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Homes, stores, offices planned

Residents of the Channelside area may be getting some new neighbors in the not so distant future, and maybe even a new place to buy a loaf of bread or stick of butter.

The city of Tampa has tentatively accepted a developer's offer to buy 7{ acres off Twiggs Street near Union Station that it currently used for an operations yard.

The prospective developer, Synergy Properties Inc. of Tampa, is offering to pay about $5-million for the land. It proposes spending $38.7-million developing and building more than 300 apartments, as well as offices and shops, and a specialty grocery store.

Currently, downtown residents have to travel to the Bayshore Publix Super Market to pick up the fixings for an evening meal.

However, there are many ifs to the proposal. Synergy was one of four bidders for the property and its selection by the city is merely an invitation to negotiate further. The property is an Environmental Protection Agency Brownfields site because of past contamination and the ease or difficulty of cleaning it up could determine whether the project moves forward.

While residents of the area expressed their desire for a grocery store in meetings with Synergy officials, whether one happens there depends on whether a retailer decides there's a market. At least two grocery store companies are conducting marketing studies currently and the results of those analyses will determine whether they open shop.

Further, while Synergy has done a preliminary market study of its own that enticed it to bid, it still must do further analysis to ensure the project would be successful.

Doug Weber, president of Synergy Properties, believes work on the Lee Roy Selmon Crosstown Expressway that would create a new entryway to downtown near the project could be a selling point.

"The new gateway to the city is exciting," Weber said. "I think that's one of the things attracting a grocer. But the market's going to determine whether a grocer goes there or not."

If negotiations with the city go well, Synergy proposes to start building by the middle of May, and for residents to begin moving in by the middle to end of next year.

The company proposes building 336 luxury residences, including a dozen or so lofts, in three buildings, the largest of which would rise six stories. Initially the apartments would be marketed as rentals, with potential conversion as condominiums in the future.

Additionally, Synergy is currently earmarking 15,111 square feet as retail space, 7,000 square feet for professional offices and 10,885 square feet for a specialty grocery store. The development would be oriented with a view toward Channelside Drive and Twiggs Avenue.

Synergy's proposal describes the possible architectural style as having an intimate downtown feel, featuring ornamental streetlights, wrought-iron tree wells, awnings, and buildings made of brick, stone and stucco.

Ron Rotella, special consultant to the mayor, said Synergy was picked by a six-person review team in part because it proposes building all at once, rather than in phases. Plus, the review team was impressed that Synergy met with residents of Channelside to hear their desires for the project.

"They need to feel comfortable with the project," Rotella said. "It's their neighborhood."

Synergy's application says it has been involved in more than $100-million in development projects in the past 10 years, focusing on luxury residences and assisted living centers. Their work includes Audubon Villas at Feather Sound, a 308-unit luxury residential project in St. Petersburg, and Audubon Villas in Hunter's Creek, part of another planned community in Orlando.