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Riverwalk tower developers offer to delay construction to ease Straz Center concerns

TAMPA — The developers of a proposed 36-story riverfront apartment tower have offered to delay construction until the neighboring David A. Straz, Jr. Center for the Performing Arts finishes its Broadway series.

The offer is the latest in a series of changes that developers, with City Hall's backing, have made in an effort to win support for the development, Residences at the Riverwalk.

Developers had proposed to realign the streets by Sept. 30, a target that struck Straz administrators as optimistic, unrealistic and potentially disastrous.

The Broadway series runs November to May and will include The Book of Mormon, best new musical Tony winner Once, and the revivals of two high-profile musicals — Evita and The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess. It accounts for 85 percent of the Straz Center's programming revenue.

In an email to Straz Center president Judith Lisi, developer Phillip A. Smith said the center has been clear about the potential for work to disrupt the start of its performance season.

"We believe that this proposal alleviates those potential conflicts" and "gives us all a little room to breathe," Smith said.

The board of trustees at the Straz Center is scheduled to get an update on the project Monday. Lisi said the proposed change in timing addresses "a primary urgent concern."

"The question of the tower itself is another matter," Lisi said. Critics have said its sheer size would overwhelm everything around it, which is "why we're going to bring this to the board."

As proposed, the tower would include 380 apartments, a 620-space garage and 10,000 square feet of shops and restaurants. It is headed for a City Council vote Aug. 8.

The city has agreed to sell Smith and Greg Minder an acre of land for $4 million, at least twice its appraised value. Money from the sale would be used to reconfigure Cass and Tyler streets as two-way streets with slower-moving traffic.

City officials think a lot of fast-moving cars now going west on Tyler to go over the Cass Street bridge would end up on Cass. That would make driving and walking around the Straz Center easier and safer, they say.

Along with changing their work schedule, developers have offered to:

• Have the Beck Group, a member of the project's development team, buy insurance "to cover claims against business interruption" should construction conflict with Straz Center shows.

• Give the Straz Center an unrestricted gift of $1 million.

• Keep the elevated pedestrian bridge that connects the William F. Poe Parking Garage to the John F. Germany Public Library and the Straz Center.

After first proposing to end the walkway at their parking garage, developers are now agreeing to connect the bridge to the second floor of the library at its current location. The bridge to the Straz Center would be taken down and rebuilt, connecting to the lobby at Maestro's Restaurant.

Preserving the pedestrian bridge's access was a key concern not only for the Straz Center but for the Hillsborough County Public Library Board, board chairman Bob Argus said.

Meanwhile, the SkyPoint Condominum Association's board voted to authorize any board member to say that the board favors more housing downtown but opposes the location of the Residences at the Riverwalk.

"We're eager to have more residents downtown," SkyPoint board member Lew Sibert said, but he described this project as a size-16 foot in a size-8 shoe.

The Uptown Council — an association of more than 100 downtown residents, business owners and commercial and residential real estate owners — voted to support the project.

"We see the restoration of downtown Tampa's original street grid at the developer's expense as a great example of private investment that will continue improving the pedestrian experience in our neighborhood," council treasurer Vinny Tafuro said in an email to the Times.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who supports the project, said developers have worked to address every objection raised by the Straz Center and library board.

"I don't know how much more you could ask a developer to do," he said.

Riverwalk tower developers offer to delay construction to ease Straz Center concerns 07/11/13 [Last modified: Thursday, July 11, 2013 11:34pm]
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