1. Pinellas

Oldsmar officials advance Town Center project

OLDSMAR — For more than 15 years city leaders have been trying to turn the downtown district into a commercial, residential and retail mecca.

Several attempts to build a multimillion-dollar, multiphase mixed-used development on State Street next to City Hall have come and gone. At one point the City Council even had a group of University of South Florida architecture and design students come up with concepts.

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Before becoming mayor in March, longtime council member Eric Seidel stressed that getting the Town Center project out of the planning stage and into development was his top priority. The city moved one step closer toward that goal recently when the council unanimously approved a concept plan for the project.

Drafted by local design professionals John Bews, Randy Mears and David Wallace, the plan incorporates many of the components city officials requested be part of the project over the years. They include mixed-used buildings and open green spaces; hotels, residential units and parking areas; co-worker, pop-up and other collaborative spaces; a brewery, a museum or exhibit area, and more — all in the 10-acre space.

During a workshop unveiling the plan for city officials, Wallace spoke about the difficulty incorporating all the pieces into a relatively small space and making it work.

"We started the site plan in January, and we drew it a dozen times, with things added and taken away," said Wallace, an architect and one of the longest-tenured board members of the nonprofit group Oldsmar Cares. "We spent 60-80 hours with it, but I'm happy because this is my city and I want to do the best for it. I have 40 years' experience in this area, and I think we nailed it and I'm proud of it. I think it'll be our legacy."

Seidel said he was excited about the project too. "Early interest from the business community has been very encouraging," he said. "We already have two quality groups competing to build the boutique hotel, with a roof top bar and a respected developer who would like to do the whole project."