Downtown Tampa will get its first major office tower in years if a developer can pull off his plan for a 20-story, energy-efficient office building and upscale hotel.
Bob Abberger, managing director of real estate firm Trammell Crow Co., expects to file a rezoning application with Tampa Friday for a new project tentatively called Southgate. The project would include the main office tower, an adjacent 350-room upscale hotel and a parking garage, Abberger said Thursday.
Trammell Crow will be taking a $250-million risk in a down economy. Vacancy rates downtown are around 20 percent right now, although they're lower at prestigious "Class A" office buildings, he said.
Plus, Abberger will have to find some tenants willing to lease space in advance, because investors who are backing the project will want Trammell Crow to have tenants lined up before starting construction.
But the company believes in downtown Tampa's long-term future, especially with a new mayor and the new ownership of the Tampa Bay Lightning, he said. He hopes to complete the hotel and office building some time in 2014.
"All things being equal, when you talk to most (corporate) users, they'd rather be downtown," he said.
The Southgate project would be bordered by Whiting, Morgan and Brorein streets and by Florida Avenue. It would be directly across from the University of South Florida's new Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation, or CAMLS.
In fact, Trammell Crow is betting that the physicians who fly into Tampa to learn about the latest in medical technology at CAMLS will want to stay at the Southgate project's new hotel. He is looking for a hotel brand to partner with, he said.
At 20 stories, the project's tower won't be nearly as tall as some of downtown's other office buildings, which run up to 40 stories. However, its 450,000 square feet of space will be comparable to other downtown towers because of its wider base, or "footprint."
Southgate's tower would have a footprint of about 28,000 square feet, where most downtown towers have footprints of 18,000 to 20,000, Abberger said. Trammell Crow will seek a LEED certification for energy efficiency for the building, he said.
The office tower essentially is the same project that Trammell Crow wanted to build four years ago in Tampa's Channel District before the real estate market collapsed. However, the new location is closer to downtown's core urban area and should capitalize on its proximity to the Tampa Convention Center, he said.
Trammell Crow has a contract to buy the property from the landholding Collier family, for whom Collier County is named.
Larry Richey, senior managing director for the Cushman & Wakefield real estate firm in Tampa, said timing will be crucial for the project.
At the moment, downtown Tampa can't handle another office tower. But the location across from the future CAMLS research center is ideal, Richey said, and downtown eventually might need the extra office space.
The hotel seems less risky than the office tower, he said.
"Certainly given the expectations of the CAMLS project, the hotel portion of that plan would seem to make a lot of sense," Richey said.