Seminole Heights transforms into hot real estate market

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Tampa's Seminole Heights is changing every day. A drive down Florida Avenue used to be filled with car lots, but not anymore.

In just the last three years, more than 30 businesses have opened up along Florida Avenue, helping to turn this once crumbling 1920s neighborhood into one of the hottest real estate markets in the Bay Area.

"What we're experiencing that's different today than in the past is that we're getting the residential investment as well as the commercial investment and that's really what's going to bring the neighborhood up and keep it that way," explained Pineywoods realtor Michael Kahn, who specializes in Seminole Heights realty and also calls the neighborhood home. "It's nice to see people come through and take a gamble on the neighborhood. They're making the capital investment."

The Seminole Heights boom is thanks in large part to its small business owners, many of whom actually walk to work, taking a leap of faith.

"We were one of the first shops to open and people would come in and say, 'Oh my gosh, this is such a beautiful shop and you have such great stuff, but why did you pick to open here next to all the car lots?'" recalled Cleanse Apothecary owner Greg Curtis, who also lives in Seminole Heights. "When I opened almost seven years ago, there wasn't any retail at all and I found myself leaving Seminole Heights if I wanted to buy anything. I felt like if I wanted to see changes in the neighborhood I had to be one of the people to make the change."

His gamble is paying off. Many of those car lots have given way to new and eclectic neighbors. Curtis' shop is nestled between The Rooster & Till restaurant and Urban Bungalow, a coffee shop that features plenty of Seminole Heights branded home goods.

"I think people, especially people who've lived in Tampa for a long time, have been programmed to not look left or right when they're driving down Florida Avenue," said Urban Bungalow owner David Hansen. "I would just tell people look left and right because you're going to see new restaurants, new breweries, new bars, new retail stores."

Just next door to them, at the corner of Lambright Street and N. Florida, an old auto repair shop is in the process of being transformed into the home of three new businesses: a rum distillery, a wine bar and a sandwich shop.

"When I first got here, I felt like it was just car lots, and now, more and more, you're seeing new designs and new concepts, restaurants, bars and businesses," said Twisted Sun Rum Distillery co-owner Kevin Casey, whose distillery, tasting room and gift shop, set to open in 2017, will be Tampa's first rum distillery since the prohibition era. 

Casey moved to Seminole Heights five years ago. After watching other breweries and bars successfully set up shop on Florida Avenue, he and co-founder Joey Boothby had no doubts about where they wanted to launch their new business venture.  

"I had complete confidence in the community. I see how much support the other local breweries have gotten that've opened up here and that's just where I wanted to be," said Casey.

"It's all about small business in Seminole heights. Shop local, eat local," explained Chris Zoller, a Brainard Realty realtor and Seminole Heights neighbor. "If you go to the Refinery or to Revolution Ice Cream, you're helping to pay for the meals of these families. It's a cool feeling."

The business boom along Florida Avenue is also creating a real estate boom around it. Realtors say Seminole Heights is becoming one of the most sought-after neighborhoods in the Bay Area, thanks to its unique vibe, walkability and affordability. In the last three years home prices have shot up 20- to 50-percent.

"It's a hot neighborhood because you can live here, you can work here, you can have fun here and walk to plenty of it," said Zoller.