TAMPA — In and around a once sleepy downtown, streets and sidewalks bustle with life, brunch, craft beer and live music.
Shiny apartment towers rise and hipster bars, restaurants and gyms open. Downtown and surrounding environs — which lately get compared to a mini Miami and even Manhattan — are officially places people want to live. And are willing to pay for.
In the city’s latest urban incarnation, residential towers and apartments have sprouted along tony new Water Street, at the food-and-fun venue Armature Works and along historic Bayshore Boulevard.
With all this development — and monthly rents that can stretch to $4,000 and beyond — comes the obvious question: Who’s living here?
So here’s a snapshot of some faces in Tampa’s newest places.
Juan Zapata and Migna Pacheco, both 30
Work: Designing hip, repurposed street-style clothing and statement pieces through their fashion brand, Muse By Pablo. “She’s the muse, I’m the Pablo,” said Zapata, Pablo being his middle name. Sports figures have donned their clothes and they’ve done pop-ups at Neiman Marcus.
Home: Cora, the curving 23-story residence at 1011 E Cumberland Ave. that opened in 2021 in fast-developing Water Street. Current monthly rents for available studio, 1-, 2- and 3-bedroom units range from $2,010 to $6,145.
Their story: She’s from Puerto Rico, he’s from Colombia. They met just out of high school through Tampa friends. He was working at Maggiano’s restaurant but like her was always into fashion — he liked sneakers especially — and started designing. She was busy studying molecular biology, graduated college and joined in. The business took off.
They run Muse by Pablo through Instagram and other social media from their one-bedroom, 21st floor apartment in the company of 6-month-old son Pablo and Boston Terriers Leo and Akira. They joke that when they’re out with the baby and spot another stroller on the sidewalk, there’s a good chance it will be ferrying a dog. Canines are legion at Water Street, where any given day you might stroll past a pop-up dog park.
Pacheco and Zapata are liking this urban-core life — the GreenWise market, the Riverwalk, Sparkman’s Wharf, Pilates and the post office where they ship out their fashions all a short walk away. And there’s always something festive going on, she said.
“It feels like you’re in a big city,” he said.
What’s needed? More parking in the area for visitors, they say, a common lament in the fast-growing district.
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In their building, something’s always happening — sunrise yoga, paella making, comedy nights, wine tastings, grilling out at the lush green rooftop terrace. Outside are new restaurants and live music.
“It definitely feels like a dream sometimes,” said Zapata. Said Pacheco: “We have everything we need right here.”
Sarah Marville, 31
Work: Business development manager in commercial printing, marketing and promotional sales for the Jacksonville-based Drummond company.
Home: Heron, which is two towers — 21 and 26 stories — with distinctive balconies and a rooftop pool that opened in 2021 at 815 Water St. The buildings have 1-, 2- and 3-bedroom and penthouse units. Current monthly rent for available units ranges from $2,971-$7,352.
Her story: Marville was an urban pioneer when downtown was less lively and became one of the first Heron residents in 2021. Now there’s a tight-knit group of “best friends” to hang out with, she said.
“I compare it to college, but with money,” Marville said .
The vibe here is work-hard, play-hard: Happy hours, dinners at sidewalk tables, Sunday brunches. Heron fetes its residents with World Cup watches, sushi-making, fitness classes and fireworks viewing from the rooftop. Marville’s golden retriever, Duke, won pet of the month, which got him pictured on the elevator’s video screens.
She’s a Tampa Bay local and Florida Gator, but her neighbors are from Boston, California and elsewhere. A New York couple uses their apartment as a pied-a-terre. There’s a tech company CEO and owner of a marketing firm, lots of young professionals and some older ones, too. Like her, many residents work from home.
Her 1-bedroom apartment’s sleek modern oven might be too small for a regular-sized baking sheet, but she’s a stone’s throw from restaurants and can access the GreenWise grocery that anchors her building without stepping outside. She’s a Lightning fan, and her balcony overlooks the players’ parking lot at Amalie Arena with a view of a slice of the water beyond. There’s a big city soundtrack of traffic and construction noise.
“This is definitely not where I came from,” said Marville. “But it’s great to be here.”
Emily Burgoyne, 31
Work: Product manager for the architectural business unit of door manufacturing company Masonite. She makes sure the company’s portfolio aligns to the needs of the market and watches profitability.
Home: The Pearl, a 7-story apartment with three buildings at 2110 N Ola Ave. in historic Tampa Heights next to Armature Works at the north edge of downtown. Rent for 1-, 2- and 3-bedroom apartments recently listed on their website ranged from $1,966-$5,187.
Her story: There’s a rhythm to young professional life here.
“During the week, everybody’s focused on work, so it’s pretty quiet,” Burgoyne said. Friday night gets livelier — a nice dinner at Oak and Ola or Ulele, maybe, then a trip to the pub that shares space at the base of her building with an ice cream shop, hair salon, an urgent care facility and other businesses. Saturdays there’s the pool, and Sundays, maybe grilling out with neighbors.
“Once I get home on Friday, I really park my car and I don’t drive the rest of the weekend,” she said.
Originally from central Illinois, Burgoyne got a post-college job at a closet company in Ocala but was excited to move to a bigger city. She got hired by Masonite with headquarters in Ybor City but didn’t see herself living there.
The view from her sixth-floor, 1-bedroom apartment at The Pearl — the downtown skyline, the Hillsborough River — was a selling point. A walker and bicyclist, she liked the proximity to the Riverwalk that begins its 2.6 mile path outside her door, and felt comfortable going out to exercise at almost any hour. There’s yoga on the lawn or a nearby studio, and weekdays she boxes at an Ybor gym.
Weekends she’ll do a 14-mile bike trip to Ballast Point in South Tampa and back. Friends have on occasion picked her up by boat at the nearby docks.
She frequents Armature Works, the popular repurposed streetcar barn across the street that gets jammed on weekends, and downtown is within easy reach.
There’s “just walkability in general,” she said.
Sprouts market is next door, though she’s more a Trader Joe’s and Publix fan, and a Publix is reportedly coming in nearby to what once was considered a food desert. A closer pharmacy and a small local market would be nice, too, she said.
Her building regularly hosts events from holiday parties to flower arranging. Half her friends there have dogs — hence, Yappy Hour — but she travels too much for that.
Unless her job moves her, she’ll stay. And if she decides to buy, it will be in this area. “The whole Tampa Heights vibe,” she said.
John Dicks, 69
Work: He’s an of-counsel attorney and former mayor of Plant City who’s been on the Hillsborough County Planning Commission and serves on non-profit boards and foundations. Wife Sharon Dicks is a retired teacher.
Home: Aquatica, a 15-story residential tower at 3001 Bayshore Blvd. with floor-to-ceiling views. Current prices to buy 2- and 3- bedroom apartments range from $1.8 million to more than $2.5 million, with penthouses up to $6 million, according to well-known Tampa realtor Toni Everett.
His story: The couple moved into their 5th-floor, 2-bedroom condo at the curvy new Aquatica tower as the pandemic raged. “No one would get in the elevator with you,” he said.
One major reason they gave up the big house in Plant City where they lived for 24 years: Their grandkids are now a 5-minute walk away in South Tampa. Downsizing was also selling point.
Dicks loved the location — curving Bayshore Boulevard with sweeping views, nearby shops and restaurants and a quick ride to downtown. There’s the 4.5 mile Bayshore sidewalk for long walks and the nearby YMCA for swimming.
Many of their also-downsizing neighbors are of their generation, he said, though a few are younger. For some, this is a second home.
He likes the sunrises and the lights of downtown, and also Aquatica’s design: “When the building is kind of wavy and curved, you actually have a wider angle view.” Plus, it’s all new.
“That’s something that appeals to Sharon,” he said. “Everything works and is new.”