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Straz performing arts center decides not to build parking garage

TAMPA — The David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts needs more parking, but it has concluded that building a 600-car garage is not the way to go.

The center's board recently discussed a study it commissioned on the feasibility of putting a $10 million to $12 million garage next door on a parking lot that serves the Times building.

"They decided that it looked challenging, and it's not something they're going to pursue themselves," said Paul Bilyeu, the center's director of public relations.

But the developers of a proposed 36-story apartment tower near the Straz still have an interest in doing the garage as a project that's separate from their high-rise. Developer Phillip Smith said Friday that they are looking at the Straz's feasibility study and have commissioned one of their own. He's confident that a garage would solve many of the Straz's ongoing problems with parking and access.

"I don't think there's really any debate about how clean a solution that is for that area, particularly for the Straz," he said.

Still, he said the idea is a long-range pursuit, with no announcements expected in the near future.

Presumably, city officials have said, building a parking garage would allow the owner of the Times building, Denholtz Associates, to consolidate parking now spread across two lots — the one next to the Straz Center and a second one north of W Fortune Street, next to the Howard Johnson Plaza Tampa. That, in turn, would allow Denholtz to develop the lot next to the hotel.

"If it's doable, it's a win-win for everybody," Mayor Bob Buckhorn said. "It makes sense for a lot of reasons, and it doesn't matter to me whether or not the Straz chooses to do it or whether a private entity does it."

But the city, which has an operating deficit of $5 million to $6 million a year in its parking division, is not in a position to participate in the project.

"More parking garages are not on my agenda right now," Buckhorn said. "I'm still trying to fix the ones I've got."

Meanwhile, Smith and his partner on the tower, Greg Minder, have said they don't expect their tower, with an estimated 500 new residents, to aggravate the parking shortage in the area immediately around the Straz.

That's because the high-rise is expected to have a garage with 635 parking spaces of its own — enough for residents, merchants on the ground floor of the building and even some people going to the Straz.

The tower would rise on a spot just south of the Straz, behind the annex to the John F. Germany Public Library. As part of the project, the city plans to reconfigure Cass and Tyler streets into two-way streets. That would create the site for the tower development, plus be expected to improve the flow of traffic in the area and create more on-street parking for the Straz and the library.

Smith said a rezoning petition for the tower has been filed with the city, and he expects it to go to the City Council in the third week of May. Construction to realign Cass and Tyler could start this summer and take about 90 days. Once that's done, work on the tower would begin, with an opening in late 2014 or early 2015.

"Everything's on track," he said.

Straz performing arts center decides not to build parking garage 03/15/13 [Last modified: Friday, March 15, 2013 11:11pm]
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