Developers betting on urban revival with downtown tower
TAMPA - The pair of developers planning a huge residential tower near the Straz Center have seen some of the best and worst that Florida real estate has had to offer in recent years. If successful now, Greg Minder and Philip Smith will change the skyline of downtown Tampa, adding a 36-story high-rise tower with ground-floor retail, five floors of parking and 30 residential floors with a total of 350 units. Speaking of the downtown area, Minder said, "it's been years of work, but all these pieces are starting to come together." To seal the deal,Mayor Bob Buckhorn is proposing the city sell the developers an acre-sized space between Cass and Tyler streets for $4 million. It still must get City Council approval.But the proposed tower is very much a project of two men, both of whom live in Tampa. Greg Minder, 43, is the president of InTown Group LLC. Born in Springfield, Ill., Minder is a specialist in downtown city development who's already built the SkyPoint condo tower in downtown Tampa that's sold out, and the adjacent Element tower that's primarily rental apartments, also essentially full. InTown also is building a 37-unit, upscale residential development in the Channel District that has onsite parking, a rooftop pool and spa with poolside cabanas. Built as the housing bubble was still inflating, the Element and SkyPoint towers helped revitalize the area along the waterfront, and spurred a slew of restaurant, retail and apartment development that fronts Curtis Hixon park. Like most Florida developers, Minder has had plans that didn't materialize. At one point in the mid-2000s, he envisioned another tower in the Channel District, and a 47-story condo and hotel called "Twelve" that was to be next to Element. The housing downturn put those plans on ice, along with scores of other projects by other developers in the region, including the non-started Trump Tower on the river and a spindle-like tower at the corner of Kennedy Boulevard and the Hillsborough River. All those projects have helped inform the design for the new tower, Minder said, which would have a slew of new building techniques, and specifications that would let the building convert to condos if the market wanted that. Rents would likely fall in the same range as Element, in the area of $2 per square foot. The other partner in the project is Philip Smith, 44, president of Framework Group LLC. Born in Pensacola, Smith has worked as a consultant, developer and general contractor who in recent years specialized in both new construction and helping refurbish housing projects. That includes the 55-unit Oakview project on 40th Street, funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Neighborhood Stabilization Program, and Cypress Landing, a 36-unit apartment project just outside MacDill Air Force Base funded by HUD's Urban Development Community Development Block Grant. But he's also led more upscale projects, including the Varela, a five-story, 350-unit apartment project now under development that's within walking distance to International Plaza. During his career, Smith also has worked for the luxury home developer Toll Brothers Inc., earned a Bachelor of Architecture degree from Auburn University and a Master of Architecture degree from Harvard University. A fan of the famous architects such as Peter Eisenman and the sculptor Donald Judd, he appreciates buildings where the structural elements are visible. That's one reason the tower near the Straz Center will have an art deco theme. The new tower doesn't yet have a name. It could cost $85 million, including $4 million to acquire the land from the city, and it would very much test the local market's appetite for rental units. Despite historically low interest rates for home mortgages, many developers, including Tampa's DeBartolo Development, are pouring into the rental market to access more families who have either been displaced from their homes or who simply don't see home ownership as the best option for them right now. Buckhorn, notably, said investors have far more interest in backing projects in the rental market, versus condo development. That's helped restart or re-envision a slew of development projects, including the former Georgetown Apartments spanning 162 acres, the former Wenczel Tile site south of that on West Shore Boulevard with 246 units, the NoHo Flats project at West Carmen Street and North Rome Avenue with 311 units, the former Whiskey Park site with 231 units, the Circle Bayshore project at Bayshore Boulevard and Beach Place with 367 units and a project called Legacy Westshore Apartments on West Spruce Street near International Plaza with 300 units. With this project, Minder and Smith are targeting the urban-minded or arts-minded resident, whether they are a start-up entrepreneur interested in a downtown buzz, or empty-nester who wants to walk out their door to a Broadway show at the Straz. Both Minder and Smith say they're seeing a wide variety of progress in downtown — new hotels, other new rental projects and more companies bringing jobs to Tampa. "It takes patience," Smith said. "But this will help make Tampa a better place to live."
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