Back in 2013, Jeff Vinik said his Water Street Tampa project would develop in phases. It was about 20 acres downtown at the time; the next year, it was up to 40 and a cost of more than $1 billion.
Nine years later, the footprint for the development encompasses more than 70 acres, with some 9 million square feet of space under development at a cost of $3.5 billion.
We’re still in Phase 1, but we won’t be for much longer.
Water Street unveiled a handful of major components since late 2020, including two new residential towers, an office tower, a new Publix GreenWise Market and a JW Marriot hotel. Only a few big pieces of what developers consider to be Water Street’s first phase have yet to open, and those are nearing completion.
“We are very much in our spring training,” said Lee Schaffler, chief portfolio officer with lead Water Street developers Strategic Property Partners, a partnership between Vinik and Bill Gates’ Cascade Investment. “We are very close to opening day here.”
The end of the first phase of development represents a culmination of the master plans that have been laid before the city and public thus far. But it’s not the total vision. What’s there now represents only about half of what Strategic Property Partners hopes to develop into Water Street Tampa by 2027.
“I can’t tell you how thrilling it is to have all the buildings opening now after almost 10 years of planning,” Vinik said. “As this phase is completed in 2022, we’re hard at work on the next phase of the development. There’s a bit of a gap in construction between the two, but not too long.”
Here’s what’s next for Water Street Tampa.
The big pieces
The pandemic and other factors delayed several of Water Street’s phased openings. As recently as August, Strategic Property Partners said Phase 1 would wrap “later this year.” But before it can be considered complete, at least two projects have to open.
The first is Asher, Water Street’s third and largest residential tower. The 490-unit apartment complex at 1050 Water Street will begin pre-leasing in January, with move-ins planned for March. When it opens it’ll join the 420-unit Heron and 388-unit Cora to complete a neighborhood of more than 1,300 homes.
Some of those homes will be in the other big building on the way: Edition, a Marriott-partnered upscale hotel from hospitality veteran Ian Schrager that will open around March or April. Along with its 172 rooms, Edition will have 37 luxury residences starting at $2 million apiece.
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Asher, too, will have a mix of apartments and hotel rooms, with Roost Tampa, a boutique, 97-room extended-stay hotel on site. Between Roost, Edition and the JW Marriott Tampa Water Street, the district will have added nearly 800 rooms to downtown Tampa’s hotel inventory since late 2020.
Strategic Property Partners is wrapping work on the development’s main thoroughfare, Water Street, and its adjacent 45-foot sidewalk dubbed “the Verge,” a walkway lined by trees, gardens, retail and public art. The street is expected to open to pedestrian, bike and car traffic later this month.
With those buildings and streets complete, “Water Street Phase 1 will be done,” said Brad Cooke, a Strategic Property Partners vice president. “You’ll be able to get a really good sense of what that feels like.”
But the area still won’t be totally full or open for business.
Filling out spaces
Other than the Publix GreenWise and new eateries at Sparkman Wharf, few Water Street restaurants and retail spaces have opened. At least 30 are expected to arrive this year, but few firm dates have been nailed down.
Sparkman Wharf was looking at a few late 2021 and early 2022 restaurant openings, including BurgerFi, Shortwave Coffee and Noble Rice. Pilates studio Bodyrok and wellness spa and treatment center the Covery are also coming to Sparkman Wharf this year.
In the residential towers, Wine on Water, Small Giant Bar & Restaurant and Chill Bros. Scoop Shop have been announced for the first half of the year at Cora. Heron will have 3 Corners and the Pearl, and Asher will have Wagamama, all sometime this year.
Elsewhere, Naked Farmer will open in Water Street’s office tower, Thousand & One, and an Orangetheory Fitness studio will open on the ground level of a nearby parking garage. Both are expected in the first half of the year.
Schaffler said Strategic Property Partners is “in advanced discussions, some of them are signed leases,” with other retailers and restaurants, most of which have not yet been announced. One, he said, is a shop in the lobby of Asher that “will be something really unique, something that just doesn’t exist in a large scale in this market.” Another is a “national retailer” that will occupy the Asher space soon to host a temporary felt art exhibition by British artist Lucy Sparrow.
“Our retail is almost completely committed at this point,” Schaffler said. “Those deals that have been done, and the ones that are in the process of doing right now, they’ll all open over the course of various timeframes over the course of the next year.”
Then there are Water Street’s office tenants. Space at Sparkman Wharf and Thousand & One is “almost fully committed,” Schaffler said, with at least five companies already working out of those buildings. By spring, technology training school Future Tech Career Institute should move into Sparkman Wharf and real estate investment firm Sila Realty Trust will move into Thousand & One. By the end of summer, Tampa cybersecurity company ReliaQuest will relocate its global headquarters from Harbour Island to Thousand & One’s top seven floors, putting its name and logo on the top of the tower.
There are a few more public spaces and art projects left to add and touch up, Cooke said. But by April, with residents in all three towers, guests in three hotels and at least some office workers, the district — and Phase 1 — will feel essentially complete.
“At the basic level, it means we’ve finished building the critical density that we set out to do, which is a wide range of mix of uses supported by vibrant ground-floor retail space,” Cooke said. “For the people that visit, I think we’re starting to see it already, which is exciting, to prove that this really will be a vibrant urban experience that hasn’t really been seen before in Tampa.”
Phase 2 and beyond
Developers have offered few details on what’s coming after Phase 1. They’re deep into the planning stages, Schaffler said, with hopes of unveiling a clearer vision in 2022.
“We are doing our part,” he said. “We are master planning and going through the merchandising mix and how we want to design it, and what the use types are. But a lot of that is out of our hands. You need permits, you need certain things to happen. I don’t want to speculate on a date where we could make some grand announcement. It’s just totally out of our control.”
In the early going, Phase 2 will look a lot like the start of Phase 1 — lots of “horizontal infrastructure-type work,” Cooke said, that “won’t be all that glamorous.” Think pedestrian walkways, building footprints and foundations, rather than cranes in the sky.
Whereas Phase 1 delivered a number of buildings within a two-year span, future phases will feature fewer buildings at a time, Schaffler said. These will arise in lots surrounding Phase 1, especially north of Cumberland Avenue. Planning work for this section has already begun, with developers preparing road network proposals for the city.
One area of focus for Phase 2 will be the old Ardent Mills flour plant, which in 2022 will move into a new facility at Port Tampa Bay. The plant sat on about 3 acres’ worth of parcels off S Nebraska Avenue for which Strategic Property Partners paid $13.4 million in 2018, and was considered a key block for Water Street’s northward expansion.
Another block set for development is a half-acre parcel immediately north, across Channelside Drive from Amalie Arena. Schaffler said details on that and the Ardent Mills property would be unveiled soon.
One element that’s all but certain is more residences.
“We’re actively planning and working on it as we speak,” Schaffler said. “We’re bullish on residential demand and people living downtown. We think it’s important to have in our second phase.”
Along with those apartments and condos will likely come businesses meant to bolster Water Street’s “city within a city” experience — stores tailored to people who live within a 15-minute walk or bike ride, Schaffler said.
“We’re not solely a destination retail center where it’s like you’re driving there because you need to buy a sweater,” he said. “We are a city. We have residents who live here 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.”
Five years ago, Strategic Property Partners projected Water Street would be fully built out by 2027. Despite delays brought by the pandemic and other factors, developers still have that date in mind for completion.
“We think there’s more demand for some of the thing we’re doing,” Vinik said, “and we can continue to hopefully create a great place for all of Tampa Bay to enjoy.”