] Follow @SunBizGriffin.