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Tampa synagogue to try again for embattled high-rise on Bayshore

Last year, City Council members gave the unusual plan a unanimous no. Will an altered proposal fare differently?
 
Congregation Rodeph Sholom, with its iconic menorah, on Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa. The congregation and a developer will again ask the city to allow a high-rise condo tower to be built on the property alongside the synagogue.
Congregation Rodeph Sholom, with its iconic menorah, on Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa. The congregation and a developer will again ask the city to allow a high-rise condo tower to be built on the property alongside the synagogue. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Jan. 17

The battle before the Tampa City Council last spring went into the night.

One side wanted to build a high-rise on the lucrative waterfront property that houses an iconic synagogue on Bayshore Boulevard. Congregation Rodeph Sholom supporters said selling a little more than half their land to a developer would bank them money for future upkeep and could ensure they wouldn’t one day have to sell the whole property and move away.

The other side contended the residential tower didn’t fit the neighborhood and would hurt the longtime wedding business of the genteel Tampa Garden Club next door.

Of particular concern were waivers requested by the developer — one seeking to preserve only 20% of the trees on the property instead of 50%, affecting three grand oaks.

“Please vote no to these tree-killing waivers,” a speaker implored council members. Neighbors and a few brides-to-be weighed in, too.

After hours of pleas, the City Council gave the unusual plan — a house of worship sharing its space with a ritzy new condo building — a unanimous no.

“Maybe this comes back to us in a different form in a couple of months,” council member Luis Viera said that night.

The proposal is indeed back with changes — though not without continuing opposition.

Jake Cremer, the attorney representing Miami-based developer The Related Group, said the new plan calls for 42 units instead of the original 60 and 26 floors instead of 29. “We have more green space in this version than the code requires,” he said.

The developer would improve sidewalks and resurface two nearby streets. A crosswalk would be added because of concerns about pedestrian safety, he said. And the waiver requests are gone.

“I think that’s what council is going to be paying attention to, that we really did listen to those concerns,” he said.

As to the contention that the proposal for the 2.12-acre synagogue property doesn’t fit the area?

“This is a high-rise neighborhood,” Cremer said of that part of South Tampa’s curving Bayshore Boulevard, where historic mansions share space with condo towers. “There are probably a half dozen high-rises within 600 feet of this property.”

An aerial drone view of part of Tampa's Bayshore Boulevard.
An aerial drone view of part of Tampa's Bayshore Boulevard. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Next door, the Tampa Garden Club is tucked into more than 3 acres of lush green space and moss-draped oaks. The facility stays booked with weddings and events 18 months out.

Todd Pressman, the zoning consultant who represents the club, did not appear to be convinced by the changes. He previously called the original plan too big for the property, like trying to fit “10 pounds of sugar in a 5-pound bag.”

“It is now 9 pounds of sugar in a 5-pound bag,” he said.

Pressman has said a looming tower could take away the Garden Club’s “privacy, ambiance and atmosphere.”

“It will destroy an iconic, beautiful longtime Tampa facility and parklike area,” he said.

The exterior of the Tampa Garden Club.
The exterior of the Tampa Garden Club. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

The conservative congregation, which started in Ybor City in 1903, has often been approached to sell its Bayshore property. Given antisemitism and the current state of the world, congregation President Lloyd Stern told the Tampa Bay Times last year, he thought it important to keep the 1960s-era building and its distinctive over-the-rooftop menorah in its prominent spot.

“I think the menorah that’s 40 feet in the air on Bayshore really does show Tampa’s a very accepting place,” Stern said then.

An evening public hearing is scheduled Feb. 8 before the City Council.

“This is definitely the type of project — we’re not going to make everybody happy,” Cremer said. “But I think it’s coming back with a much better design than it was last year.”