Water Street Tampa is the first neighborhood in the world to get this wellness certification

This is what developers expect Water Street to look like for a pedestrian facing north when the street is finished and planted with mature oak trees in the fall of 2020. Rendering courtesy Strategic Property Partners
This is what developers expect Water Street to look like for a pedestrian facing north when the street is finished and planted with mature oak trees in the fall of 2020. Rendering courtesy Strategic Property Partners
Published May 30, 2019

TAMPA — It's not just that Water Street Tampa developers plan to bring 650 trees — southern live oak, elm and bald cypress, many of them mature — to create shade and beauty on what started out as a bunch of parking lots near Amalie Arena.

They have also chosen a mix of trees that shouldn't overwhelm visitors with pollen.

It's that kind of attention to detail that has brought the $3 billion Water Street Tampa project the distinction of being the first neighborhood anywhere to be certified by the International WELL Building Institute as a healthy community for walking, working and living.

"We think, long term, that drives value," said James Nozar, the chief executive officer of Strategic Property Partners, the company created by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Cascade Investment, the private wealth fund of Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, to develop and be the long-term owner of Water Street Tampa.

It's hard to say how much it will cost to meet the WELL community standard, he said. Meeting WELL standards for individual buildings adds a premium of about 1 percent to their costs. Outside the buildings, Nozar said, Strategic Property Partners is spending "a few hundred million dollars" on public infrastructure like streets, sidewalks, utilities, parks and landscaping. Developers think enhancements like new or improved parks, extra landscaping and wider sidewalks are "very important to creating a long-term, enduring, successful place," he said, so they are spending more than 30 to 40 percent more than city development regulations would require or other developers would typically spend in the public realm.

A COMPETITIVE EDGE: A partnership to focus on healthy design

The WELL community standard, launched in 2017, is meant to recognize neighborhoods that adopt design and policy strategies that focus on the quality of the air, water, food, light, opportunities for fitness, sound, temperature, materials and community to improve the health of their residents.

It is similar to the LEED Neighborhood Development certification, which Water Street Tampa also is working to get, for sustainable, well-connected developments with buildings that are resource- and energy-efficient.

Achieving the WELL certification has been a stated goal for Vinik since September 2015, when he announced a partnership with Delos, a New York real estate company that launched the standard based on research from scientists, architects, designers and medical experts. It also founded the International WELL Building Institute to run the program. More than 1,700 projects in 51 countries have pursued the WELL building standard. A half-dozen larger projects from New Jersey to China to France to Australia are working on getting the community certification, as well.

The goal, institute chairman and chief executive officer Rick Fedrizzi said, is how to create buildings and spaces that give people "the most vibrant life with the possibility of extending that life in the best possible way."

"There's so many things that our brains and our subconsciousness are balancing at all times so we can have somewhat of a productive experience," he said. "If, now, technology and the building that you live in, or work in, or play in, or heal in or are educated in did 50 or 60 or 70 percent of the heavy lifting for you, if the lighting was balanced relative to circadian rhythms the way that we as mammals have evolved ... it gives us this little edge of productivity in the early hours of the day and starts to make us relaxed and feel calm and connected to our place in our homes and be able to sleep well at the end of the day."

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Vinik has not disclosed the size of his investment in Delos, But last year he told Forbes that it is among a handful, "which means less than five," of his largest personal investments. Others include a Boston company that uses silk in skin care products and a North Carolina sushi distributor. (Vinik also is one of the local investors in FBN Partners, which has loaned $12 million to help refinance the Times Publishing Co., the owner of the Tampa Bay Times.)

The WELL community standard focuses on both design and operations. At Water Street, the strategies that led to the certification include:

• Encouraging pedestrians with larger-than-required sidewalks from 14 to 45 feet wide, and designing blocks on a scale to make walking around Water Street inviting and engaging.

• Creating a new public plaza at the entrance of the University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute and a new public park planned at the intersection of Cumberland Avenue and Water Street, as well as promoting fitness through programs like yoga in the park.

• Paying attention to where bedrooms and work spaces are placed in relation to sources of noise such as the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway, as well as placing audio sensors throughout the district to alert Water Street's operations team of problems like an idling truck or noisy generator.

• Making air quality monitoring data publicly accessible.

• Providing refilling stations with filtered water.

• Reducing light pollution and dimming, when feasible, lighting in public areas.

• Using light colored pavement and sidewalks shaded by trees to mitigate the creation of an urban heat island. Developers began buying some trees several years ago so they had time grow before they were planted.

• Using fountains and other water features to moderate microclimate temperatures.

• Making recycling available inside and outside every building, using native landscaping, providing free public WiFi, bringing in public art, creating a publicly accessible community wellness center, offering healthy cooking classes and hosting neighborhood farmers markets.

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Contact Richard Danielson at or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times