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29-story towers, grocery store proposed between Channel District and Ybor City

The Gas Worx project would bring 1,432 apartments or condominiums to 7.6 acres between Ybor City and the Channel District. 
The Gas Worx project would bring 1,432 apartments or condominiums to 7.6 acres between Ybor City and the Channel District. 
Published May 30, 2015

TAMPA — Developer Donald Phillips has applied for city zoning to build two 29-story residential towers and space for a grocery store on what is now a Peoples Gas storage yard between downtown, the Channel District and Ybor City.

The proposed Gas Worx project would have three buildings with 1,432 apartments or condominiums in the two towers, according to a rezoning application filed with City Hall last week.

The proposal calls for each 284-foot-tall tower to have seven levels of parking, and one would have space for stores or cafes on the ground floor. The third building would have more than 40,000 square feet for a supermarket and 13,000 square feet for other retail.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn said Friday that he hasn't been briefed on the project in detail, but welcomed the proposal. "I think potentially it would take an underutilized piece of property and add some value to it, add some density to it," he said. "It's a former industrial site, (providing) great linkage between Ybor and downtown."

The 7.6-acre site is just north of the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway, with Channelside Drive on the east and Nick Nuccio Parkway on the west. It is owned by Peoples Gas, a subsidiary of TECO Energy.

The project would include more than 1.7 million square feet of development. There would be 774 one-bedroom units, 469 two-bedroom units and 189 three-bedroom units.

Given its scale and what's around there now, it's a pioneering effort. "It's a pretty ambitious project for that location," said Bob McDonaugh, City Hall's top development official. "There's nothing that big anywhere near there."

To some in Ybor City, the project would help create the kind of residential density needed to support retail other than restaurants and nightclubs.

"There's just too few people here other than later on in the day," said David Scott, an Ybor City businessman and past chairman of the board for the city-run Ybor City Development Corp.

The YCDC has been talking about a vision for the historic district for years, and has made one of its main goals getting more people living within walking distance of Ybor's commercial center. Scott said he has talked to Phillips for three or so years about looking at a project that could help meet the organization's goals. He said Phillips looked at available land inside and outside the district before settling on the Peoples Gas site.

"You know, I think this is the perfect spot," Scott said Phillips told him. Because the site is outside the historic district, height limitations that are the rule inside the district do not apply.

But that's okay, said Tony LaColla, president of the Historic Ybor Neighborhood Civic Association. Cities like Boston and Chicago and those in Europe often have taller buildings near their historic neighborhoods, he said.

One thing that makes this project intriguing, LaColla said, is that it would fill in what is essentially "dead space." There's not much there to hold your attention, he said, and a less-than-reassuring landscape for anyone trying to walk from Ybor City to downtown.

"It'll be a great way to connect the two neighborhoods together," LaColla said. "At this point in time, most of our board members are supportive of the project, basically because of the amount of people it could bring to Ybor City to shop and to eat and to use the services there."

City Hall has designated the Peoples Gas property as a "brownfield" site, meaning any environmental cleanup that's necessary for development could get a boost from state and federal incentives.

The northern part of the site was a manufactured gasification plant from the late 1890s to 1959, according to city records. The southern part of the property has been used as a propane filling station for Hillsborough County buses and for the storage of pipes, plumbing components and construction equipment.

State environmental officials have been assessing pollution at the site since 1986, and compounds in the soil include volatile organic compounds like benzene, plus hydrocarbons and metals. Over the years, old tanks, buildings and more than 11,500 tons of soil tainted by coal tar have been removed from the site.

As part of the rezoning request, the developer is seeking several waivers from city development rules:

• A reduction in the amount of required green space.

• An okay for service vehicles to maneuver in the right of way for one of the towers.

• Drive aisles in the parking garages that are 2 feet narrower than what the city would normally require.

• Smaller loading berths at all three buildings than are called for by city rules.

The rezoning would go to the City Council for two public hearings. The first could take place in mid August.

Contact Richard Danielson at rdanielson@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times