Mayor Bob Buckhorn late Monday announced plans to move ahead with a $4 million sale of city land for a 36-story riverfront tower near the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts.
The proposed $85 million tower would include 350 residences, 10,000 square feet of ground-floor retail and 600 parking spaces built into its lower levels. Construction could be done by the end of 2014.
The project is backed by the developer of the nearby SkyPoint and Element residential high-rises, and officials say it promises to attract more people to live downtown.
"I could not be more excited about how this project will transform the area," Buckhorn said, predicting it would create more open and inviting pedestrian connections from the Riverwalk and Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park to the Straz Center.
That's because the city plans to use the money it gets from selling the land to reconfigure Cass and Tyler streets into two-way roads on a more traditional grid.
Along the way, officials say the Straz Center should get more room for people being dropped off before shows and should see a reduction in the long lines of cars that some nights queue all the way to Ashley Drive.
The Straz Center's board voted Monday to support the development.
"Our guest experience is very important," center president Judith Lisi said in a statement released through City Hall. She added that the project's improvements to streets and the center's arrival plaza would enhance that experience.
"I'm very enthusiastic about what I saw today," said City Council member Harry Cohen, who is the council's representative to the Straz Center board. He said reconfiguring the streets will make it easier for theatergoers to park and should open the area to pedestrians in a more welcoming way. "It will probably transform that entire area into a bustling hub of pedestrian activity."
Buckhorn plans to ask the City Council on Thursday to approve selling a triangle of city-owned land behind the annex to the John F. Germany Public Library. Buckhorn's administration has briefed council members in the past week, and the proposed $4 million price is at or above the appraised value, he said.
The council will get a chance to consider more detailed plans for the project and the building itself later, Cohen said.
If the sale goes through, a joint venture between Greg Minder of the Intown Group and Phillip Smith of the Framework Group would build the tower.
Both developers have big-project track records in Tampa. Minder teamed up with an Atlanta developer for the 32-story SkyPoint and 35-story Element towers. Smith is currently developing the 350-unit Varela apartment complex at Lois Avenue and Spruce Street in West Shore. The development team also includes Baker Barrios Architects, Moss and Associates and the Beck Group.
The Intown-Framework team was the only bidder to respond last summer when city officials requested project ideas from experienced developers interested in the site.
Minder told the Tampa Bay Times last fall that Intown first discussed an idea for a different project with the Straz Center in 2006. While that never got off the ground, the developers remained interested in the area.
The site the city has offered for sale includes the intersection in front of the entrance to the Straz, two landscaped medians and a curve in the road where one-way traffic going west on Tyler curls around to head back east on Cass.
While skeptics have questioned how anyone could shoehorn a 36-story tower onto such a small footprint, Buckhorn said the reconfiguration of Cass and Tyler will leave sufficient space for the building while creating an attractive streetscape and improving the flow of traffic.
"It absolutely fits, and fits nicely," he said.
Richard Danielson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3403.