Is a new Publix part of next phase of Tampa’s West River project?

A Tampa Housing Authority leader said there will definitely be a grocery store, which is especially important because the area is currently a food desert.
A rendering of the West River redevelopment, seen here from the north looking south.
A rendering of the West River redevelopment, seen here from the north looking south. [ Tampa Housing Authority ]
Published Dec. 4, 2020|Updated Dec. 7, 2020

The massive, roughly $350 million project to redevelop Tampa’s West River area is entering a third phase, which will include a market-rate apartment building and a grocery store.

Related Group, the Miami-based company with a leading role in the project, is planning a 325-unit, market-rate apartment building across North Boulevard from Howard W. Blake High School, according to Albert Milo, president of the company’s affordable housing division. Rents in the new complex will start around $1,400.

Related also “does intend to bring a national/regional grocer to the project,” Milo said.

In an interview with the Tampa Bay Business Journal, Related president Jon Paul “JP” Perez said it would be a Publix. But Thursday, Milo stopped short of naming a company that had been selected, saying Related Group “cannot provide any further details on that particular facet of the project at this time.”

Publix did not return calls or emails seeking comment.

Milo did say that having a grocery store is important to fulfill the purpose of the project.

“This is more than just a straightforward affordable housing redevelopment — Related is looking to transform West River into a thriving, diverse community, where all residents have access to a home they can be proud of, including all services necessary for modern life and more,” he wrote. “Having a place where residents can find fresh, nutritious and fairly priced food is a key part of that vision.”

Leroy Moore, the chief operating officer of the Tampa Housing Authority, also said he wasn’t allowed to say which grocery store would be part of the development, but added: “We do have a grocer and I refer to it as ‘Florida’s grocer of choice.’”

Moore said the neighborhood where the store will go is currently a food desert — a term for areas without easy access to affordable and high-quality fresh food.

“Without a doubt, it’s a huge need,” he said. “All too often workforce and affordable communities are left with less healthy food choices, more costly food choices and convenience-type stores as opposed to mainstay grocer stores, so this is a huge accomplishment.”

Moore also said the grocery store will provide jobs within walking distance of many of the apartments, helping nearby residents earn income without transportation costs. Other aspects of the West River redevelopment project are also aimed toward that same goal, including the future construction of a multi-tenant office building, and possibly a hotel, south of Main Street, he said.

This newest phase of development follows the rehabilitation of the 150-unit Mary Bethune High Rise Apartments and the ground-breaking of the three Boulevard Towers, which each have at least 80 percent of their units priced for lower-income residents. Those three towers are still under construction, and other residential buildings are scheduled to begin construction within the next three to six months said Milo, of Related Group.

Related: West Tampa hits milestone with opening of first West River apartment complex

All in all, there are nearly 1800 units that are either under contract, funded completely or “will be reasonably funded within the next year,” Moore said, including 820 public housing units plus a mix of market-rate and affordable housing.

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Much of the new construction is in the space left behind by the now-demolished North Boulevard Homes public housing project that used to occupy the area. Other projects on nearby land owned by the city could add to the total number of new housing units, Moore said.

Times staff writers Sara DiNatale and Christopher O’Donnell contributed to this report.