The Tampa City Council didn't do its homework before rushing in January to sell a patch of riverfront property for an apartment tower. With four months to reflect on what a mistake it would be to wedge this oversized building into the downtown waterfront space, the council should reject the project when it comes back today for another vote.
The council agreed to sell the property between the downtown library and the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts. Developers plan to build a 36-story tower with 380 apartments and 10,000 feet of retail space on a spit of land now occupied by an intersection and flower beds on the east bank of the Hillsborough River. Now the City Council has to decide whether to approve several variances, the most significant of which would allow the tower to be three times as tall as the 120-foot height limit downtown. The size and scale of this building is beyond reason, and it would wall off the sight line to the water.
Supporters of the project, such as Mayor Bob Buckhorn, say the tower would enliven the area and allow the city to redesign the street grid and traffic flow around the Straz to make the area safer for pedestrians and drivers. But the city can improve the intersection and help the Straz without plopping a tower on the waterfront. Because of the size of the project, the city would be replacing one traffic headache with another.
The argument that the tower fits with the city's new InVision master plan for downtown is weak, too. The InVision plan has a broad enough sweep to justify almost any new development. But if anything, it warns against these sort of big-box waterfront projects. The plan also emphasizes creating harmony between the river and any surrounding development, and maintaining river views by preserving open spaces. The tower would subvert these goals in one of the few remaining open spaces on the downtown waterfront.
It would be awkward for council members to deny a project after it sold the land to the developers knowing full well what they had in mind. But rezoning requests are not formalities, and the two sides have not closed on the land purchase because the developers want the approvals in hand before moving ahead. This project is the wrong size in the wrong place, and the City Council should deny the variances.