The heartbeat of the Suncoast’s urban core is returning again. After years of sparse growth and minimal construction, new revitalization efforts from Tampa to Sarasota are underway. You can feel the energy on the street — soaring cranes in the sky, an influx of a younger residents opening new businesses, and the promise of creating sustainable urban areas for years to come. With the support of private-public partnerships, community initiatives, and the next generation of developers infused with ideas, these downtown areas are quickly becoming the most desirable districts to live, work and play.
St. Petersburg is leading the way with its transformation. After years of being overshadowed by its big sister city across the Bay, the downtown area is showing off its fresh new identity. Younger and hipper, this cosmopolitan city is drawing thousands of art lovers, families, and entrepreneurs with a bustling array of entertaining and dining options as well as a surge of new luxury high-rise condominiums. The metamorphosis from a dilapidated downtown to a vibrant city has been so transformative that credit card promoter NerdWallet ranked St. Petersburg as the top city in Florida for job seeking millennials, with Tampa ranking number three.
Progress is everywhere! The Central Arts District has seen a rise in new independent businesses and art galleries, while the Grand Central District has added an array of unique shops. The Bayfront area, a vibrant stretch along Beach Drive, enjoys several world-class museums, high-end boutiques and eateries. The popular Sundial located on 2nd Avenue is a must-visit destination, anchored by the gourmet Locale Market and several restaurants, mixed with local boutique owners and high-end stores.
Several sophisticated and opulent condominium projects are punctuating the St. Petersburg skyline, complementing the city’s new energy and enhanced walkability to the downtown area. Bliss, a high-rise condominium development projected to open in 2016, boasts an entirely exclusive, no neighbor building said to “feel like you’re floating on air over Beach Drive.” ONE St. Petersburg, touted as the tallest building in the downtown area, will combine a 41-story condominium with a 13-story hotel and mixed-use project. In the Arts and Innovation District, the Salvador is poised to make a landmark architectural statement. Located across from the Dali Museum, the 13-story boutique tower is infused with elements of the artist’s most famous works and amenities designed to impress and entertain residents.
Tampa is in the midst of its own revitalization to attract new businesses and growth. The biggest plan, a combination of public and private partnerships, hopes to have ripple effects across the downtown area, luring more corporate headquarters to the city. Financier Jeff Vinik has unveiled a multi-phase plan to transform Tampa’s Channel District into an energetic mixed-use district. His ambitious, $1 billion vision to redevelop 40 acres along the city’s waterfront is anchored by the new campus of University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine. The area will also include luxury condominiums, hotels, an entertainment complex and retail space. Coined as a “18/7” community by Vinik, the living community will be active 18 hours a day, seven days a week.
Vinik, a former mutual fund guru who amassed a real estate empire in Tampa and the current owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning hockey team, envisions this project will change the community for generations to come. Vinik’s firm, Strategic Property Partners, LLC, who oversees the project and is backed by a primary financial partnership with Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates’ investment fund, Cascade Investment LLC.
Just 50 miles to the south, downtown Sarasota is dubbed as one of the hottest urban districts in the state. Sophisticated and exquisite design projects are punctuating the downtown skyline and surrounding beachfront landscapes. Luxury buyers are driving the resurgence of growth and the rebirth of the downtown area as more people are discovering this artistic and cultural destination.
New condominium projects and three new hotels are scheduled to open in the coming year: The Aloft, Westin and Embassy Suites will add much needed hotel and meeting space, with at least 600 new rooms to the downtown area. The Aloft, located at Ringling and Palm, features hotel rooms attached to 141 condominiums called One Palm, complete with a rooftop pool and a bar. The 18-story Westin with its rooftop bar and signature amenities is located next to the Vue Sarasota Bay, a bold architectural statement of sophisticated modern design on the Bayfront. Sansara, a 10-story complex located in the heart of Historic Burns Court, is conveniently located within walking distance of downtown shops, dining and several theaters. Described by the architect as an “urban oasis,” the Zen-influenced residence simulates the elegance of a cosmopolitan hotel with an open-air terrace, fire pit and lounge.
Just north of the downtown area, 11 new projects are planned or in the final stages of approval in the historic Rosemary District. These massive projects will bring apartments, condominiums, retail and office space, with development plans in discussion for a 200-room Marriott hotel. The first phase of CitySide is underway, calling for a four-story complex offering 228 condominiums. Groundbreaking for Rosemary Square, a mixed-use project with retail and office space, is already underway. This project will include 50 new condominiums, with 30 units housing the Sarasota Opera artists, a boutique theater and fine arts.
Along the Sarasota Bayfront, momentum continues to slowly build around the legacy project for the region. Sarasota Bayfront 20:20 aims to revitalize and redevelop 42 acres of city-owned waterfront property around the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall. This community collaboration project envisions turning the property into a family-friendly cultural and arts hub that is financially sustainable for future generations. The grass roots organization has garnered the support of more than 45 arts, foundation and business groups, while soliciting ideas from the public and raising private funds to hire a consultant.
By Katherine Ferrara Johnson