TAMPA — Over the past few months, we’ve checked out several Pinellas County construction sites that had people wondering: “What in the world is going on there?" We recently crossed the bay into Hillsborough County to find out who’s behind a big, somewhat secretive Ruskin development and two Tampa projects in the shadow of the $320 million extension of the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway, which is now due for completion by Christmas 2020.
GRAB A BURGER AND DO YOUR BANKING — Heading from downtown Tampa to St. Petersburg via the existing expressway and Gandy Boulevard, we often pop into the McDonald’s just off Gandy for a Coke (medium) and fries (small). The restaurant used to seem kind of lonely, sitting far back on what otherwise was a large vacant lot.
Last month, a sizable portion of the lot was marked off by blue construction fencing. By this time next year, the site will be home to a new branch of Fifth Third Bank. The Ohio-based bank, Tampa Bay’s seventh largest in terms of market share, bought the property at the corner of Gandy and Manhattan Avenue in 2012 for $1.8 million. In the seven years since, the population in that part of South Tampa has boomed, with hundreds of new apartments and townhomes springing up in Westshore Marina District and neighborhoods south of Gandy.
Representatives of Fifth Third Bank did not return calls, and a spokesperson for Tampa-based Caspers Co., which owns the McDonald’s, didn’t know if the store would lose its Gandy entrance once the branch bank opens.
STORE THAT JUNK — A bit farther west on Gandy , the skeleton of a six-or-seven story structure seemingly rose overnight next to a used car dealership. It will be a CubeSmart self-storage storage facility, the latest front in the bay area storage wars.
CubeSmart already has a place on Gandy but the aforementioned population growth — especially of apartment dwellers — has heightened the demand for storage space. As noted by Arturo Pena of Related Group, which built 396 rental units in the marina district, developers can make apartments smaller these days "because rather than keeping everything inside the unit, people are pushing some of that stuff out into a storage unit.''
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CubeSmart’s red-and-gray buildings are considerably outnumbered in the bay area by the green and tan ones of ExtraSpace Storage, the nation’s second largest owner/operator of self-storage facilities. Nationwide, self storage has exploded into a $38 billion industry with a nearly 8 percent annual growth rate since 2012.
BUY A HOUSE — Nowhere in the Tampa Bay area has there been more new-home construction since 2000 than in southern Hillsborough County, now dubbed "South Shore.'' Thousands of houses have been built in dozens of new subdivisions, including Bahia Lakes and Mira Lago in Ruskin.
Now, it looks like another big development is going in near those two although it has been shrouded in secrecy and marked only by oversize "No Trespassing’' signs.
“When asked, RIPA (the contractor) will just say they are preparing the site but will not, or cannot, divulge any more information,'' George Dunn, a nearby resident, said in an email to the Tampa Bay Times. He added that trucks have been hauling dirt from 18th to 4th streets for weeks, and that "the hole they have created on 18th is huge, much larger than a normal retention pond.''
Shell Point Ruskin LLC spent $8.8 million acquiring the roughly 180-acre site, property appraiser records show, and has requested zoning to allow for 665 single-family homes. County commissioners approved the request in November, and work to prepare the site for development has been underway for months.
The manager of Shell Point Point Ruskin LLC is Jeffrey Hills. He and wife Tonya owns Tampa-based Eisenhower Property Group, which has developed several other housing communities in Hillsborough. Reached by cell phone while she was at a hair salon, Tonya Hills acknowledged the project but said she would have someone call a reporter with more details.
No one did.