TEMPLE TERRACE — The city planned to build a true downtown more than 80 years ago, but the Great Depression thwarted that effort.
After World War II, a strip mall went up on the ideal property in the south central part of town, and the vision seemed forever altered.
"It just got away from the original concept,'' said Mayor Joe Affronti.
Finally, though, a downtown Temple Terrace like the one originally envisioned is beginning to take shape.
Demolition of the strip mall is under way to make room for the Towne Park Residences, several four-story buildings containing about 214 luxury apartments. A 250-seat cultural center will go up opposite them, across Main Street, a park-lined, north-south road running through the middle of the tract. Eventually, a new city library will open next to the cultural center.
The developer, Vlass Temple Terrace LLC, is expected to present the site plan for the apartments to the City Council on Thursday. If it's approved, construction should start in March, Affronti says. Vlass expects to start work on the cultural center in midsummer.
The $160 million Mediterranean Revival style complex will look like a village. Stretching along the east side of 56th Street from Bullard Parkway to the Hillsborough River, the 30 acres will have offices, stores and restaurants. The dining spots — and eventually more residential units — will go up near the river, a pond and a park. Sweetbay Supermarket anchors the area between the Towne Park Residences and the restaurants near the river.
A gazebo centers the northern section. Planners envision it as a place to hold weddings and concerts.
"We feel there's a synergy between the cultural center, library and this new park,'' says Mark T. Sneed, a partner with the firm.
Vlass has until 2022 to complete the entire development, but Sneed says the company is two years ahead of schedule.
"I'd say at the current pace we're on, we could be finished here in seven or eight years.''
The city bought the property more than a decade ago, paying about $21 million. The land was turned over to Vlass under the agreement that the company complete the project.
At the dedication of the park and gazebo in December, Vlass surprised Affronti with a bronze statue of the mayor. Affronti, who has crusaded for years to get downtown Temple Terrace under way, is posed with a smile on his face and an arm gesturing, as if inviting visitors to take in the scene around him.
"I just had absolutely no idea,'' Affronti said, adding that he assumed the statue under the veil near the planned cultural center was of a great composer or other icon of the arts.
"I'm very honored and humbled by it.''
Philip Morgan can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3435.