TEMPLE TERRACE — The city's longtime plan to redevelop downtown envisions a promenade of stores along the first floors of the three residential buildings.
For months, however, the project's developers have argued that that format is no longer economically feasible. It will be difficult to attract commercial tenants and get bank loans, they say.
In a workshop this week, the two sides inched closer to agreement, though much remains to be settled and no vote is immediately planned.
The retail and residential components are part of a $160 million project planned to stretch along the east side of 56th Street from Bullard Parkway to the Hillsborough River. An arts and culture center, the city library, a number of restaurants, and condominiums at the southern end of the project near the river are also planned.
In an effort at compromise, the developer, Vlass Temple Terrace, has offered to design the first floor of the three apartment buildings so that units can be converted to retail spaces if business owners express interest. The idea is to try to find interested retailers within four months of the building permits being issued. If no retailers come forward, those spaces will be used as apartments.
But some council members weren't sold on the idea, fearing that the units will look too much like apartments to attract business owners.
Council member Ronald A. Govin wants developers to build at least one building with storefronts on the first floor, so potential retail tenants could see what their spaces would look like.
Council member David Pogorilich also urged that the units be built initially to suit commercial tenants.
"I think we need to have full glass storefronts,'' he said.
Ceiling heights on the first floor are another snag. The original city plan calls for 18-foot ceilings, which, after mechanical and electrical work, would make the finished ceilings 14 or 15 feet high. The developer is aiming for a finished ceiling height of 12 feet.
A further dispute concerns the number of parking spaces for patrons of the stores, restaurants and cultural events, and those reserved for people who live in the apartments. The developer wants to reserve about 90 spaces in front of the apartments for residents, in addition to reserved residential spaces behind the apartments. The city's planning staff has said that under the parking code, the spaces in the front cannot be reserved.
At a town hall meeting this year, a number of residents called for condominiums, not apartments, arguing that homeowners have more of a stake in keeping the buildings nice. The developers pointed out that the condo market remains depressed, so they need to build apartments, which the contract allows.
Mayor Joe Affronti urged the council to either resolve the disagreement or let the project die. He opened the meeting by saying the lack of new jobs and the economy's slow growth are "the result of government intervention in the private sector.'' He then added: "Temple Terrace, in my mind, is doing the same thing.''
Council member Alison Fernandez countered that this isn't a case where a developer has bought the land and the city has stepped in to interfere. She pointed out that the city has given the land — which it bought years ago for $21 million — to the developer. In exchange, the developer should build the project according to the city's vision, she said.
Fernandez said she wants confirmation by independent industry professionals of the issues that Vlass Temple Terrace has raised.
The council plans several more workshops, plus a meeting for public feedback, before it votes on the project. Pogorilich said the council is awaiting Vlass' response to the issues raised this week before scheduling another workshop, though the topic "may come up'' at Tuesday's council meeting.
Govin said he did not expect a final vote for at least 2 1/2 months.
Philip Morgan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3435.