Elements of Urbanism: Downtown Tampa

December 23, 2010 25 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Metro Jacksonville explores a downtown that has made significant redevelopment strides since our last visit in 2008: Downtown Tampa.

Tale of the Tape

Tampa Population 2009: 343,890 (City); 2,747,272 (Metro) - (incorporated in 1849)

Jacksonville Pop. 2009: 813,518 (City); 1,328,144 (Metro) - (incorporated in 1832)

City population 1950: Jacksonville (204,517); Tampa (124,681)

Metropolitan Area Growth rate (2000-2009)

Tampa: +14.66%
Jacksonville: +18.29%

Urban Area Population (2000 census)

Tampa: 2,062,339 (ranked 19 nationwide)
Jacksonville: 882,295 (ranked 43 nationwide)

Urban Area Population Density (2000 census)

Tampa: 2,570.6
Jacksonville: 2,149.2

City Population Growth from 2000 to 2009

Tampa: +40,443
Jacksonville: +72,312

Convention Center Exhibition Space:

Tampa: Tampa Convention Center (1990) - 200,000 square feet
Jacksonville: Prime F. Osborn III Convention Center (1986) - 78,500 square feet

Connected to Convention Center:

Tampa: Embassy Suites (360 units)
Jacksonville: N/A

Tallest Building:

Tampa: 100 North Tampa - 579 feet
Jacksonville: Bank of America Tower - 617 feet

Fortune 500 companies 2010 (City limits only):

Tampa: WellCare Health Plans (328)
Jacksonville: CSX (259), Winn-Dixie (306), Fidelity National Financial (366)


Urban infill obstacles:

Tampa: Downtown cut off from surrounding neighborhoods by the Hillsborough River & expressways
Jacksonville: State & Union Streets cut off Downtown Jacksonville from Springfield.


Downtown Nightlife:

Tampa: Channel District
Jacksonville: East Bay Street


Common Downtown Albatross:

Surface parking lots.

Who's Downtown is more walkable?

Tampa: 88 out of 100, according to walkscore.com
Jacksonville: 88 out of 100, according to walkscore.com

City Land Area

Tampa: 112.1 square miles
Jacksonville: 757.7 square miles

Visual Information

Green = Jacksonville's city limits (current urban core) before consolidation in 1968
Red = Jacksonville's current consolidated city-county limits

Jacksonville's current (Red) and original (Green) city limit boundaries over Tampa's land area (Blue).

About Tampa

Looking south from the Marriott Waterside at Harbour Island and the Port of Tampa

Tampa is a Gulf Coast Bay city in the U.S. state of Florida. It serves as the county seat for Hillsborough County. Tampa is located on the west coast of Florida. The population of Tampa in 2000 was 303,447. According to the 2009 estimates, the city's population had grown to 343,890, making it the 54th largest city in the United States.

The current location of Tampa was once inhabited by various indigenous cultures, most recently the Tocobaga. It was spotted by Spanish explorers in the early 16th century, but there were no permanent American or European settlements in the area until 1824, when the US Army established a frontier outpost called Fort Brooke at the site of today's Tampa Convention Center. The village of Tampa began as a small group of pioneers who settled near the fort for protection from the Seminole population in the area.

Today, Tampa is a part of the metropolitan area most commonly referred to as the Tampa Bay Area. For U.S. Census purposes, Tampa is part of the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, Florida MSA. The four-county area is composed of roughly 2.7 million residents, making it the second largest metropolitan statistical area (MSA) in the state, and the fourth largest in the Southeastern United States, behind Miami, Washington, D.C., and Atlanta. The Greater Tampa Bay area has just over 4 million residents and generally includes the Tampa and Sarasota metro areas. The Tampa Bay Partnership and U.S. Census data showed an average annual growth of 2.47 percent, or a gain of approximately 97,000 residents per year. Between 2000 and 2006, the Greater Tampa Bay Market experienced a combined growth rate of 14.8 percent, growing from 3.4 million to 3.9 million and hitting the 4 million people mark on April 1, 2007.

Tampa has a number of sports teams, such as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFL, the Tampa Bay Lightning in the National Hockey League, the Tampa Bay Rays in Major League Baseball, and the FC Tampa Bay Rowdies in North American Soccer League (2010).

In 2008, Tampa was ranked as the 5th best outdoor city by Forbes. A 2004 survey by the NYU newspaper Washington Square News ranked Tampa as a top city for "twenty-somethings." Tampa is ranked as a "high sufficiency" world city by Loughborough University and is one category away from becoming a Gamma world city. According to Loughborough, Tampa now ranks alongside other world cities such as Phoenix, Cologne, and Osaka. In recent years Tampa has seen a notable upsurge in high-market demand from consumers, signaling more wealth concentrated in the area. Tampa has been tapped to host the 2012 Republican National Convention.

Downtown Tampa

Downtown Tampa is the central business district of Tampa, Florida and the chief financial district of the Tampa Bay Area. It is second only to Westshore regarding employment in the area. Companies with a major presence downtown include Bank of America, Suntrust and Verizon. The Tampa Convention Center is located on the river.

Downtown Tampa is bounded by the Hillsborough River to the west, Channelside to the east, Interstate 275 to the north, Davis Islands and Harbour Island to the south. The total area for the area is 521 acres. Historical Fort Brooke was located at the southern end of downtown Tampa, near the mouth of the Hillsborough River.

Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park is the crown jewel of the city’s urban parks and will ultimately be the centerpiece of the Tampa Riverwalk. Designed by the New York-based landscape architect Thomas Balsley, the park integrates the Riverwalk with the Glazer Children’s Museum, the Tampa Museum of Art and downtown.

Overlooking the Hillsborough River, the park with its sloping great lawn features two fountains, a children’s playground, public boat docks, a dog park, seat terraces, a pavilion and café.

Founded in 1979 on the banks of the Hillsborough River, the Tampa Musuem of Art recently moved in to a new 66,000 square foot post modern structure.

In 2006, the museum board and the city of Tampa agreed to use public and private funds to construct a $33 million, 66,000-square-foot new museum in redesigned Curtis Hixon Park as part of Mayor Iorio's Riverwalk project along the Hillsborough River. The building, by architect Stanley Saitowitz, is designed to look like "a metal box sitting on a glass pedestal" and makes use of aluminum, glass, and fiber optic color-changing lights in the exterior walls to "make the building itself a work of art". A new home for the Tampa Children's Museum (now known as the Glazer Children's Museum) was built next door.

The former museum building had to be torn down to make way for the current one. In the interim, the Tampa Museum of Art was temporarily moved to the historic Centro Espanol building in West Tampa, which had been vacant for several years. Groundbreaking for the project took place on April 18, 2008, and the grand opening of the new Tampa Museum of Art took place on February 6, 2010

Anchoring Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park with the Tampa Museum of Art, the Glazer Children's Museum opened on September 26, 2010.

The new Glazer Children's Museum offers 170 exhibits in 12 themed areas to spark a child's imagination and curiosity. Designed for toddlers and elementary school students, the exhibits combine the familiar with the unexpected for a plethora of teachable moments.

Parents will find plenty of experiences to enjoy with their children in the three-story, 53,000 sq. ft. museum. Sharing a corner of Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park with the recently opened Tampa Museum of Art, the Glazer puts the finishing touch on the riverside section of the Downtown Tampa revitalization project.

The David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts opened its doors as the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, Tampa, Florida in July 1987 and has welcomed more than 10 million guests. The venue was renamed in November 2009 to recognize the generous donation, the largest individual philanthropic gift ever made to a cultural institution in the Tampa Bay area, of financier David A. Straz, Jr.[1]

The Straz Center is located downtown on a 9-acre (36,000 m2) site along the east bank of the Hillsborough River. As the largest performing arts complex south of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the 335,000-square-foot (31,100 m2) venue provides an environment for a variety of events. It has a leading Broadway series and produces grand opera, as well as presenting a variety of concerts, performances and events. 680,000 patrons attended 4,148 events during the 2007-2008 season.

Streets adjacent to the revitalized Curtis Hixon Park now feature an assortment of restaurants and retailers.

The Novare Group's Skypoint and Element workforce housing condominium towers were constructed during the height of the recent real estate boom.  As of July 2009, The 32-story Skypoint had sold 341 of its 380 units since opening in 2007.  The 35-story Element, was built as condos but later converted to rental units after the housing market crashed.  Novare, which once had plans to invest in downtown Jacksonville has since become another casualty of the real estate market.  Earlier this year, it was reported that the company had been granted a nearly three-year extension from private investors on the payback of $26 million of its debt.

In an effort to make downtown Tampa a pedestrian friendly urban neighborhood, several streets have been restripped for bicycle lanes and intersections have been improved to make it safer for pedestrians to cross.

A $4.7 million restoration of what is known as Kiley Gardens and the parking garage beneath it was recently completed in October 2010.

Built in 1988, the plaza generated some initial buzz with its unique mix of concrete and grass atop a parking garage. But over the years it fell into disrepair. With an out-of-the-way location in the shadow of downtown's "beer can" building, it grew more shabby and less beloved.

That's a shame, says Charles Birnbaum, president of the nonprofit Cultural Landscape Foundation in Washington, D.C., which keeps a national database of landscape architecture and architects. The foundation had listed Kiley's plaza among the country's lost landscapes and cited it as an endangered garden in 2006.

The Tampa Theatre anchors Franklin Street.  Franklin Street was downtown's historic commercial epicenter.  In 1973, city leaders closed a five-block stretch of the street to traffic, hoping a pedestrian mall would keep shoppers.  After this extremely bad experiment emptied what retail remained on the street, the city reopened the street to traffic in 2001.

Designed as a atmospheric theatre style movie palace by architect John Eberson, the Tampa Theatre opened on October 15, 1926. Besides being architecturally stunning both inside and out, the theatre was the first commercial building in Tampa to offer air conditioning. This fact gave the theater even more appeal during Florida's sweltering summer months.

The Tampa Theatre has undergone many restoration projects to maintain its original splendor as well as equipment upgrades to provide a modern movie-going experience. The most recent restoration project was the replacement of the marquee which includes the vertical blade sign and the canopy. The completion of this major facelift was marked by the Marquee Lighting Ceremony which took place on January 16, 2004.

The Sacred Heart Catholic Church was founded in 1905 and is the oldest Catholic church in the city of Tampa.

Construction on the hotel began in 1926 by Francis J. Kennard & Son, Architects and the Floridan Hotel officially opened in 1927 with 19 floors and 316 rooms, at a cost of $1.9 million to build. At the time the Floridan was the tallest building in Florida and would remain the tallest building in Tampa until 1966 when the Franklin Exchange Building was completed.

The hotel's bar, the Sapphire Room, was a popular nightspot during World War II for servicemen who were training at nearby Drew Field to fly B-17s over Europe. Many of the service men at that time were housed in makeshift barracks located underneath the bleachers at the old Florida State Fairgrounds racetrack a few blocks away. The bar's wild reputation at the time earned it the nickname the Surefire Room.

Over the years, the hotel hosted such stars as Gary Cooper as he filmed the movie Hell Harbor with actress Lupe Valdez; and Elvis Presley stayed at the hotel in 1955 after a concert at the Fort Homer Hesterly Armory.

The hotel began to decline in patronage in the early 1960s as more modern “motels” were built along the highways that skirted the city. In 1966 the hotel closed to commercial and tourist hotel and remained only open to long term renters. By the 1980s the once grand and luxurious hotel had become a residence for transients renting rooms by the week or month. The Floridan Hotel finally closed its doors in 1989 after new ownership fails to bring the building up to new firecodes.

The Hotel was purchased on April 21, 2005 by hotelier and real-estate investor Antonios Markopoulos for $6 Million. An extensive cleaning and restoration of the building's interior and exterior began in August 2005 and has continued, gradually, for more than five years.

The Floridan's original sign, which was found by work crews during the cleaning of the building in 2005, and had adorned the buildings roof for decades, was restored and placed on the hotel's rooftop once more in late summer 2008.

As of October 2010, work is still ongoing.

The old federal courthouse has been empty since 1998, when the U.S. District courthouse was relocated a few blocks away.  Since then, the Beaux Arts Classical structure has seen redevelopment proposals as an art museum, homeless shelter, a Florida A&M University Law School campus, a hotel & restaurant, government offices and a school all fall through.

Tampa's City Hall was the tallest building in Florida from 1915 - 1925.  It was preceded by Jacksonville's Florida Life Building and succeeded by Miami's Freedom Tower.

Opened on May 15, 1912, by the Tampa Union Station Company, its original purpose was to combine passenger operations for the Atlantic Coast Line, the Seaboard Air Line and the Tampa Northern Railroad at a single site. In 1974, as Union Railroad Station, it was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. After its condition deteriorated substantially, Tampa Union Station was closed in 1984; Amtrak passengers used a temporary prefabricated station building (one of a type dubbed "Amshack"s) located adjacent to the station platforms after the building was closed.

Tampa Union Station was acquired in 1991 by the nonprofit Tampa Union Station Preservation & Redevelopment Inc. (TUSP&R) via a mortgage held by CSX, the freight railroad company which was the corporate descendant of its original railroad owners. TUSP&R raised over 4 million USD for the building's restoration through grants and loans from sources including the Florida Department of Transportation (ISTEA funds), the City of Tampa (grant funds) and the National Trust for Historic Preservation (no interest loan). At the completion of the restoration in 1998, the station reopened to Amtrak passengers and the public. CSX donated the station to the City of Tampa that same year.

Poe Plaza is a three block linear green space where Franklin Street used to lie between Kennedy Boulevard and Whiting Street.  This pedestrian promenade was constructed when Tampa City Center 1 and 2 were created.

The Rampello Downtown Partnership School is a Grade A, K-8 magnet school on the west side of downtown.

The Marion Transit Center is located on the north end of downtown and serves as the main hub for HART buses.  If Rick Scott does not terminate the Florida High Speed Rail project, Tampa's HSR station will be constructed adjacent to this transit facility.

The University of Tampa, or UT, is a private, co-educational university in Downtown Tampa, Florida. It is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. In 2006, the University celebrated its 75th anniversary. UT offers over 100 undergraduate degree options, along with master's degree programs in business administration, accounting, finance, education, marketing, innovation management, and nursing. UT’s John H. Sykes College of Business is one of 45 schools that The Princeton Review has added to its annual best business schools guide in 2007. They selected it for their 2007 edition of Best 282 Business Schools.

The Tampa Bay Hotel was built by railroad magnate Henry B. Plant at a cost of over 2.5 million dollars. It was considered the premier hotel of the eight that Mr. Plant built to anchor his rail line. The hotel itself covers 6 acres (24,000 m2) and is a quarter-mile long. It was equipped with the first elevator ever installed in Florida. The elevator is still in use today, making it one of the oldest continually operational elevators in the nation. The 511 rooms, some of which were actually suites consisting of between three-to-seven rooms, were the first in Florida to have electric lights and telephones. Most rooms also included private bathrooms, complete with a full-size tub. The price for a room ranged from $5.00 to $15.00 a night at a time when the average hotel in Tampa charged $1.25 to $2.00. The building’s poured concrete steel reinforced structure was advertised as fireproof.

The hotel was closed in 1930, and remained empty and unused for three years. In late 1933, the Tampa Bay Junior College was allowed to move into the hotel, using the old suites as classrooms and offices. Because of the large amount of space afforded by the hotel, the scope of the junior college was expanded, becoming the University of Tampa. The Tampa Municipal Museum was established by the city to preserve the hotel in its original form and co-exist with the newly established University. In 1941, the city of Tampa signed a 99 year lease with the University of Tampa for $1.00 a year. The lease excluded the southeast wing of the building to allow for the housing of the museum. In 1974, the Tampa Municipal Museum was renamed the Henry B. Plant Museum.

Today, besides serving as offices and classrooms for the University of Tampa, the entire south wing of the building is dedicated to preserving the glory days of the old Tampa Bay Hotel. Various rooms in the wing display authentic artifacts from the old hotel, many of which were purchased by Mr. and Mrs. Plant themselves on various European shopping trips. Guided tours and a self-guided tour that starts with a video entitled The Tampa Bay Hotel: Florida's First Magic Kingdom, showcase a life of leisure in old Florida.
Full history: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tampa_Bay_Hotel

The St. Pete Times Forum, located in Downtown Tampa's Channelside District was a secondary location chosen after the failure of Tampa Coliseum Inc. to secure funding to construct an arena on Tampa Sports Authority land near Tampa Stadium. It opened in 1996 as the Ice Palace. Its first event was a performance by the Royal Hanneford Circus. The first hockey game was the Lightning hosting the New York Rangers, which the Lightning won by a score of 5–2.

The arena was built as a new home for the Lightning after the club outgrew the older, smaller Expo Hall at the Florida State Fairgrounds. Prior to the opening of the Ice Palace, the Lightning moved to the Florida Suncoast Dome, which was nicknamed the "Thunderdome," in St. Petersburg, Florida, joining the Tampa Bay Storm, in 1994. Upon the completion of the Ice Palace, both the Lightning and the Storm, moved in. The Thunderdome, now named Tropicana Field, is currently home to Major League Baseball's Tampa Bay Rays.

Control of the venue has changed hands three times since the building's opening in 1996. The lease agreement ties the arena to the ownership of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Naming rights to the Ice Palace were sold to the St. Petersburg Times, a daily newspaper which circulates throughout the Tampa Bay Area. Other entertainment events occasionally held in the Forum include concerts, NBA exhibition games, USF Basketball and NCAA Tournament games, tennis, professional wrestling, boxing, figure skating, and rodeos (as well as stand-alone bull riding events; the Forum has hosted an event by the PBR's premier tour, the Bud Light Cup (renamed Built Ford Tough Series in 2003), annually since 1998.)

Cotanchobee / Fort Brooke Park: Tampa's earliest settlement by Native Americans on a land named Cotanchobee was known as "the big place where water meets the land." It also was where Tampa's very first military installation grew from the ground to become Fort Brooke. This Park is perfect for family-friendly fun and enjoyment all year long

Moving Forward

Despite economic conditions, downtown Tampa continues to move forward with several significant projects under construction.  Many of these projects are the type that the 2030 Mobility Plan is expected to make feasible in Jacksonville if passed.

Metro 510

Sage Partners has purchased and is renovating a beloved landmark church in downtown Tampa to create a 120-unit, six-story workforce housing mid-rise to give residents working downtown an affordable option for urban living. The mid-rise is projected to open on or before Oct. 1, 2011.

"It's close to transit stations, so residents living there can basically go anywhere without getting into a car," says Sage President Debra Koehler. "And they can walk to work, of course. It's also two blocks from the Marion Street Transit Station that will serve the high-speed rail system."

According to Koehler, the new building, to be named Metro 510, is being built around the historic St. Paul AME Church at 506 E. Harrison Street, which will serve as the mid-rise's community center.

"The first floor will have a fully equipped exercise room, a computer lab and a library," says Koehler. "And the 7,700-square-foot sanctuary on the second floor will be converted into an area for all ages of children -- a place for play, learning and arts. Kind of like Chuck E. Cheese on steroids."

Its stain glass windows will remain and be illuminated with LED lighting.

"The lighting will make it public art for all of Tampa to enjoy," says Koehler.

The new building also features covered parking, a playground, a spray park, outdoor movie area and a community garden where residents can grow their own fruits and vegetables.

Koehler says each one- to three-bedroom unit is fully equipped with stainless steel appliances, large window lines to take advantage of natural light and plenty of storage space.

Urban Studio Architects designed the renovations, and First Florida is handling the construction.

Encore Tampa

The complex, on about 28 acres between Cass Street and an Interstate 4 interchange, was razed in 2007. Its 1,300 tenants moved to other public housing or federally-subsidized homes.

Since 2006 the project has survived a statewide court challenge on how to authorize publically funded redevelopment projects, and a real estate market that went bust.

A federal stimulus grant of $28 million re-invigorated Encore last year. Added to a package that includes tax credits, low-income housing loans, bonds and equity loans, construction is moving forward.

The Ella, with 160 apartments, is planned as a mixed-income complex for seniors age 62 and older. Some will rent at market rate; some according to a tenant's income. The Trio, with 132 apartments, is a mixed-income family complex.

Future plans include construction of a grocery store, a hotel, market-rate condominiums and shops. The former St. James Episcopal Church building will become a black history museum.

"The level of what this development is becoming and what it can give to the community is tremendous," said Roxanne Amoroso, senior vice president with Bank of America.

The Ella, and a solar-powered park, will be built as an energy efficient project that meets national environmental standards. The park will include walkways, landscaping and a 15-foot faux sunflower powered by solar energy.

Though the current economy remains a challenge, money for the infrastructure has fallen into place, including recent approval by Hillsborough County Commission of nearly $12 million in bonds, Amoroso said.

The second apartment building – The Trio –is unfunded and has no construction schedule. "It's not as far along as The Ella," said Amoroso. "It's still more of a moving target."

But, she said, "Our goal is to roll building after building. We feel very good about this development."

The project is expected to create 4,000 to 4,500 construction jobs during the next three to four years, and about 1,000 permanent jobs.

Encore Tampa Rendering

TECO Streetcar Line Extension

The TECO Streetcar Line is being extended from the Channel District to the corner of Franklin and Whiting Streets, closer to the downtown core.  The $5.5 million project is expected to open in December 2010 and is being funded through a federal Tiger grant.

USF Health

Adjacent to the TECO Streetcar line extension, USF plans to transform a long time surface parking lot into what could become a downtown college campus.

USF expects to break ground next month on a high-tech medical training center that will be the start of an expanded role for the university in downtown Tampa, USF health officials say.

The university originally planned to build a 60,000 square-foot complex housing surgical simulation suites, a virtual hospital, robotics lab and meeting and classroom space.

But after it bought a downtown parking lot from the city of Tampa this summer, it added 30,000 square feet to the plans for architecture, engineering, business and possibly other university programs, USF officials said at a Tampa Downtown Partnership meeting earlier this week.

"It's the beginning of the concept of USF Downtown," said USF College of Medicine dean Stephen Klasko.

Florida High Speed Rail

Renderings of the proposed downtown Tampa high speed rail station

Unique Tampa

The skyline of Westshore, Tampa's largest office district, can be seen in the distant background.

◦The word "Tampa" means "sticks of fire" in the language of the Calusa, a Native American tribe that once lived in the area.

◦During the early 20th century, Tampa was the largest cigar manufacturing center in the United States.

◦Was controlled by Sicilian mafioso Santo Trafficante, Jr., one of the last old-time Mafia bosses in the United states.

◦The Tampa Bay area is recognized as the Lightning capital of North America.

◦The 4.5 mile Bayshore Greenway is the world's longest continuous sidewalk.

◦According to Maxim, Tampa is ranked 6th in the entire nation for its party scene.

◦Tampa based companies include Raymond James Financial and OSI Restaurants (Outback Steakhouse, Carrabba's, Fleming's Steakhouse & Bonefish Grill)

◦The Port of Tampa is the seventh largest in the nation and Florida's largest tonnage port, handling nearly half of all seaborne commerce that passes through the state.

◦Completed in 1984, Tampa's Harbour Island Peoplemover quickly became a riderless failure.  In the 1990s, the developers required to run the service for 17 years, made a deal with the Tampa Streetcar to close down the People Mover in favor of making a $5 million payment to help fund the streetcar line.

See Elements of Urbanism: Tampa 2008

Photos by Ennis Davis