For Nick Haines, it’s the perfect store in the perfect spot.
Tampa’s new REI Co-op, which cut a ribbon Thursday and opens to shoppers on Friday, anchors a retail complex near a walking trail and lake in the new Midtown Tampa development, soon to be followed by a Whole Foods grocery and several other wellness-focused shops, studios and restaurants.
“To land them as a client, it really personifies everything that Midtown is about,” said Haines, CEO of Midtown’s developer the Bromley Companies. “Their brand represents everything we’re trying to do in terms of exciting, experiential retail and forging a really deep connection to their customers.”
A new, 23,000-square-foot REI is bound to bring out campers, bikers and brand devotees. The company operates as a co-op, with 19 million members owning a small stake and receiving annual dividends, and Tampa has long been among the markets with the most members without a local store. If not for the coronavirus pandemic, Haines said, Midtown might see hundreds of shoppers camped outside for the grand opening.
Either way, the arrival of REI marks the start of what will be a busy season of retail at one of Tampa’s most highly anticipated developments.
Since breaking ground in May 2019, the $500-plus-million Midtown has chugged along despite the pandemic, keeping most of its retail and residential projects largely on schedule.
REI follows Midtown’s first hotel, the dual-branded Aloft and Element, which opened its doors just before Super Bowl 55. Residents will start moving into the development’s first apartments, Novel Midtown by Crescent Communities, in April. Tampa Bay’s first Shake Shack will open in May, with a relocated and expanded Whole Foods coming by June.
Down the line, Midtown will open a Sephora store, a Royal Pets Market and Resort, fitness studios and a food hall. It will host Tampa outposts from renowned Pinellas eateries BellaBrava and William Dean Chocolates, as well as an unannounced concept by chef Chris Ponte, formerly of the closed Cafe Ponte in Clearwater, and the region’s first True Food Kitchen, a health-conscious restaurant whose investors include Oprah Winfrey.
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Midtown will eventually offer 1.8 million square feet of retail, residential and office space, and bring thousands of jobs to the region (including 52 at REI), according to Bromley estimates.
Retail space is more than 90 percent leased out, Haines said, and apartment pre-leasing has been “fantastic,” even before the leasing office has opened. Novel’s apartments range from $1,600 for a studio to $3,750 for a three-bedroom.
That eases some of the pressure on Bromley and Midtown as Tampa looks at a rush of new office and retail space hitting the market in 2021 and beyond. Downtown’s $3.5 billion Water Street Tampa development and the Heights Union project near Armature Works have opened upscale hotels and lured high-profile corporate tenants in recent months, creating plenty of competition for new tenants.
“In the next six months or so, as these projects are completed and leasing doesn’t pick up, they will fall well below leasing expectations,” said Brent Miller, managing director of commercial real estate services firm JLL. “The absorption in the market for new space, it isn’t as strong as you would like for the delivery of over a million square feet of new product. I think it’s due to the competition, along with the fact that new companies are not yet moving to Tampa in a big way.”
Haines acknowledged that the corporate component has struggled the most, though Midtown has not started dropping asking rents. He said Midtown should soon have announcements about new corporate tenants.
“The office market has been, in some ways, the hardest hit from a leasing perspective, as companies try to figure out what their return to office looks like, what their office layouts look like,” he said. “I think we’re involved with every major office conversation that’s going on here.”
For now, with REI finally open, Midtown’s retail sector is in a good spot. And when Shake Shack comes in May?
“That’ll be a circus,” Haines said. “REI will be a circus. We want to have controlled circuses, with COVID.”
If you go
REI Co-op will be open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday at 1152 Assembly Drive, Tampa. rei.com/tampa.