Tampa Bay has 'room to run' as one of nation's top 10 markets for real estate investors this year

Speakers at the 2019 Urban Land Institute conference in Tampa this week praised the Tampa Bay area as one of the most dynamic in the country.
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn speaks with a Tampa Bay Times reporter in April 2018 in Tampa. (CHRIS URSO   |   Times
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn speaks with a Tampa Bay Times reporter in April 2018 in Tampa. (CHRIS URSO | Times
Published Feb. 1, 2019

TAMPA — In 2008, Bob Buckhorn, then a private citizen, despaired of Tampa's lowly rank among the nation's real estate markets. The city had been ravaged by the financial crash, young people were leaving and almost no one saw it as a good place to invest.

"I'm tired of losing our kids to Charlotte,'' he complained at that year's Urban Land Institute conference on real estate trends. "I'm tired of being a second-tier city.''

On Wednesday, Buckhorn's tone was far different as he addressed the 2019 conference, this time as mayor.

"We're not a second-tier city, but a city competing on the international stage,'' he said, voice booming. "There is a swagger about this city that has never existed.''

Buckhorn wasn't the only speaker to extol the virtues of Tampa and the entire Tampa Bay area. For the first time, the area has been named one of the nation's top 10 markets for real estate investors, joining not just Charlotte but also Austin, Raleigh and Nashville.

Strong job growth, tax law changes and an increasingly youthful population are among the factors making the Tampa Bay area far more attractive to investors than it was a decade ago, 500 conference attendees were told. And while the U.S. economy shows signs of slowing, the bay area is an enviable position.

"By historical standards, we're late in this expansion, but Tampa (Bay) started so far back I think it's early in its expansion,'' said Mitchell Roschelle, a partner in PwC and co-author of the 2019 Emerging Trends in Real Estate Report. "The tailwinds are far stronger than any headwinds that would come. You have a lot more room to run.''

Roschelle was especially laudatory of Tampa's redevelopment, including of its long-neglected waterfont. (The conference was held at Armature Works, a one-time streetcar depot turned hip food hall on the Hillsborough River.)

"The story of Tampa is really quite remarkable but not surprising,'' he said. "You had the vision to take the waterfront and do something with it. You have a live-work-play that's the envy of other cities.''

In St. Petersburg, revitalization of the downtown waterfront and nearby areas is drawing developers like Red Apple Group, whose planned condo-and-hotel tower on Central Avenue will be the company's first project outside New York. Robert Zorn, a Red Apple executive, said the company decided to look beyond its home turf because new limits on mortgage and property tax deductions could prompt more northerners to move to low-tax states like Florida.

"We believe that when people in my neck of the woods do their tax returns, that's going to accelerate the trend of affluent people saying, 'Maybe there's a better way,' '' said Zorn, who lives in New York. "We're looking to capitalize on that trend."

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Some other nuggets from the conference:

• The four most-common amenities that employers provide to their workers are full-service cafeterias, showers, fitness centers and custom coffee. Zorn cautioned against getting too carried away with amenities: "I went in a place with a climbing wall and nobody used it.''

• The growth of e-commerce is creating a need for more warehouses. Office buildings also need more storage space. People don't want things delivered to their homes while they're gone, "so they're having them sent to the office,'' Roschelle said.

• Real Estate Investment Trusts, or REITS, have helped revolutionize the real estate business by enabling individuals to buy shares in real estate portfolios that receive income from hotels, apartment complexes and other commercial properties. "REITS to me are the biggest game-changer,'' Roschelle said. "You can invest as an individual investor (along) with the biggest institutional investors.''

Contact Susan Taylor Martin at or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate.