TAMPA — It used to take some imagination to picture how the industrial land around the Tampa side of the Gandy Bridge could turn into a community with high-rises, apartments and shops. Just three-and-a-half years ago, workers had not yet completed a single building, nor the main road.
But now, it’s quickly taking shape.
The Westshore Marina District is a 52-acre waterfront development right on Tampa Bay, long considered some of the area’s most desirable undeveloped land. Although it might be lesser-known that the behemoth, 74-acre Water Street development downtown or the high-profile 86-acre swath at Tropicana Field, it’s still one of the largest projects reshaping a region awash in cranes.
It now has roughly 800 completed apartments and condos, the vast majority occupied. That doesn’t include three sharp-lined glass condo towers still to be completed, whose units will run from the $800,000s to more than $3 million, as well as some other unfinished townhomes. When all the construction is done, the district is expected to have about 1,350 residences total.
With several shops and restaurants open or on the way in a new town center, as well as a future public-use marina for people to dock boats for visits, the developers also hope it’ll be a lure for people to come grab a bite or walk their dogs by the water.
“Tampa’s always kind of built its back to the water. We are here on the water — you can touch it, you can feel it,” said Britney Mroczkowski, vice president of retail development for BTI Partners. “Our goal with the town center and the overall development is to be a destination for all of South Tampa and Tampa Bay.”
The site was previously marine industrial land when in 2005, at the height of the real estate boom, a different developer announced plans for a project called New Port Tampa Bay that included luxury condos and a marina. That all came crashing down with the Great Recession.
BTI Partners, which is based in Fort Lauderdale, then started scooping up the land and announced their acquisition in 2014.
Even with several months of construction delays because of the pandemic, the site has been transformed at a quick clip. The skeleton of its first luxury condo tower, still under construction but with about 70 percent of its 113 units pre-sold, is visible from the Gandy Bridge. The town center — where the shops and restaurants will be clustered — was completed last month. Three stores are now welcoming customers: Sand Surf Co. surf shop, Duckweed Urban Grocery and Cru Cellars wine bar.
Coming soon are a salon, spa, cafe and juice bar, plus a still-to-be finalized “fitness concept” and “full-service restaurant.”
On Monday, BTI Partners announced that an Ohio company called Buzzed Bull Creamery, which uses liquid nitrogen to make specialty treats, including alcoholic ice cream, will be opening its first Florida store in the district later this year. Three more storefronts are still available.
A full grand opening is expected early next year.
Remy and Rikki Radkay, two sisters who own Sand Surf Co., moved from their previous location on Tampa’s S Howard Avenue and opened in the Westshore Marina District on May 1. The new spot has brought them additional exposure, they said. They sell bathing suits and “beach-to-the-streets” clothes, and will eventually offer paddleboard and kayak rentals.
“This has been the light at the end of the tunnel during the pandemic,” Rikki Radkay said.
Right on the water is also an empty lot that will be the site of a 10,000-square-foot, boat-up restaurant. It was once supposed to be the future site of a spot called Paloma, according to a Tampa Bay Times story from late 2019.
But now, Mroczkowski would only say that the owners of the space are “working on an amazing concept” that will provide both indoor and outdoor dining, and that the operator has yet to be announced.
The residential units are filling up, with both apartment complexes at least 94 percent leased — evidence of the continuing viability of the build-it-and-they-will-come approach in a region whose rent is skyrocketing because demand is outpacing supply.
BTI Partners sold some of the district’s land to other developers or builders, most of them from South Florida, to build some of the residential buildings. The presence of South Florida developers in Tampa Bay has become increasingly common as those firms’ interest has intensified on this region — a place with perhaps more affordable land-buying opportunities relative to the built-up cities a few hours south.
Bainbridge, from Palm Beach County, developed apartments, with rent for a two-bedroom unit coming in around $2,800. WCI Communities, whose headquarters are south of Fort Myers and whose parent company is Miami-based Lennar, has also built townhomes starting in the $500,000s and is in the process of constructing more.
Related Group, also from Miami, also developed a different set of apartments, called Town Westshore.
Ryan Marshall, 27, moved in to a one-bedroom, one-bathroom Town Westshore apartment about a year ago — and even then, he said he had to act fast. He committed to renting it within one day of seeing the model apartment and did not see his specific unit before deciding. He said he pays about $1,600 monthly. He works for a company that helps schools manage their Apple devices remotely.
Marshall said he sought out the Westshore Marina District because it’s right on the water and a short drive away from St. Petersburg.
“I just knew they had all this stuff planned here and I wanted to be here for it,” he said. “It’s not just an apartment complex in its own little world, it’s got a plan and development for this little community.”
His building has a mix of age groups, he said, including a lot of people with military connections because of the district’s proximity to MacDill Air Force Base.
The three luxury condo towers, which will also feature separate waterfront townhomes and rooftop pools on top of the parking garages, are being developed by BTI Partners. The first tower is expected to be completed next summer.
People who live in the towers can also get a spot in the future residents-only 150-slip marina that BTI Partners say is unique for a new residential development in Tampa Bay. They said they believe that will significantly up the value of their condos.
“We’re boasting the fact that you can walk out your front door and literally walk to your boat,” said Scott Andersen, vice president of west coast operations for BTI Partners. “The boating industry is on fire ... There are people that have bought slips that are owners that don’t plan to even have a boat, they’re just doing it for the investment.”
Still, despite the different companies involved, Andersen said it was important they avoid one pitfall of some quickly erected communities: a mismatch of styles. He said Noah Breakstone, BTI’s CEO, has maintained a strict approval process for all the buildings’ appearances.
“One of the builders, who I won’t say their name ... they wanted the building to look like maybe a Key West type thing, pastels, (and) they actually started painting one side of their building pink — unapproved,” Andersen said. “Noah called the developer and said ... ‘Sell your pink paint.’”
“When you drive through the district now, to me, it blends,” he added. “It all feels good.”
Editor’s note: A previous version of this story misstated the name of the surf shop in the Westshore Marina District and the name of the boat-up restaurant.