A shady green vision for Water Street Tampa's main thoroughfare

This is what developers expect Water Street to look like for a pedestrian facing north when the street is finished and planted with mature oak trees in the fall of 2020. Rendering courtesy Strategic Property Partners
This is what developers expect Water Street to look like for a pedestrian facing north when the street is finished and planted with mature oak trees in the fall of 2020. Rendering courtesy Strategic Property Partners
Published June 29, 2018

TAMPA — Today walking across the 50 acres of what is destined to become Water Street Tampa is an exercise in sun protection, like stepping onto a heated cookie sheet made of asphalt.

But on Thursday developers with Strategic Property Partners (SPP) detailed their vision for a greener, more shady and welcoming Water Street, a main thoroughfare with a sidewalk 45 feet wide and a double row of mature live oak trees on its eastern side.

"We are re-prioritizing what used to drive the design of streets," Gary Hilderbrand of Reed Hilderbrand, the master landscape architect for Water Street Tampa, said in a video produced by SPP, a joint venture between Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Cascade Investment, the personal wealth fund of Microsoft founder Bill Gates.

"We're channeling the cars — giving them less room, having them stay less time — and creating a whole other type of public realm," Hilderbrand said. "Now we're talking about pedestrians as the most important members of the street community."

In all, developers plan to plant 650 trees, including southern live oak, bald cypress and two kinds of elm, along with 30,000 square feet of landscaped planters and lawns.

"A key design focus," SPP chief executive officer James Nozar says of Water Street's public spaces, which were considered important enough that they were designed before the buildings. One goal is to create gathering places comfortable enough for outdoor dining year-round.

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"We are looking to significantly increase the amount of green space," Nozar said in a previous interview, and Water Street itself is intended "to be very, very wooded from the start" with "as large and mature-growth trees as we can possibly get." To do that, SPP reserved individual trees more than a year ago to give them time to grow before Water Street's promenade is finished in the fall of 2020.

"The kind of oak canopy that they're bringing through downtown is pretty amazing," said Robert M. MacLeod, a professor in and the director of the University of South Florida's School of Architecture & Community Design. "I like the scale of it. I like the magnitude of the canopy. I think it's quite important that they bring in more mature trees."

Once complete, more than 23,000 people a day will live in, work at, visit, shop in, dine at or exercise in Water Street Tampa, where the plan for public spaces is designed around three "core values":

• Reveal and improve connections: Orient the neighborhood toward the waterfront. Make internal connections distinctive and walkable. Provide strong connections to downtown Tampa, Harbour Island and the Channel District.

• Prioritize pedestrian comfort: This means focusing on shade, safety and beauty. Sidewalks will be 16 to 45 feet wide. Streets will be designed to accommodate pedestrians, cyclists and transit. Various water features will make the sound of running water present throughout the neighborhood.

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• Diversify public spaces: Think outdoor seating along Water Street, sidewalk cafes, retail kiosks, a public plaza at the University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute and a new park at Water Street and E Cumberland Avenue.

Building a centralized cooling plant for all of Water Street Tampa's buildings will allow developers to use rooftops for high-rise lounges, as at the JW Marriott, as well as urban gardens and other greenery, instead of air conditioners.

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Below street level, SPP's planning team has designed what it says is a unique, underground infrastructure that includes the use of deep, high-performance soil and moisture environments that will exceed city of Tampa standards and reduce the "heat island" effect associated with urban areas. Permeable pavers and planting beds that absorb water are meant to allow the neighborhood to weather severe rain ecologically and efficiently.

"Our plan for Water Street Tampa builds on decades of insights into what makes city neighborhoods work," Nozar said.

MacLeod said SPP has assembled an impressive team of architects, planners and engineers. He tells his students they will have the rare privilege of watching a city be transformed in real time while they are at USF. And he says Water Street Tampa's long-term echo could resonate for the city and the region in ways that no one yet foresees.

"I think they did their homework, and they spent a lot of time thinking about infrastructure and the necessity of public space in their project," he said. "The exciting thing for our community is that this has been thought through carefully and methodically."

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