Work starting on JW Marriott, but Water Street Tampa expects to have 10 buildings under way within a year

The planned JW Marriott hotel will be built next door to the existing Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina. Image via Strategic Property Partners
The planned JW Marriott hotel will be built next door to the existing Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina. Image via Strategic Property Partners
Published April 24, 2018

TAMPA — Water Street Tampa marks the start of construction Tuesday on its first building, the posh JW Marriott hotel, but there's a lot more to come.

And soon.

Within a year, developers said Monday, construction should be underway on 10 — 10! — of Water Street Tampa's planned 22 buildings. Watch for Amalie Arena, now flanked by acre after acre of bare dirt, to be surrounded by up to about 20 construction cranes at a time, with nearly 3,000 hard hats on the job.

"This will be one of the biggest downtown development projects in the country," said James Nozar, chief executive officer of Strategic Property Partners, the development company launched by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Cascade Investment, the capital fund owned by Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates.

"People still don't necessarily think the project is real," Nozar said. "I think it's going to take them by surprise when they see the level of construction activity happening over the coming year."

Coastal Construction will be the contractor for the JW Marriott and the entire first phase of the project — about $1.5 billion worth of development encompassing 3.5 million square feet. Buildings are scheduled to start opening from summer 2020 to late 2021.

Phase one of the project will generally take place inside the space bounded by Channelside Drive, E Cumberland Avenue, S Meridian Avenue and S Morgan Street. Breaking ground on a staggered schedule will be:

• This week, the JW Marriott: 519 rooms, 26 stories, with the highest rooftop bar in the city and a big ballroom for events, on what is now a parking lot for Amalie Arena.

• Within a month or two, 815 Water Street, a pair of apartment and condominium towers that both rise more than 20 stories from a base building that is home to a grocery store, plus a separate centralized cooling plant that will pump cold air to all of the buildings in the $3 billion project, freeing up rooftops for bars, dog parks, urban gardens and recreation.

• Three apartment buildings on Water Street and some condominiums built atop a third upscale hotel, a 173-room Marriott Edition announced last week. To round out this from-scratch neighborhood of about 1,500 residential units, including those at 815 Water Street, the first phase of construction also will include street-level retail, restaurants and a new gym.

• One new office building at 400 Channelside Drive, which is at the corner of Morgan and Channelside, a second at Water Street and Channelside, next to the new medical school building already under construction for the University of South Florida College of Medicine, and a third project with about 150,000 square feet of offices in the space once occupied by the old theaters at Channelside Bay Plaza. The Channelside offices are expected to include an innovation hub that Vinik plans to create to nurture tech startups.

"The theaters were a huge amount of space, (with) 50-, 60-foot ceiling heights all along the water, a solid wall, so we're opening it all up — a pretty great space," Nozar said.

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In a recent interview, Vinik said he's confident that he'll have tenants for those offices.

"We believe we have demand for hundreds of thousands of (square) feet of office," he said.

Do you have commitments for that space?

"Until you give an exact date when it's going to be delivered, it's hard to get contracts from people, but I assure you we're moving in that direction," Vinik said. "We feel really good about office. And residential."

For the moment, the focus is on the JW Marriott, which is going up next to the Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina, a location that is no accident.

Combined, the JW Marriott and the Marriott Waterside will have 1,246 guest rooms and 175,000 square feet of meeting space.

Convention planners say that could help Tampa draw meetings from lucrative sectors of the convention market: pharmaceutical, corporate, insurance and financial groups. It also is expected to help the city book larger groups, bring in more groups, schedule overlapping events and reduce downtime at the Tampa Convention Center.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Having JW Marriott at Water Street Tampa expected to help Tampa pursue more upscale conventions

"Having, next to the convention center, 1,200 hotel rooms in these two hotels will enable us to attract bigger conventions," Vinik said. "Having an extra ballroom will give us the ability to have a couple of conventions at the same time. So we think this really grows the market and economic activity."

The JW Marriott is scheduled to open in 2020, before Super Bowl LV in February 2021. The JW Marriott brand is built on service that incorporates a training program that Marriott developed with input from the Joffrey Ballet to develop a hotel staff with "poise and grace."

Below that rooftop bar, developers say the hotel itself will have a 30,000-square-foot ballroom (the largest in the city), plus a four-story atrium, and a full-service restaurant and bar on the ground floor.

"A very active ground-floor presence," Nozar said. "Very indoor-outdoor. It basically says to anyone walking around or living downtown, 'Please come here. You don't need to be a guest staying at the hotel to enjoy this.' "

LOFTY AMBITIONS: Tampa's highest rooftop bar coming to JW Marriott at Water Street Tampa

Planned as part of a 26-story tower to be built across from Amalie Arena at the northwest corner of Channelside Drive and Water Street, the Marriott Edition announced last week is expected to open in early 2021. Developers hope it will deliver a level of design and service that could win it Tampa's first five-star hotel ranking.

SPP will build the JW Marriott and the Marriott Edition, will own both and will have a management agreement with Marriott to run the hotels, just as it owns and contracts with Marriott to run the Waterside.

Nozar said one of the biggest challenges of getting to this point has been coordinating engineering, plans for construction and tens of millions of dollars in road and other infrastructure improvements while simultaneously building a development company to do it. Strategic Property Partners had just seven or eight employees when he joined the company in March 2016. Now it has about 50 — and is still growing.

That young company is working on an unusually aggressive schedule, Nozar acknowledges. Then he ticks off a list of things that set Water Street Tampa apart — all of them the product of a virtually unheard-of and deep-pocketed partnership between Bill Gates and Jeff Vinik.

"The scale of this project. The fact that it's all contiguous. That it's downtown. That the owner and developer is the same company. That the capital, construction equity and debt are all coming from the same ownership group. That we're long-term owners. That there's no plans to sell.

"That makes it all a very, very unique enterprise," Nozar said, compared to "any other real estate development project of any scale."

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