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Water Street will be transformative, but will it be affordable?

A project executive ticked off many ways the $3 billion project will alter Tampa, but a Cafe con Tampa audience wanted details on what it will cost to live there
The $3 billion Water Street project is slated to be complete by 2026 or 2027. How affordable will it be? [SHADD, DIRK  |  Tampa Bay Times]
The $3 billion Water Street project is slated to be complete by 2026 or 2027. How affordable will it be? [SHADD, DIRK | Tampa Bay Times]
Published Nov. 15, 2019
Updated Nov. 15, 2019

TAMPA — James Nozar gave an update Friday on progress being made on the biggest real estate project in the city’s history.

The Strategic Property Partners chief executive officer listed the ways the Water Street project — a joint venture of Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Microsoft founder Bill Gates — will be a big deal when completed in 2026 or 2027.

Some highlights:

  • 3.5 million square feet of real estate (almost the size of downtown Tampa), with enough space to eventually house 13,000 workers and 6,000 residents.
  • Brand new streets covering a state-of-the-art stormwater system connecting energy-efficient buildings cooled by a central chilling system. And a reworked street grid designed to improve safety and traffic flow.
  • Shaded pedestrian-friendly streets, destination shops, a bounty of hotel rooms and meeting space, all creating a community that has caught the attention of the corporate world enamored with rival cities including Charlotte, Austin and Nashville.

But a big crowd at Café con Tampa, a weekly civic gathering that features prominent speakers and topics, also pressed Nozar for more details on how affordable the 3,500 residential units will be.

In his brief presentation before a Q&A session, Nozar had said it bothered him when he heard people referring to Water Street as a luxury project.

“It’s not,” Nozar said.

Strategic Property Partners is committed to providing housing at different “price points,” he said, with an aim to satisfy the lower-end demand as well as high-end clients.

“We think we’ll have some of the most affordable units downtown on the market side,” Nozar said.

The first 1,350 units will be market rate housing, Nozar said, although the company is exploring ways to widen affordability opportunities in its second and third phases.

Former state chief financial officer and gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink questioned that approach.

“I’m not sure that’s really a good message for the community and would encourage you to rethink that,” she said.

Nozar responded that by market rate he meant the company isn’t using any public subsidies to build it.

“The housing that we’re providing is in the range of 50 to 80 percent of median area income. Typically developers require an incentive to build that,” Nozar said.

According to U.S. Housing and Urban Development calculations, 50 to 80 percent of the median area income for a family of four ranges from $33,450 to $53,500.

Details on rents for the different price points are still being developed, Ali Glisson, a company spokeswoman, said after the event.

In the question and answer session, Nozar was asked how the company can make sure lower cost units won’t be snapped up by wealthier people. After all, income requirements that accompany government incentives won’t apply since the company isn’t asking for them.

The company is trying very hard to provide those affordable options using private capital without government help, Nozar said.

“We’re trying to be as responsible as we can with the resources that we have,” Nozar said. “There is a lot of opportunity to improve on that in Tampa and we’re all ears. And we love being part of those conversations."

This week, ProPublica published an investigation highlighting efforts by the firm to get Water Street designated as a federal opportunity zone, which would give tax benefits to wealthy investors in distressed neighborhoods. The federal program has been criticized for quickening the pace of gentrification in other parts of the country.

RELATED: ProPublica investigation

No one asked about the report, but Nozar noted that Water Street had mostly been surface parking lots and its development wouldn’t lead to people being displaced.

Vinik is part of FBN Partners, a group of local investors who have loaned a total of about $15 million to Times Publishing Co., which owns the Tampa Bay Times.

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