City Council members gave their first approval this week for another new rental tower in the growing Channel District.
The Martin, by veteran Channel District developers Ken Stoltenberg and Frank Bombeeck, will stand 24 stories tall and offer 316 apartments.
But it’s the retail portion of the project – 36,887 square feet facing Meridian Avenue – that stirs speculation among Channelside residents and puts grins on the faces of public officials:
Is a grocery store finally coming to downtown Tampa?
“I can’t comment about that,” Stoltenberg said Friday.
In the past, Stoltenberg, whose 2003 Grand Central condo project jump-started a renaissance of the Channel District, has said he wants to bring a grocery to the neighborhood.
“Obviously, we believe that downtown, Channelside and Harbour Island is maturing, is ready for a grocery store,” Stoltenberg said Friday. “I’m not the only person saying that.”
But he is the only person planning a building with the space, street frontage and parking to accommodate that longed-for grocery store.
The location of a future Channel District grocery store remains a popular topic of discussion among residents.
“Every time I go to the dog park, I hear a different rumor about where the grocery store’s going to go,” said Marlene Tamayo, who moved to the neighborhood from Seminole Heights in December.
The 2010 Census estimate says that the Channel District has 568 households with a median income of nearly $96,000.
The Pier House complex nearing completion at Whiting Avenue and 11th Street will add 356 new apartments to that mix. Stoltenberg’s project and Skyhouse Channelside, proposed for land across Whiting from the Pier House, will add another 600 households in the next two years.
Today, Channel District residents, like their neighbors on Harbour Island and in the downtown Central Business District, have to travel for their groceries. The closest grocery store is the Publix at Platt Street and Bayshore Boulevard.
Tamayo drives there to shop.
“People would love to be able to get out and walk to the grocery store,” said Tamayo, who’s renting an apartment in The Slade. “That’s why we live here.”
As the neighborhood’s population grows, the absence of a grocery store could become a deal breaker for some, Tamayo said.
“We like the whole feel of that neighborhood store,” she said. “For us, a grocery store might be the reason we stay or go.”
Despite the Channel District’s growth, Publix officials have said repeatedly they have no plans to expand there.
They have also passed on building a store in the Tampa Housing Authority’s Encore project, which is going up about a half-mile from Stoltenberg’s project at the corner of Twiggs Street and Meridian Avenue.
But that’s not keeping people from cheering the possibility of a Channel District grocery store.
“Let's get this done,” Mayor Bob Buckhorn tweeted ahead of Thursday’s City Council vote.
The City Council’s 7-0 decision rezoned Stoltenberg’s 2.26-acre site specifically to add retail to the residential mix. The second vote is scheduled at 9:30 a.m. June 27.