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  1. Hillsborough

Downtown Temple Terrace is finally taking shape

This is a preliminary image of the bank and retail stores that Paragon Group plans to build on the corner of 56th Street and Bullard Parkway in the Temple Terrace downtown redevelopment area. [Photo courtesy of City of Temple Terrace]
This is a preliminary image of the bank and retail stores that Paragon Group plans to build on the corner of 56th Street and Bullard Parkway in the Temple Terrace downtown redevelopment area. [Photo courtesy of City of Temple Terrace]
Published Jun. 12, 2019

Times Staff Writer

TEMPLE TERRACE — Though the reality doesn't match the dream of long ago, the area long known as Downtown Temple Terrace is taking shape.

Two developers have closed on deals to build a bank, restaurants and retail shops, and a contract is pending for 200 luxury apartments in the redevelopment area, a huge swath of land east of 56th Street from Bullard Parkway south to the Hillsborough River.

And, recently, the City Council voted to negotiate with developers who want to buy two more parcels there to build more retail shops, offices and maybe a hotel.

Council members have asked the city staff and the city's hired real estate broker, Patrick Berman of Cushman Wakefield, to negotiate with Matera Group, which is offering $1.8 million for two acres near the Winn-Dixie, where they want to build restaurants and retail stores; and with Enigma Events, LLC, which wants to buy a 1.74 acre property — including the former Curry Bowl restaurant — for $600,000, with plans to put in restaurants, retail stores, and possibly a hotel.

Enigma recently bought the old post office building south of Winn-Dixie for $1.5 million. It plans to renovate the structure and create a mall with retail shops and restaurants. The city also has received about $3.4 million from Paragon Group, which plans to build a bank and retail stores on the corner of Bullard and 56th Street. Greg Pauley, business relations manager for Temple Terrace, said the city is expected to sign a contract this summer with the Richman Group, which plans to put 200 luxury apartments in two buildings near the Paragon project.

With each land sale, the city is paying down on a $24 million debt, money borrowed in the early 2000s to buy 29 acres and build the downtown that Temple Terrace never had. The initial vision was to have Mediterranean Revival-style buildings flanking a main street. Along one side, retail shops, offices and restaurants would occupy a first floor with condominiums above. A cultural arts center and more retail shops would occupy the other side of Main Street, with green space for people to gather.

But three developers came and went, and much of the land remained idle for 15 years.

The first developer, Orlando-based Unicorp National Developments, was hired in 2005 and fired in 2006 for failing to meet deadlines.

The second developer, Pinnacle Realty of Tampa and Ram Development of Palm Beach Gardens, backed out in 2008 after two years of negotiations with the city.

And on June 30, 2009, in a controversial tie vote broken by then-Mayor Joe Affronti, the city agreed to turn over the land for free to the third developer, Vlass Temple Terrace, in exchange for Vlass building the downtown that the city envisioned.

Affronti explained in a 2015 interview that then-City Council Member Mark Knapp was out of town attending his son's baseball game and the rest of the council split two to two, triggering a provision of the city charter that allows the mayor, who normally can't vote, to cast the deciding vote.

Knapp complained at the next meeting that he would have voted against turning the property over to Vlass and questioned why the vote had to be taken that day. Affronti, in the interview with the Times, explained that Michael Vlass, president of the development company, insisted on taking the vote — yes or no — on June 30 because he was tired of the back-and-forth negotiations with the city planning staff.

With the collapse of the condominium market due to the recession, Vlass Temple Terrace decided to build apartments instead, promising luxury apartments. But the company balked at the idea of building apartments over retail stores, saying it would be hard to attract retailers and residents. After a number of other disagreements between the city staff and Vlass, the two parties sued each other for breach of contract. In a settlement, the city agreed to pay about $1.75 million to get 22 undeveloped acres of its land back.

The city hired Marty Hudson as development director to work on the project. He mainly modeled his plans after the successful downtowns of Dunedin and St. Petersburg, calling for varied architecture, two- to five-story buildings, wide sidewalks, large windows on the first floors of buildings, awnings and other characteristics to make it a pedestrian-friendly downtown. Hudson predicted that Downtown Temple Terrace would fill up piecemeal over time.

Eriksson Technologies, Inc., a Temple Terrace engineering and software development firm, appeared before City Council with the plan to construct a five-story office building on the corner of Bullard and 56th Street, but backed out when residents complained that the $250,000 offer for 1.5 acres was too low. Florida Hospital also expressed interest but withdrew after criticism that it was a bad fit for the location.

In 2017, Hudson left to take a job with the City of Orlando.

Meanwhile, time was closing in on the city because the $24 million loan was coming due in March of 2018 (later extended to June).

Eager to sell the land, the City Council hired Patrick Berman of Cushman Wakefield commercial real estate firm to find buyers and sell the land parcel by parcel.

Council Member Frank Chillura had been saying since his election run in 2016 that the city needed to adjust its vision to what the market will allow in the downtown redevelopment district. He called for "realistic development'' during a candidate forum that year.

"Some of this stuff is a pipe dream," Chillura said. "Some of these folks, they think we're going to get a Disneyland down there, and it's not going to happen.''

With the sales of land so far, the city has paid back nearly half of a five-year $10 million loan with Republic Bank. The remaining $14 million in debt is spread over 20 years, with no penalty for paying it back early.

Contact Philip Morgan at pmorgan@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3435.