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Tampa reloads its downtown development pipeline

The blooms of a jacaranda tree frame the shore of the Hillsborough River near the Laurel Street Bridge in downtown Tampa.

SKIP O’ROURKE | Times

The blooms of a jacaranda tree frame the shore of the Hillsborough River near the Laurel Street Bridge in downtown Tampa.

TAMPA — As the first sprouts of economic health re-emerge, downtown promoters think it's time to start reloading their development investment pipeline.

The residential occupancy rate in downtown Tampa rebounded to 85 percent thanks to empty luxury condos like the Towers at Channelside filling up at 1991 prices. The downtown workforce emerged from recession with 50,800 jobs, shedding fewer than 2,000, and the downtown resident population grew to 4,300.

In a survey, 93 percent of the residents are clamoring for more grocery stores, more chain retailers than just CVS and more riverfront restaurants, after two new downtown museums and a string of Riverwalk parks brought some congestion back to the city center.

"Our pump is primed," said Christine Burdick, director of the Tampa Downtown Partnership, a 180-member nonprofit that spent $1.1 million last year marketing the city's historic hub of commerce. "Despite the economy, we've got a lot happening."

Indeed, a variety of developers, agencies and government officials offered progress reports on their projects Friday at the partnership's annual development forum.

• The foundation has been laid for the University of South Florida's $30 million surgical training complex, which is scheduled to open in January. Forecast to attract enough out-of-town doctors for training to fill a 95-room hotel, USF Health will include 18 surgical suites, a 200-seat classroom equipped with HDTV conferencing and labs for surgical device makers to test and refine new procedures. It's two blocks from the Tampa Convention Center and is the first piece of USF's planned urban presence.

• Tampa General Hospital has outgrown its 1,000-bed campus on Davis Islands and is about to stretch onto the mainland for the first time. The nonprofit hospital will move its 400-worker accounting and information tech departments to renovated offices at 606 and 720 W Kennedy Blvd. near the University of Tampa by this summer to make room for an expanded 82-bed neo-intensive care unit. The hospital also bought 10 acres nearby at 1307 W Kennedy where it plans over the next three years to build a professional building for physicians, a 99-bed rehabilitation center and a hotel for day surgery patients to recuperate and relatives visiting patients.

• Sage Partners is building Metro 510, a 120-unit affordable rental housing project wrapped around a former church at the northeast corner of Harrison and Morgan streets. The church will be transformed into an office while the sanctuary upstairs will become a kids play area. Sage is also remodeling a senior housing project across Morgan Street.

• Years spent restoring the vintage but once heavily deteriorated 1926 Floridan Hotel continue with plans to reopen with 210 rooms and three penthouses. But owners declined to specify a completion date.

"But right now we are laying down carpet," said Lisa Shasteen, president of Shasteen-Sizemore Co. and spokeswoman for the owners.

• The Tampa Bay Lighting plans a $40 million renovation of the St. Pete Times Forum, adding padded seats to the cheaper upstairs bleachers plus more food and beverage concessions while installing what CEO Tod Leiweke called the "mother of all pipe organs."

• Stageworks, a theater company born in the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts that is stepping out on its own 99-seat home in a Grand Central on Kennedy condo, has secured a $125,000 city grant and is close to landing a loan to complete the project.

"For a while there I had to tell the contractors to slow down," said Andrea Graham, chief executive. "But we will open in July."

Tampa reloads its downtown development pipeline 03/18/11 [Last modified: Friday, March 18, 2011 10:53pm]

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