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52-story tower proposed on former Trump Tower site in downtown Tampa

The lot at 111 S Ashley Drive hasn't changed much since Trump Tower was proposed in 2008. [Times (2008)]
The lot at 111 S Ashley Drive hasn't changed much since Trump Tower was proposed in 2008. [Times (2008)]
Published Jul. 23, 2015

TAMPA — Ten years after Donald Trump announced plans for a 52-story tower on the Hillsborough River, a developer has filed preliminary plans for a 52-story tower on the same site.

Trump Tower Tampa never was built, a victim of overambition, foundation problems and the real estate bust. But now Feldman Equities wants to erect an office/retail/residential tower that would be the tallest building in the Tampa Bay area.

Larry Feldman could not be reached for comment, but others expressed excitement over the project.

"I think, like every other broker, we would love to see something like this come out of the ground," said Claire Calzon, managing director of office services for Colliers International. "I think downtown Tampa is really coming into its own, finally — it's really starting to be a real live-work-play area."

According to preliminary plans submitted Tuesday to the city, the tower would have 203 dwelling units atop office space, a restaurant and parking for 630 vehicles. The 576,000-square-foot tower would be entered from Ashley Drive, but would overlook the river and Riverwalk.

Even as the economy rebounded and other projects sprang up, the weedy 1.5-acre tract remained the last undeveloped property along the riverfront.

"The geometry is a little difficult," Bob McDonaugh, Tampa's Economic Opportunity administrator, said Tuesday. "It's not rectangular like a lot of other sites, though it does have tremendous view corridor possibilities."

It's been exactly a decade since Trump and his new wife pulled up in a limo to announce grandiose plans for a tower with condos ranging from $700,000 to $6 million.

Dozens of buyers plunked down deposits of 20 percent, taking Trump's word that he was a partner in the $300 million project with SimDag-RoBel, a group of bay area real estate investors.

But when Trump sued SimDag for failing to pay licensing fees, it was revealed that Trump's name was about all that the New York real estate tycoon (and current Republican presidential candidate) had invested in the project.

As SimDag tried in vain to obtain financing, buyers began demanding their deposits back, foundation problems caused unexpected costs and the real estate crash brought an end to what had been billed as Tampa Bay's "most spectacular" building.

The property went into foreclosure and was sold in 2011 to Brownstone Tampa Partners for $5 million, less than a third of what SimDag had paid in 2004.

Feldman Equities is asking the city for a "nonsubstantial change determination," meaning its proposal is not substantially different from what was approved for the Trump Tower.

According to the preliminary plans, the tower would be 626 feet high, taller than any other in Tampa Bay but close enough to the 603-foot height originally approved that it would not need a zoning change.

Only after a zoning official issued a determination would a developer go to the expense of submitting plans with complete architectural renderings.

"You still have several months of design and engineering," McDonaugh said. "This is a concept right now."

The preliminary plans did not include project costs or say whether the tower would be condos or rental apartments.

One potential hurdle could be the foundation. Trump Tower Tampa developers initially had pilings sunk, only to discover that those couldn't support the weight of a 52-story building on the site. They then started to lay a concrete mat foundation, causing delays that ran up the cost of the project and contributed to its demise.

Potential construction problems aside, downtown Tampa "is as ready as its ever going to be" for the as-yet-unnamed tower, Calzon of Colliers International said.

"I think a mixed-used project is a really good concept, a good balance," she added. "It will be the first of its kind for Tampa."

The downtown area has seen a burst of residential-only construction, including the new 23-story Skyhouse Channelside and a 300-plus unit project on Morgan Street. A Miami developer plans a mid-rise complex of several hundred apartments on the Tampa Tribune's current riverfront site.

Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik also envisions a residential component to his $1 billion development on 40 acres in the Channelside area.

Feldman Equities' proposed tower is across from the Wells Fargo Center, which Feldman and a partner sold last year for $78 million. Feldman has since reacquired an ownership stake in the center.

Feldman is also an owner of three office buildings in downtown St. Petersburg — the City Center, the Morgan Stanley Tower and First Central Tower, anchored by BB&T bank.

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Susan Taylor Martin at smartin@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate.