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Q&A | David Wasserman

Hyde Park Village developer excited about project's potential

HYDE PARK — Anyone who has passed through Hyde Park Village in the past month can see that the long-touted facelift is under way. Its landmark restaurant, Wine Exchange, moved from the outskirts to the heart of the village. The quaint Abbott's Frozen Custard has opened, along with a sprinkling of hip boutiques and the upscale electronics store, Bang & Olufsen.

Next up: the $100-million infusion of condominiums, parking and renovated retail space. Developer David Wasserman has said the project will revive the struggling village, though some argue that his condo towers don't fit the community's character. No one will say exactly when the project will break ground, but owner Wasserman Real Estate Capital is finalizing design plans and hopes to complete the project within 18 months after construction begins.

We recently asked Wasserman about his controversial Hyde Park Village plans. Here is what he had to say.

How does Hyde Park Village fit into your firm's portfolio of interesting projects, including the historic St. Andrews Grand hotel in Scotland and a 19th century brownstone strip in Boston?

Hyde Park would be a great neighborhood in any city. Unfortunately, at the heart of the neighborhood is this deteriorating asset, which people haven't been able to revitalize after Jacobson's left (six years ago).

So you look at a community like this, with 10 acres that are pretty extraordinary, and you think, "I can make an impact. I can reset the clock." Provided this gets fixed, this will always be a great place to live. You just can't have the largest piece of land sitting in the middle of it, broken.

How did Hyde Park Village get to this point?

The growth in Tampa changed dramatically and a couple of large developments (International Plaza, Channelside) sucked dollars away from this area. This is just what happens over time when there's no money to make any physical improvements.

You have to have an anchor store to attract people to an area, not a movie theater. A movie theater (such as Sunrise Cinema, which closed in 2006) isn't going to attract people to a Tommy Bahama.

You also have to have the village configured in a way that's user-friendly. I remember my first trip to Hyde Park and I had to park in a parking garage, go down a few flights of stairs and walk into a back alley to get a cup of coffee. Coffee should be a convenience item. There should be on-street parking so people can run up and grab coffee or a sandwich.

When Jacobson's was there as an anchor, the area made sense. Now people just see a bunch of stores with nothing to do with one another. It needs to be identified as one unified project.

A lot of people thought letting Sunrise Cinema close was a mistake ...

I love when someone's talking to me about the movie theater. All I heard was, "You can't let it go, you can't let it go." And I'd ask, "How often do you go to movies?" I always get, "Once or twice a month."

That's simply not enough to bring people into an area, whether you love the theater or not. Now if you had a gourmet market, you'd have someone visiting 10 times a month, and you'd have access to all these other shops while you're at it.

It's misplaced pride.

How well did you know Tampa before purchasing Hyde Park Village in 2005?

I didn't know Tampa very well at all. The one thing I try to do is I bring what I believe to what you already know. I believe in keeping locally known restaurants and shops to keep the area unique and a big draw to outsiders.

Timpanos is great because its local. Having BT and an independent chef in the village is wonderful. Now we have Indigo Coffee. If we can start making this the best of Tampa combined with great national names people already know, like Anthropologie, it can create a fantastic identity.

What buildings or areas of Tampa impress you architecturally or artistically?

The college (University of Tampa) is beautiful. The buildings are breathtaking and I always have to stop and look at them. And Tampa Theatre is fantastic. I went there to see Bright Eyes (an indie music band) play and thought it was amazing.

You've talked about incorporating public art into the village. How so?

My goal is to bring in something that is museum-worthy and significant. I want people to come to see the art , and for it to be compelling enough to come to, even if they don't shop and eat.

For example, the parking garages are just ugly bands of concrete right now. One idea is to cover that concrete with bright colors and shapes, sort of like Colorforms (vinyl stickers for kids) from the '50s. Another idea is to use one kind of art for an entry and an exit for the village. You should know when you pass this piece of art that this is someplace different.

The idea is to be provocative without offending. I think you can push people pretty far.

Emily Nipps can be reached at nipps@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3431.

>>Fast facts

Meet David Wasserman

Age: 48

Family: Daughter Martabel, 20, son Patrick, 18.

Home: Raised in Rhode Island, where his development firm is based; lives part-time in New York City's Hotel Chelsea, a famous historical building where Mark Twain, Jack Kerouac, Bob Dylan and other famous artists and writers have resided.

Background: Attended Columbia University and Boston University School of Law before working as a lawyer in New England for several years. Joined Wasserman Real Estate Capital, owned by his father, Bernard, in 1987. His younger brother Richard, 43, also works for the firm.

Interests: Collecting art and sculpture, particularly by young, up-and-coming artists; reading New York magazines and newspapers, as well as criticism, humor and nonfiction. On the board of Creative Time, a nonprofit that commissions and presents experimental public arts projects.

Hyde Park Village developer excited about project's potential 03/20/08 [Last modified: Thursday, March 20, 2008 6:00am]

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