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Critics delay downtown Tampa tower plans

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Published:   |   Updated: May 10, 2013 at 06:49 AM
TAMPA -

A developer’s ambitious plan for an apartment tower next to the Straz Center hit a snag Thursday night, when Tampa City Council members postponed voting on the issue amid powerful opposition.

Specifically, the Straz Center’s chief executive officer, Judy Lisi, and advocates for the John F. Germany Public Library shared their concerns about the vast scope of the tower and all the roadwork needed around it.

That appeared to spook several members of the City Council, who said they didn’t have enough information about the project to move forward. After more than an hour of discussion, the council made no decision other than to schedule another hearing on the issue on Aug. 8.

Lisi originally supported the project when it surfaced several months ago, but Thursday showed more reservation.

“I don’t think any of us envisioned this project would be so huge,” she said.

A development group called Intown/Framework Group hopes to build a 36-story apartment tower that would house 360 apartment units on the site, just south of the Straz Center. It also would feature 10,000 square feet of retail space and a 400-car parking garage.

For now, the acre of land is owned by the city, but Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn has pushed to sell the property to the developer as a way to link Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park with the Straz Center and north downtown.

The developer showed up Thursday night hoping the city would bless the property’s sale and rezone it to allow for a higher elevation.

However, Intown president Greg Minder and Framework Group president Phillip Smith never got the chance to make their case. A side issue concerning whether and how to reroute streets surrounding the proposed apartment tower sunk the issue for the night.

Before council members ever debated the tower project, the city’s staff asked the city to give up possession of some right-of-way along Tyler and Cass streets in the immediate vicinity of the proposed tower and the Straz Center. Doing that would allow Tyler and Cass to become two-way streets where they’re currently one-way streets.

Several residents of the area and influential members of Tampa’s cultural community spoke up to oppose the road changes. They fretted over lack of parking in the area and increased traffic.

Jan Platt, a longtime former Tampa City Councilwoman and Hillsborough County Commissioner, urged the council to put off voting on the road changes or the tower property’s rezoning.

She said she worries that the cultural district surrounding the Straz Center and Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park lacks adequate parking and could be hard for the public to access.

“There has got to be decent parking in downtown for anyone that wants to come,” said Platt, a former president of the Friends of the Library.

Several council members began asking their own questions about the rerouting of roads in the vicinity, including whether changing the configuration of Tyler and Cass streets would really benefit the community at-large or a single developer.

Bob McDonaugh, a Tampa economic development official, said the rerouting of the roads was being contemplated as part of a long-range effort to improve traffic.

However, councilwoman Mary Mulhern seemed less than convinced.

“I have a problem with believing that they’re two separate issues,” she said.


msasso@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7865

Twitter: @msasso

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