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Grocery and hotel deals in reach for Tampa Encore project

TAMPA — After failing to land both Publix and Walmart, the Tampa Housing Authority says it is close to a deal to bring another well-known grocer to its Encore project.

The agency expects to enter into a contract in the next 30 days for the sale of a 1-acre parcel to a developer for the construction of a 15,000-square-foot grocery store, said Leroy Moore, Housing Authority chief operating officer.

And that may not be the only development at the 28-acre mixed-income project on the northeast edge of downtown Tampa. Talks also are under way with a hotel chain to build two hotels, Moore said. One would be a 250-room hotel aimed at millennials; the other, a 200-room hotel for upscale travelers.

"The market has swung in our favor," said Moore. "We hope to have letters of intent very soon."

A grocery store would be a welcome addition for Encore residents, many of whom are elderly and do not have their own transportation. The community, which replaced Central Park Village, already comprises roughly 460 units in three residential blocks, including two senior buildings.

But those who have lived there for several years have endured several false starts.

Publix looked at buying two Encore lots in 2013 but decided against the project. Two years later, it decided to build a 37,600-square-foot store less than half a mile away at Twiggs Street and Meridian Avenue in Channelside.

Walmart also entered into talks for two lots at Encore in 2014, but Housing Authority officials balked at the retail giant's request to fill a neighboring lot with parking spaces.

Moore declined to name the new grocer but said it is a recognizable name.

With a new Publix so close by, Encore's grocer is likely to be a store aimed at lower-income shoppers, predicted Paul Rutledge, first vice president at CBRE Inc., a commercial real estate services firm.

"Let's say Publix captures all the high-income buyers, then you are limited to another tier of grocers," Rutledge said. "Maybe it's an Aldi, a Lidl or a neighborhood Walmart."

Any prospective grocer will likely be watching closely to see how well the new Publix performs before fully committing to the project, he said.

The negotiations for two new hotels on the southwest part of Encore come after the Housing Authority last year terminated a $7.4 million contract with Pinnacle Group Holdings. Officials said Pinnacle was given two years but failed to close on a deal to buy land and develop a hotel and residential block.

Pinnacle fired back in February by suing the Housing Authority to release records it states would show that the agency was working behind the scenes to get another developer, Miami-based Related Group, to take over the project.

Moore said the two hotels now being proposed are different brands under the same parent company but declined to name the firm.

"I'm pretty confident," he said. "They've been pretty aggressive."

Faedo's, a restaurant with Latin cuisine, and a barbershop are expected to be the first businesses to open at Encore in the next few months, using retail spaces on the ground floor of the community's residential towers.

But a planned Westshore Pizza location will not happen now because of a change in ownership, Moore said.

The false starts Encore has endured are not uncommon for urban in-fill projects, said Rutledge.

Planners must strike a balance between having enough residents to support new businesses while giving residents and visitors enough reasons to want to be there. That is tough to achieve when the community is developed piecemeal, he said.

He warned that Encore may struggle for a while and some businesses may fail before it has the mass to be a vibrant community.

"Old Hyde Park is a pretty pristine, luxury area and has gone through several different iterations," Rutledge said. "It's not as easy as it looks, and this is not as good as Hyde Park."

Contact Christopher O'Donnell at codonnell@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3446.

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