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Wednesday, Apr 23, 2014

Editorial: Buckhorn scores again with downtown Tampa tower

Published:   |   Updated: March 13, 2013 at 09:28 AM

Count us among the skeptics who thought it would be impossible to build a high-rise on city land behind the John F. Germany Public Library in downtown Tampa without it overwhelming the surroundings, including the Straz Center for the Performing Arts and the Riverwalk.

But the proposal presented by developers to Mayor Bob Buckhorn should enhance the area while further invigorating downtown.

It looks to be another case where the mayor's aggressive marketing of downtown has paid off.

To be sure, the proposed 36-story tower, with 350 units, will hardly be inconspicuous. But the city will create a 1-acre parcel by putting together two landscaped medians, parts of the roads in front of the Straz and a bit of its current entranceway.

The building won't seem crammed on the site and will be designed so that the lower floors do not loom over the street.

The reconfiguring of the now-confusing Tyler and Cass streets will make the roadways more sensible for motorists and safer for pedestrians.

Cass will become two-way, so traffic on Tyler should be greatly reduced.

The redesign of the roads will allow the construction of a larger and more inviting entrance to the performing arts center.

The $85 million complex, which will include 10,000 square feet of retail and five floors of parking, will be at least a block and a half from the Hillsborough River. And it won't wall off the waterway from the public.

A walkway will be built from Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park through the project. Riverwalk patrons, who now face a dead end at the Cass Street Bridge, will be able to walk to a crossing on Cass and back along the river behind the Straz.

Tampa City Council on Thursday must decide whether to agree to the $4 million purchasing price offered by the developers. (Zoning approval will come later.)

The city would use most of that money to make the necessary road improvements.

But putting the property on the tax rolls should generate $1 million in property tax revenue for the city a year.

The project is supported by the Straz Center's board of directors, which Buckhorn rightly describes as "huge."

And it is notable that the two developers involved — Greg Minder of Intown Group and Phillip Smith of Framework Group — are known for quality projects and live in Tampa.

Minder helped develop the nearby Skypoint and Element residential towers that house more than 1,000 people. This tower, which will have an art deco theme, will add another 500 people. Surely, more retail, restaurants and offices will follow.

The proposal demonstrates the wisdom of the city's investments in the urban core — including the Riverwalk, Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, the Tampa Bay Art Museum, the Glazer Children's Museum and the Tampa Bay History Museum. All have made the city an invigorating place to live and work and, obviously, more appealing to investors.

Buckhorn deserves credit for continually seeking ideas for making good use of downtown city land. Thanks to his marketing of unused property, Columbia restaurant owner Richard Gonzmart plans to transform the city's old Water Works Building into a riverfront seafood restaurant. Similarly, a boutique hotel is planned for the long-neglected federal courthouse, which the city controls.

For all its fits and starts, the progress of downtown redevelopment is remarkable.

Little more than a decade ago, downtown was virtually deserted at night. Now more than 5,000 people live in the urban core — 10,000 if Harbour Island is included.

Developer Minder believes the latest development site, with the river, museums and Straz nearby, is "where everything comes together."

Everything, indeed, seems to be coming together for urban Tampa's renaissance as well. City council and the public have cause to greet the development with enthusiasm.