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Proposed 75-story towers would vault Tampa into top tier of skyscraper cities

If nothing else, Port Tampa Bay's vision for the Channel District is notable for its literally lofty ambition.

A rendering of the $1.5 billion project released last week shows two 75-story towers soaring above the waterfront area that the port hopes to redevelop over 15 years.

Towers that tall would vault Tampa into the ranks of such sky-scraping cities as Dubai, Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur.

Towers that tall would have more floors than half of the world's 100 tallest buildings.

Towers that tall would have as many floors as Manhattan's second tallest residential tower, One57, where a condo sold in January for $100 million — 15 times more than any condo has ever brought in the Tampa Bay area.

Is one 75-floor tower, let alone two, realistic for Tampa, population 350,000?

"It sounds terrific, but when I hear about more and more people developing there in the (Channelside) area it makes me a little nervous,'' Tampa Realtor Andrew Duncan said Monday. "Are there going to be too many (units) for the amount of consumers who want to live downtown? You're going to have to have amazing amenities and sell to people outside of Tampa Bay — wealthy Europeans, people in South Florida — and I don't know if there is enough money to support a super luxury property, let alone 75 floors worth.''

The port's proposed development, which also includes hotels, a park, a marina, and 9 million square feet of commercial, retail and office space over 45 acres, is the second major project announced for the area south of downtown.

Last fall, Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik proposed a $1 billion mixed-used project that would also be home to the University of South Florida medical school and, possibly, the Museum of Science and Industry.

Louis Ajamil, the Miami architect of the towers, said the goal was to create distinctive features for the port project.

"Something special is happening in this area and we felt this would be one way of achieving that,'' he said Monday. "The fact is that what people are looking for in this market is a view.''

Ajamil said each tower would have 450 units — six per floor averaging 1,450 square feet each. The number of units was based on the size of other downtown projects.

"You put a building of 2,000 units in there and nobody is going to take that risk,'' he said. "You're seeing projects of 300 to 500 units and that is a very absorbable type of market.''

All of the units would have "spectacular views,'' he said, while the towers' slim design would keep them from blocking the views from other buildings in the area.

One potential obstacle: The Federal Aviation Administration must conduct an airspace study for any project that's higher than 200 feet or close to an airport. The towers would certainly exceed 200 feet and also would be near three airports — Tampa International, Peter O. Knight and MacDill Air Force Base.

Though the FAA doesn't approve or reject a project — that's up to local officials — it can discuss a proposal with the developer. In most cases, the developer would modify the proposal to receive a "no hazard" determination from the FAA.

The proposed Tampa towers would be taller than Florida's tallest building — the 64-story Four Seasons Hotel Miami, designed by Ajamil's firm.

On Florida's west coast, the tallest is 100 North Tampa, a 42-story office tower built in 1992 in downtown Tampa.

Developer Larry Feldman recently filed preliminary plans for a 52-story mixed-use tower on the same riverfront site where a similarly sized condo tower, Trump Tower Tampa, fell victim to the real estate crash.

Ranked by the number of floors, the Tampa towers would be taller than eight of the tallest buildings in the United States and 49 of the tallest worldwide.

The official tally of the world's tallest buildings is maintained by the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, a nonprofit organization in Chicago. The Windy City is considered the home of the skyscraper and still boasts the 10th-tallest building, the 108-floor Willis Tower, formerly known as the Sears Tower.

By far, the tallest building on Earth is the 2,717-foot, 163-story Burj Khalifa in Dubai, whose observation decks afford views of 16 other skyscrapers topping 1,000 feet — the most of any city.

Dubai and other fast-growing Middle Eastern and Asian cities have long since surpassed the West in skyscraper construction with new ones going up at a dizzying pace. In the United States, the Empire State Building, once the world's tallest, now ranks at No. 22. One World Trade Center — more commonly known as the Freedom Tower — is the world's third-tallest building, but the Big Apple has no others in the top 25.

Duncan, whose Tampa real estate firm is Florida' largest ReMax agency, said one key to the success of more residential towers in Channelside is making sure there is enough work in the live/work/play model.

"I think everyone understands there is a plan to bring commercial development, but I would just like to see more of that before the residential stuff. If you go back to when we had the bust, we had several towers built in Channelside and they really flopped. They did well (at first), they presold, but then prices dropped and developers went into foreclosure because there was not enough down there yet to keep people excited about living there.''

Contact Susan Taylor Martin at smartin@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate.

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