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Three developers bid for prime downtown Tampa city block

TAMPA — Three companies have made offers to develop a prime downtown city block that City Hall has owned for nearly 20 years.

Submitting proposals for what is now a parking lot at N Florida Avenue and Kennedy Boulevard are:

• Mill Creek Residential of Orlando, which has developed more than 20,000 apartments in 90 projects nationwide, with 5,000 more under development this year.

• HRI Properties, a New Orleans-based company that's done 70 big projects encompassing $2 billion in apartments, hotels, office and retail.

• A team with three big Tampa players: Development Services Group, the Framework Group of Tampa and Forge Capital Partners of Tampa.

Development Services Group, based in Memphis, was the lead company for the $26 million transformation three years ago of the old federal courthouse on N Florida Avenue into the boutique Le Méridien Hotel. Phillip Smith from the Framework Group and Robert Moreyra of Forge Capital Partners are teaming up on a 21-story apartment tower under construction on Harbour Island.

"These proposals reflect the increasing interest in Tampa's urban core and the demand for a true live, work and play environment," Mayor Bob Buckhorn said in a statement late Monday. "We look forward to reviewing each one and choosing the proposal that most closely fits the city's vision for this property."

Tampa officials did not release any other details of the proposals Monday, including the prices offered for the land. Under Florida statutes, the proposals themselves are exempt from disclosure as public records for 30 days or until the city announces its intention to award a contract sooner.

Buckhorn has called the block "the most prominent undeveloped parcel" in downtown and said it could be "the new crown jewel of our skyline."

In July, the city put out a request for proposals from developers for mixed-use projects featuring office, retail, hotel rooms or housing. As part of any development, the city wanted the successful developer to provide about 200 spaces in its garage for use by the city.

City Hall bought the land, previously the site of the Cold Storage Cafe, for $1.3 million in 1997. The Hillsborough County Property Appraiser estimates its current market value at nearly $2.7 million.

City officials have said they won't necessarily base a decision solely on who offers the most money. Successful proposals, they said, will demonstrate experience in developing downtown residential, office or retail projects, architectural sensitivity to the surrounding area and a solid financial track record.