When developers of the Heights set out to create something new on a 40-acre-plus plot along the Hillsborough River just north of downtown, they knew they wanted to do something no one in the bay area had seen before.
So they hit the road.
They studied some of the most famous and up-and-coming public markets around the country. They visited dozens of them: the historic Pike Place Market in Seattle. The Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia. Krog Street Market in Atlanta. Acme Feed & Seed in Nashville.
And that's how Adam Harden and Chas Bruck of Soho Capital, along with Tim Clemmons, principal of Mesh Architecture, came up with an unusual use for part of the historic brick Armature Works building, which will become the heart of the Heights district.
"We wanted to create a space for everyone, tourists and locals who could come here and experience something different," Bruck said. "We traveled a lot and learned a lot about what works. But we had to come up with something that was authentic to Tampa. Having this building was a hell of a head start."
Soho Capital will transform the 68,000-square-foot Armature Works into an in-house market, co-work space, two restaurants and event hall space. The most unique piece of this multiuse, old-brick warehouse will be the Heights Market, a 22,000-square-foot open market hall that will offer an array of restaurants and boutiques in vendor-like stalls operated by local chefs and entrepreneurs, including Ichicoro Ramen, Fine and Dandy craft cocktails and Steelbach Ranch cheeses.
Think a farmers market and your local main street shops all under one roof.
The food hall concept is a growing trend in up-and-coming urban neighborhoods. They focus on independent restaurants and chefs, which is important to younger consumers. They offer a wider variety of choices than a typical restaurant with one menu, and they're just a cool place to hang out, said Darren Tristano, president of Technomic, a food research firm based in Chicago.
"We should expect to see more growth in food halls that are focused more on quality and affluent consumers versus food courts we grew up with at malls that continue to focus on fast-food offerings," Tristano said.
The Heights Market will be the first of its kind in Tampa Bay. And there aren't many in the rest of the state.
"I think it's tough in Florida because it's hard to find a happy medium in between a farmers market and a strip center," said John Rife, founder of the East End Market, an organic food hall and market in Orlando.
His two-story location in a former church houses up to 10 individual merchants and offers a demonstration kitchen and hall space for weddings and other events.
"I think there's plenty of room for more ideas like this. It gives local entrepreneurs a sandbox to try new ideas. It serves local needs in a diverse and unique way," Rife said. "People are proud to show their friends and family the market when they come to Orlando. That's awesome."
Heights Market tenants will vary from chef-driven restaurant spaces, to a florist and a wine shop, to a coffee and breakfast bar. There are 16 in total.
"We didn't want this to be a kiosk version of what people are already doing somewhere else," Harden said. "We wanted to give them a chance to create a new project here that would be unique for the Heights. The response has been overwhelming."
Among the tenants who have signed on early is Ichicoro owner Noel Cruz, who saw an opportunity to do something totally different in this venue than what he's already doing in his bustling Seminole Heights restaurant.
"Coming from New York, I've seen a lot of these markets in other places where chefs were doing super unique projects," Cruz said. "It's a very smart way to capture the community in the right space."
Cruz will still sell ramen from his stall in the Heights Market, but with a new twist. The restaurant there will be called Ichicoro Imoto, which means "Little Sister."
"There's more room for creativity here and a chance for me to create a whole new clientele," Cruz said.
Market tenants will host cooking classes and private events. Their menus will be incorporated into catering packages for the upstairs event hall spaces.
The market hall will be open from morning until evening for patrons to meet for breakfast or coffee and work from the couches or communal tables where there's Wi-Fi. Prepared foods will be available to take home as well, Bruck said; an important role developers wanted the market to play for nearby residents.
"It's community-minded. Instead of going to Starbucks, let's go here where we can shop and wander. The whole process is more organic," said Brian Connors with Connors Davis Hospitality in Fort Lauderdale. "You're seeing these kind of places recycle old properties like factory spaces for a cool vibe but offer high-quality products. It's very much a social destination kind of thing."
The Armature Works building will stay true to its roots. The building dates back to 1911; it served as a TECO trolley barn storage facility. The original brick will remain, as will some of the original fixtures inside, including an overhead crane. Original doors, windows and skylights were restored.
The Heights project in its entirety will be a pedestrian-friendly "mixed-use" center that will offer entertainment, work space and shops, as well as a residential community. It will connect the growing neighborhoods north of downtown, like Seminole Heights and Tampa Heights, to the urban core through the Riverwalk. The Heights will begin construction this summer on the Pearl, a four-building, 314-unit apartment community with 28,500 square feet of retail space.
A restaurant called Steelbach will anchor the market and will be run by BE-1 Concepts. There will be two event halls available for rent, including a rooftop patio with views of downtown Tampa and the Hillsborough River. A 3-acre green space separates the Armature Works building from the river, where paddleboards, kayaks and other watercraft will be offered for rent. Long-term plans call for luxury riverfront condominiums and a 260,000-square-foot office park with at least one hotel. The project is valued at more than $820 million.
Contact Justine Griffin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8467. Follow @SunBizGriffin.