Tampa picks developer to reimagine 18 acres near Hillsborough River

The plans for the area, dubbed the Rome Yard, include market-rate and affordable housing, a cultural center, workforce training center and more.
A rendering of the Rome Yard development submitted by the Related Group
A rendering of the Rome Yard development submitted by the Related Group [ Courtesy of Related Group ]
Published March 17, 2021|Updated March 17, 2021

Tampa leaders on Wednesday unveiled their vision for a long-neglected piece of land overlooking the Hillsborough River, selecting the Related Urban Development Group LLC, in partnership with the Tampa Housing Authority, to lead the development.

“We are providing houses, we are providing business space, we are providing the amenities our community desperately needs and I’m very, very proud of our team for that,” Mayor Jane Castor said at the announcement at the future development site. The project is “a transformative one for this historical neighborhood,” she added.

The 18-acre West Tampa parcel, known as the “Rome Yard,” is located west of the Hillsborough River, east of Rome Avenue, south of Columbus Drive and north of Spruce Street.

Related Group, based in Miami, envisions both affordable and market-rate housing, retail space, a workforce training center, musical amphitheater, sculpture gardens, “micro” retail space for local startups as well as an area set aside for “artist work areas.” The plan also includes a “great lawn” for things like movies or yoga in the park, a resort-style pool and an observation “cigar tower” made of brick made to evoke the historic cigar factories in the area. Related also said it’s partnering with local historian Fred Hearns for a West Tampa Cultural Center and Art Pavilion.

The development company also committed to a minimum of $75 million in contracts for minority- and women-owned businesses, Castor said.

Related Group is a major player in Tampa’s ongoing development renaissance. In addition to this project, it is also playing a leading role in the nearly $350 million project to redevelop Tampa’s West River area, much of which is on the site of the now-demolished North Boulevard Homes public housing project. It’s also the developer of the highly anticipated Ritz-Carlton Residences on Bayshore.

Wednesday’s announcement for the Rome Yard was technically a “preliminary selection” that is subject to the city and Related Group negotiating a contract.

Peter Van Warner, development manager with Related, said that he was “extremely grateful” for the company’s selection.

“Our goal for this project ... I cant emphasize it enough, is to build a resilient, sustainable, socio-economic hub that is going to lift up this area for many generations to come,” he said.

The space has previously been used as the city’s storage yard, but it’s been making its way toward a rebirth since then-Mayor Bob Buckhorn started soliciting ideas late in his term, which he later pulled back. Last fall, the city, under Castor, requested proposals once again.

In February, it narrowed the plans down to three finalists, which in addition to Related were InVictus Development LLC and TRS Development Services/Onicx LLC. Interviews with the final candidates were scheduled for last week, according to a news release.

City officials had said they wanted the land to be used for a mix of uses for the public good, including both market-rate and affordable housing. Specifically, the city had said that 20 percent of the new units will be for people earning 80 percent of the area median income ($53,500 for a family of four) with another 40 percent reserved for those making no more than 140 percent of area media income ($93,660 for a family of four).

But Related Group’s proposals exceeded those goals for affordable units, according Janelle McGregor, manager of the city’s community partnerships division.

Joe Robinson, second vice president with the Hillsborough County NAACP who was a citizen member of the project’s selection committee, thanked Castor for seeking input from minority communities for this development. He said it represents the “pinnacle” of what West Tampa can be.

“I’ve been waiting since 1962 to see this area ... come alive,” he said. “We won the Super Bowl down the street and we’ve won the Super Bowl right where we’re standing.”