The apartment project that goes before the Tampa City Council today is too big for the space, a misuse of public property, and a setback for a city that has spent tens of millions of tax dollars to reverse decades of bad planning on the downtown waterfront. The council should reject it and bring some consistency to balancing growth and public space.
Mayor Bob Buckhorn wants the council to approve a deal to sell city land on the downtown riverfront for a 36-story residential tower. The property is between the downtown library, the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts and the eastern bank of the Hillsborough River. Buckhorn says the tower would enliven the area, bringing more retail and pedestrians to the arts district and to the nearby Curtis Hixon riverfront park. The Straz Center supports it, too, because the project would redesign the traffic flow to make it easier to get in and out of the performing arts complex.
An apartment building is about the last thing this sliver of property — now occupied by an intersection, several flower beds and pedestrian medians — needs. Wedging the tower into an area where blind spots already make it dangerous for motorists and pedestrians will only add to the people and cars that cannot now coexist safely. The question is not whether architects can make the building fit, but why the city would want to reprise its sorry legacy of blocking downtown's greatest asset from public view.
The council is being asked to sell the land for $4 million; it will get a crack at the detailed plans later, such as the tower's proposed height, which is three times the 120-foot limit that kicks in the requirement for council approval. But the council could hardly sell the land to the developers and then reject the plans.
The tower would be even higher than two sister projects, the 32-story SkyPoint and the 35-story Element buildings in downtown Tampa. Locating it on the riverfront would move the city away from using the cultural arts district to open the downtown to public activity and from steering housing, retail and other intense developments toward the established Franklin Street corridor.
Improving traffic flow to the Straz should not be a rationale for jamming an oversized building into an undersized space. A tower that promises "unobstructed views in all directions" from its 350 apartments also boxes in any effort down the road to expand the adjacent downtown library. The market has already shown that downtown residential does not need to crowd the waterfront to succeed. This project is a bad fit, and the council should reject it.