TAMPA — The Tampa City Council on Thursday delayed approval of plans for a hotel project in one of downtown's most visible locations — the block on Kennedy Boulevard across Florida Avenue from City Hall.
The reason: concern about changes in the project's design.
The city owns the block, currently a parking lot, and agreed a year ago to sell it to New Orleans-based development firm HRI Properties. It offered the highest price in recent memory for a downtown block, $7.5 million, but now wants to change the project from its initial proposal.
Instead of 223 apartments and a 225-room Hyatt Centric hotel, the building will include no apartments and two adjoining hotels — an extended stay Hyatt House and a Hyatt Place, both slightly lower on the chain's quality scale.
The amount of retail and restaurant space on the ground floor of the building has been decreased, but only slightly, HRI and city officials said.
Several council members said the design looks less attractive than the initial architectural renderings, including what council members said were conspicuous blank walls and vehicle entrances.
"My biggest concern is the lack of the pedestrian experience," said council member Harry Cohen. "Kennedy Boulevard is … the most important artery in the city."
HRI officials and the city staff, which recommended approving the changes, said they resulted from the recent influx of apartment projects downtown, which have saturated the market.
They said the architectural renderings that drew criticism from the council and members of the public aren't an accurate depiction of what the final design may be.
City economic opportunity administrator Bob McDonaugh said the critics "were looking at something that hasn't been refined or improved" and didn't include architectural details.
HRI Vice President Josh Collen said the firm would give the city staff "a very specific design package" Friday. It will be subject to the standard city review, and the council will get a chance to vote on it in February.
The change in plans drew social media criticism from a downtown residents' organization, URBN Tampa Bay, and speakers at the council meeting.
The project "does not have any architectural value," said Michael Avalos of the Downtown River Arts Neighborhood Association. Downtown retailer Frank Grebowski said it lacked the street accessibility necessary for a good retail climate.
"Judging it by the low-resolution conceptual renderings as if they were final plans does the project a disservice," Collen responded.
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