Vinik-Gates venture promises a new downtown for Tampa


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- Developers on Tuesday released new details on the scope and substance of an ambitious real estate project that will increase the size and population of downtown Tampa, vastly altering the city’s skyline and creating a “main street” out of thin air and parking lots.

The project is named Water Street Tampa. It’s a joint venture between Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates. Over the next 10 years, they will invest more than $3-billion in transforming the area around Amalie Arena and Channelside Drive.

“This is one of the biggest construction projects in the country,” said James Nozar, CEO of Strategic Property Partners, which is the official name of the real estate venture. "When work begins full-throttle in a few months, we'll have upwards of 22 construction cranes swinging around downtown Tampa.”

The project will add 32 new buildings throughout roughly a one-mile stretch of downtown. That’s more than 9-million square feet of new space. The buildings will include commercial, residential, educational, entertainment, and retail space.

Among the highlights: the city’s first new office towers in 25 years, the city’s first five-star hotel, and a 500-room hotel across from the Marriott Waterside (operators of those two properties have not been announced).

Water Street Tampa will also add 3,500 new rental and for-sale residences, nearly doubling the housing inventory downtown. Developers estimate when the entire project is complete in 2027, an additional 23,000 people will live in, work at, or visit Water Street Tampa each day.

The project will also add 12.9 acres of new and enhanced public space. The centerpiece is a new street from whence the project derives its name. Water Street will begin where Old Water Street dead-ends at Channelside Drive, and it will run north for three blocks, roughly to Finley Street.

"We hope Water Street becomes the heart of downtown Tampa, the core of downtown Tampa," said Nozar. "It will be a two-way street with wide sidewalks, a very heavy retail orientation, a lot of restaurants, and other places that can serve the neighborhood, like a new grocery store and a fitness center."

He said the street will be lined with fully-mature shade trees. A linear park will span the length of the street with a double row of trees lining the park, forming a canopy of shade, reminiscent of La Rambla in Barcelona.

"We really hope it becomes that memorable place that Tampa is known for," said Nozar.

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Construction on the street started last summer. Contractors have leveled the land adjacent to Ferg’s Live, which eventually be closed and relocated to make way for the development. Developers hope to complete the street and the first 18 buildings by the end of 2020, just in time for the Super Bowl in February 2021.

The first building to go up will be USF’s new Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute. Site preparation is already underway at Channelside and Meridian Avenue. Construction will begin on several more buildings this fall.

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The city of Tampa and Hillsborough County have agreed to pay up to $100-million for infrastructure, including the cost of new streets.

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