Tower developers tweak plans to address Straz Center concerns

The Residences at the Riverwalk plans call for 380 apartments, a 620-space garage and 10,000 square feet of first-floor shops and restaurants near the Straz Center for the Performing Arts.
The Residences at the Riverwalk plans call for 380 apartments, a 620-space garage and 10,000 square feet of first-floor shops and restaurants near the Straz Center for the Performing Arts.
Published June 24, 2013

TAMPA — Developers of a proposed 36-story riverfront tower have reworked their plans to address concerns raised by the nearby David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts.

Now, says Mayor Bob Buckhorn, "basically everything that the Straz had wanted, the developers have agreed to."

Whether Straz Center leaders agree with Buckhorn could soon become clear. The center's executive committee is scheduled to meet today. Trustees get a project update July 15.

Developer Phillip Smith outlined several tweaks to plans for the apartment high-rise in a June 4 letter to Straz Center president Judith Lisi.

"We feel confident that we have addressed the needs of the Straz as they have been communicated to us," he wrote.

Elevated walkway

Developers now say they would keep the elevated pedestrian bridge connecting the William F. Poe Parking Garage to the John F. Germany Public Library and the Straz Center.

Originally, they had proposed to end the walkway at their parking garage. Library and theater patrons coming from the Poe garage would have had to go down to the ground floor to continue on to their destinations — a plan neither group liked.

In the case of the Straz, the pedestrian bridge would be taken down and rebuilt, connecting to the existing lobby at Maestro's Restaurant.


Developers say their plan aims to do two things with "minimal disruption" to the Straz Center:

• Extend Tyler Street to connect with the center's arrival plaza, which would be expanded. (As part of the project, both Tyler and Cass streets will be reconfigured into what officials say would be safer two-way streets.)

• Demolish the existing elevated walkway to the center — to be rebuilt later — and create an interim, covered walkway and ramp to provide safe pedestrian access during construction.

Still, Straz Center administrators worry.

Developers have presented a plan to begin work on the relevant street alignment July 15 and finish by Sept. 30 so the center could conduct business. (Its Broadway series runs November to May.)

But it's already June, so the Straz Center "is still concerned ... that the construction schedule appears to be optimistically unrealistic," according to an email attachment Lisi sent this month to the center's trustees.


The Straz Center also worries about losing money if unforeseen construction problems disrupt its season.

Smith responded that the Beck Group, which is on the development team, "has committed to providing proof of insurance to cover claims against business interruption" should construction "conflict with the performance operations of the Straz."

Moreover, the city has "promised to complete improvements if the developer failed to complete them," according to a June 14 letter to Lisi from Tampa's top development official, Bob McDonaugh.

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Gift to Straz Center

Developers promise to give the center $1 million. While not new, the size of the gift had not been disclosed publicly before.

The changes to the project's plans follow a City Council decision to delay its vote on the tower until Aug. 8. After that decision, Buckhorn met with developers and Straz Center leaders to discuss their concerns.

Buckhorn says the project would mean safer roads for the city and a better arrival plaza with "great value" for the center.

"The improvements that will be made will not be made otherwise," he says, "and I think most of the concerns have been accommodated at the expense of the developers. So I'm hopeful."