For a developer, having a billion-dollar public company move its global headquarters to your new office building is kind of the dream.
Landing a second one a month later seems almost impossible.
Yet that was always the goal for Midtown Tampa, said Nick Haines, CEO of the Bromley Companies, the lead developer on the $500 million mixed-use project just south of Interstate 75 near N Dale Mabry Highway.
“I’m not trying to suggest that it was predetermined,” Haines said. “It took a hell of a lot of work. We built 210,000 square feet of office space on spec. But the reason we did that is because we had the conviction that if we created the place, people would come.”
Indeed they have. In September, it was staffing and professional services firm Kforce, which sold its Ybor City headquarters this spring, planning to shift employees to a hybrid work model, and then signed a lease for 22,232 square feet at the development’s Midtown West building. This month it was Primo Water, which will move from its offices off Boy Scout Boulevard to 44,000 square feet on the top two floors of Midtown West. The companies are among the jewels of Midtown’s crop of corporate tenants, which also include South State Bank, Kast Construction and architecture firm Gresham Smith.
“We have several other billion-dollar businesses we’re working with now to sign leases with,” Haines said. “We’re incredibly bullish on the future of work and office at Midtown, and the experience it’s going to provide to people. We just can’t wait to get people back, opening the offices, get their spaces built out, and get people experiencing it firsthand.”
In a region flush with new and incoming top-tier office space, how did Midtown lure relocations from two of Tampa Bay’s largest public companies? We asked Haines to break it down. (This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.)
Kforce shrunk its office footprint. Primo Water is growing theirs. Do you have a sense of what companies are really looking for in this day and age?
Where we are at Dale Mabry and 275, where 300,000 cars drive by our site a day, we can reach a talent base throughout all of Tampa Bay. And I think that’s the fundamental thing that people are starting their search with at Midtown. You can live in Sarasota, you can live in Pasco, you can live in South Tampa, you can live in Brandon, and you can access it. And then we’re combining that with these great, environmentally friendly, sustainable office buildings with great light and air and modern infrastructure. And then the environment we’re providing, in terms of the hotels and restaurants and apartments — some of our tenants, their employees are starting to sign leases in the apartments. So when you have all that, it almost doesn’t matter whether you’re a growing company, or you’re a company that’s going to more of a hybrid model. We’re seeing examples of both.
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How much of it is amenities versus pricing versus location?
Midtown is a new office building, so our rents are at a premium in the market. For most companies, the amount they spend on office space, as a function of what they spend on salaries and recruiting, it’s a small fraction. People are realizing that the most important thing is, how do we attract great talent, and how do we retain great talent? A lot of it is going to be the location and the environment. Executives need to find a place their employees want to come to.
I know we can’t just wave our hands and say, “If the pandemic hadn’t happened...” But if the working world hadn’t changed how it did, how different would Midtown look? Obviously, it influenced Kforce’s decision to lease.
The question is, would Kforce have taken 75,000 or 100,000 (square) feet versus 25,000 feet? COVID, for a certain period of time, put a pause on office decisions as offices digested it, as we as individuals digested our futures. But the world is churning back. People can’t be paralyzed forever. And the decisions that companies are now making is evidence of that. Would Kforce have had a larger footprint at Midtown? I would think, likely. The essence of Midtown, in terms of what it is as a location, hasn’t changed with COVID.
Now that you’ve got some key office tenants, homes are filling up and retail is pretty much built out, can you think about what Midtown needs next?
Probably more of everything. We do have some expansion capabilities on the existing site. We have two additional development pads that could support office, that could support residential, that could support additional retail. We have a waiting list for retailers right now waiting to get into Midtown. The apartments are more than 80 percent leased. The office space is more than 80 percent leased. So we’re looking at potential expansions of all three of those categories.
Twenty years ago, International Plaza came up with the West Shore business district sprouting around it, with all those offices on Boy Scout Boulevard. What will happen around Midtown Tampa in 20 years?
We’re seeing it already. We’re seeing businesses start to label themselves as “located in Midtown.” We’re seeing residential real estate brokers starting to identify homes as in the Midtown district. And I’m talking about people who don’t just live between Dale Mabry, Cypress and Himes. I’m talking about people that live in Macfarlane Park, West Tampa, stuff like that. Our goal is always to have Midtown be a unifying connection between downtown and Westshore, to create kind of a bigger business district, a bigger residential district. We’re seeing it.
On a personal level, of the retail that’s yet to open at Midtown, what’s the thing you’re looking forward to the most?
Oh, it’s like picking your children. William Dean Chocolates is a great local chocolatier that’s going to open for the holidays. Walk-On’s is a great sports bar that I think will be fun for a lot of people, especially given our location next to Raymond James Stadium. Chris Ponte has been my favorite local chef in Tampa for 15 years, between Olivia and On Swann and Cafe Ponte, so his Ponte grill that’s opening, I told him I will be the first reservation. We can’t wait to get that open.