In Tampa’s big building boom, here’s an unusual development: A synagogue selling half its lucrative property on scenic Bayshore Boulevard to share space with a luxury condo tower.
“I don’t think anything like this has ever been done,” said Julia Mandell, Tampa’s former city attorney, now in private practice and representing the high-rise developer. She said it could be a unique way to keep community churches and clubs sitting on prime property from selling outright.
But not everyone thinks it’s such a great idea. Take the Tampa Garden Club next door, site of many a Tampa wedding.
The waterfront club, on lush, green grounds with moss-draped oaks, now stands to lose “privacy, ambiance and atmosphere” that have been part of a “singular and unique Tampa institution,” said Todd Pressman, zoning consultant and lobbyist representing the club.
“We’re talking about decades of brides in Tampa,” he said.
On South Tampa’s winding waterfront boulevard, Congregation Rodeph Sholom has long been a landmark in its 1960s-era building, with its distinctive menorah rising above.
“In today’s world, where there is a lot of hate, a lot of antisemitism, I think the menorah that’s 40 feet in the air on Bayshore really does show Tampa’s a very accepting place,” said Lloyd Stern, president of the congregation that began 120 years ago in Ybor City. “I think it’s important to keep the menorah there.”
The synagogue has gotten plenty of interest in the property over the years, but this was the first opportunity to “colocate,” Mandell said.
Stern told the Tampa Bay Times last year that its 1,200 current members supported the sale. Families that started Rodeph Sholom “are happy to see we are doing something to make sure we are here for their great-great-grandchildren,” he said.
Miami-based developer The Related Group struck a deal last year to buy a little more than half of the 2.12-acre property, the part that houses a parking lot and a preschool building rented to the Bryan Glazer Family Jewish Community Center. The 2½-story synagogue would remain. A news release said Related planned to close on the property in early 2024 pending approval from the city.
Stern declined to disclose the price. Selling the property is not financially necessary, he said, and money would go to an endowment for future repairs, such as if the building needed a new roof.
Next door, on more than 3 acres of green space, the Tampa Garden Club promotes horticulture and urban gardening — and serves as a fancy events venue with a ballroom and its Wedding Garden.
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“When you put this size of a building next to a venue like that, it will result in a tremendous loss of privacy,” Pressman said. “That’s a private affair at a wedding party, and that’s not going to be the case anymore when you have 50 units peering over next door.”
But Mandell said projects like this have the potential to help preserve “community uses” such as the clubs and places of worship along Bayshore’s mansions, townhouses and high-rises.
“The reality is if you’ve got property on Bayshore, it has financial value,” Mandell said. Under the rules, selling the whole property could permit a bigger development closer to Bayshore with up to 72 units and no synagogue, she said.
“As we develop this city, I think there’s a real possibility we will lose a lot of institutions if we don’t have options and give them development rights,” Mandell said. She said she hopes for “a robust conversation … would we rather just tear them all down, you can’t afford to be here, we rebuild?”
If the project is approved, Stern said, it would include an agreement that nothing over three stories or 20,000 square feet could ever be built where the synagogue sits. “We never intend moving,” he said. “But things could happen 50, 75, 100 years from now, who knows, when we’re long gone.”
The condo tower was initially proposed at 60 units but is now 50 and narrower, Mandell said. It will rise about 355 feet with two units per floor.
Others say they worry about even more tall buildings and traffic on the peninsula south of downtown.
“Everybody and his brother thinks South Tampa is a great place to build something,” said Stephanie Poynor, president of Tampa Homeowners An Association of Neighborhoods. “South Tampa’s full.”
The project goes before the Tampa City Council on May 11.