TAMPA — The City Council voted 4-3 to advance a plan for luxury condos and townhomes dubbed the Ritz-Carlton Residences, Tampa, branded as a marquee project that will elevate one of the city’s prime waterfront areas.
The five-acre residential project on Bayshore Boulevard, proposed by Miami developer Related Group, is slated to include two towers with 170 condos and 12 separate townhomes. If approved, construction would start in late 2021.
The vote, which happened just before 11 p.m. Thursday, came after about three hours of testimony and debate during a much longer virtual council meeting that stretched into Friday morning. For final approval of the project, the council needs to vote ‘yes’ once more on Nov. 5.
Related Group’s senior vice president Mike Hammon has called the proposal a “defining project for the region” that “will quickly become its most anticipated new address.” The new condominiums are slated to range in price from $1.7 million to $5 million and Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, LLC, will manage the property.
The project will mean the demolition of Bay Oaks Apartments, which Related Group acquired last year, requiring the residents there to relocate as the towers are built in phases. The rent at Bay Oaks is $1,000 for a studio apartment, $1,150 for a one-bedroom apartment and $1,450 for a two-bedroom apartment, according to Hammon. Several residents have said their units are some of the last housing they could afford in the area.
Jodi Johnson, who teaches at the University of South Florida’s English department, is one of those residents. He told the council the project would result in “hyper-gentrification."
“Given South Tampa’s property prices, the people displaced from this property will be displaced from their school zones," he said, adding that his two stepchildren would be among them.
“I am a professor at USF and I can’t afford this area. We have police officers, teachers and workers in the service industry ... we’re going to be displaced for $1.7 million condos and up, people who are living in a completely different world."
Hammon previously told the Tampa Bay Times that Related Group plans to work with Bay Oaks residents to help them relocate within the developer’s other projects by waiving certain fees and deposits. Additionally, he said the company is working with the Tampa Housing Authority in order to “develop both affordable and market-rate apartments at West River Tampa” north of downtown.
During the meeting, representatives of the project added that Bay Oaks Apartments have “structural issues” and are nearing the end of their lifespan.
In addition to the towers, Related Group plans to add a dog park, swings and pedestrian walkway under the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway overpass at the corner of W Santiago Street and S MacDill Avenue.
The developer’s presenters also said the company would commit $1 million to bring public art to the site.
Additionally, the company plans to restore a historic fountain from the Centro Español Hospital, built in 1906, and incorporate it into the development with a marker describing the hospital’s importance to Spanish immigrants, to whom it provided socialized healthcare. The hospital was razed to make way for Bay Oaks Apartments and the fountain now sits between two of the complex’s buildings.
Many residents video-called into the meeting to speak in favor of the project, saying that bringing the Ritz-Carlton brand to Tampa would show that Tampa is a world-class city. (A lawyers for the city later reminded the council that the branding should not have bearing on zoning decisions.)
“I love this city and I think for us to be competitive we have to compete globally,” said Tampa Bay Latin Chamber of Commerce president Cesar Hernandez. “We need to start competing with the Singapores, Londons and New Yorks of the world.”
Debbie Lundberg, who said she lives close to the project site, agreed.
“People think of Tampa as someplace nice, but we know it’s outstanding and wonderful,” she said. “If we have something like this Ritz-Carlton project it will elevate it to ... (how) we know it deserves to be seen.”
Another prominent source of debate was one of the proposed tower’s relatively short distance from the neighboring Stovall condo building: around 45 feet. Tampa attorney George Vaka, who said he represented most residents of that building, argued that was too close and the new tower would infringe on residents' privacy and view. That was disputed by Related Group and the project’s architecture firm, Arquitectonica.
It was those concerns that seemed to sway three city council members, Orlando Gudes, John Dingfelder and Bill Carlson, to vote against advancing the project. Luis Viera, Charlie Miranda, Joseph Citro and Guido Maniscalco voted in favor.
“Related is very excited to continue moving this project forward,” Hammon said in a statement following the vote. “This is truly a defining project for Tampa, and we are committed to extending our investment beyond the Residences to complement and enhance the surrounding community.”