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Work starts on three West River apartment towers in Tampa

Together, this first phase of development will include 371 apartments and 6,300 square feet of retail.

TAMPA — People in Tampa have talked for a decade about starting over in the area west of the Hillsborough River and north of Interstate 275.

This week that ambition took a big step forward with the start of construction on three seven-story apartment buildings at the West River redevelopment project, on the site of the former North Boulevard Homes public housing complex.

Those towers are expected to open by the fall of 2021 to nearly 400 families with a mix of affordable apartments and those that rent at the market rate.

“We can’t build this housing fast enough for our residents,” said Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, who recently outlined plans to increase the development of affordable housing in the city. “The last thing we can have is our citizens pushed out of our community because of rising home prices.”

Related: Tampa Mayor Jane Castor on affordable housing: 'We have to act now'

West River is a joint venture led by the Tampa Housing Authority and developed by the Related Group of Miami, whose other Tampa Bay area projects include the 21-story ICON Harbour Island apartment tower, the 15-story ICON Central apartments in St. Petersburg and the Manor Riverwalk, an eight-story, amenity-rich apartment building on the site of the old Tampa Tribune building. Related also has filed plans to redevelop what is now the Bay Oaks apartments on Bayshore Boulevard into 168 luxury condos in two towers of 27 and 26 stories.

Though it’s best known for its high-end developments, including four Trump condo towers in South Florida, Related has built 10,000 units of affordable housing and another thousand units of workforce housing.

“We saw the potential of the site and we said, we’re all in," Related Group vice president of finance Tony Del Pozzo said. “This is what we’re all about: transforming communities and providing mixed-use, mixed income developments that really lead the city into the future.”

Related: Tampa Housing Authority picks Related Group as lead developer on West River project

This $124 million phase, with most of the construction and equity financing from Bank of America, will build:

• Boulevard Towers I and II, each with 119 apartments. Affordable housing will comprise 80 percent of the apartments in Tower I and 100 percent in Tower II. The towers also will have 2,258 and 1,730 square feet of retail, respectively.

• Boulevard Tower III, with 133 apartments, 80 percent of them affordable, and 2,320 square feet of retail.

Each tower also will have its own fitness center, library with free computer access, game room and community spaces.

The apartments, with one to three bedrooms encompassing 600 to 1,200 square feet, will come with energy-efficient appliances, including washers and driers, granite counter tops and balconies.

“All of our projects, irrespective of price point, are always going to be developed to the same standards as any of our market-rate projects,” said Albert Milo, president of the Related Urban Development Group, Related’s affordable housing arm. “We take pride in making sure we have the right architectural features, the right amenities, the right finishes."

Ultimately, the $500 million West River redevelopment project will include 1,600 new residences, 1,000 of which will consist of affordable housing, plus retail, office and other redevelopment in the area where the North Boulevard Homes public housing complex once stood.

The West River redevelopment, seen here from the north looking south, will include 1,600 apartments at build-out, plus new commercial and office development. (Tampa Housing Authority)
The West River redevelopment, seen here from the north looking south, will include 1,600 apartments at build-out, plus new commercial and office development. (Tampa Housing Authority) [ Tampa Housing Authority ]

North Boulevard Homes, a concrete-block complex that was built in 1940 without air-conditioning, was once home to about 2,000 people. Residents were relocated in 2016 to make way for the demolition of the old barracks-style buildings and the construction now underway.

Related: A Tampa community slides into history as last residents depart

“All those families have first right of refusal to move back when these developments are completed,” Tampa Housing Authority chairman Jim Cloar said. “They don’t have to, but they have the right to move back. We want to look out for them.”