The new owners of Hyde Park Village envision a dramatic redevelopment of the open-air dining and shopping area, fueled to an extent by pinot grigio, or at least by shoppers who know the difference between a good and bad pinot.
This week, officials with WS Development formally started a kind of listening tour with neighborhood associations to hear their hopes and dreams for the facility on Swann Avenue and to lay out the philosophical thinking behind how the site will evolve.
The first stop was meeting with the Cafe con Tampa group of neighborhood leaders Friday morning.
“We recognize that there is something very special about the village,” Louis C. Masiello, vice president of development for the Chestnut Hill, Mass.-based WS Development, told the group, which all but took over Hugo’s restaurant on South Howard Avenue. “We see an opportunity to resuscitate the whole village.”
Hyde Park Village has struggled in recent years with competition from major shopping malls like International Plaza and WestShore Plaza, as well as competition from online shopping and discounters such as Wal-Mart.
WS Development purchased the mall this fall for $45 million and has been going through an intensive survey of the site structures and existing lease terms. Recently, it hired architects, including one who played a major role in developing the Oxford Exchange.
As the meeting started Friday, Masiello discounted the idea of adding a massive residential tower to the site. While previous owners had the area rezoned to allow such a component, Masiello said the focus of WS was on retail development, nationally and in the village.
WS owns and operates 85 sites nationwide, with a total of more than 20 million square feet of space under management. In dealing regularly with shops and restaurants, Masiello said there is a group of independent-minded operators that have looked intently at Tampa for locations, but didn’t feel like they would be at home at large shopping malls. Hyde Park Village gives them a huge opportunity now, he said.
Several neighbors asked about the potential for a hotel, which Masiello said was possible and, in general, could bring in different kinds of visitors. However, he said a hotel was not mandatory for their plans.
WS has hired attorney and former Hillsborough County Commissioner Ed Turanchik as a local counselor. It has also hired the Atlanta-based Smith Dalia Architects, which had a key role in developing the Oxford Exchange downtown, the mere mention of which drew “oohs” and “aahs” from the crowd. WS also hired the Tampa-based, well-regarded retail architecture firm api(+), which focuses on retail and shopping development and is designing the ultra-upscale Del Frisco’s Grille on Boy Scout Boulevard.
WS also wants to look at somehow slowing down traffic along Swann Avenue, perhaps with raised crosswalks or wide medians and landscaping to help tell drivers they’re in a shopping area, rather than just a thoroughfare.
One big challenge will be what they call “Block H,” the wedge-shaped building along West Snow Avenue that’s essentially vacant and where previous owners envisioned a residential tower. That site has some structural problems, meaning WS will either need to start a significant renovation or build a new, better retail building in its place.
As for the timeline ahead, Masiello said the five months since the purchase were a “blink of an eye” in the world of commercial development, but residents should start to see new retailers and restaurants in the coming months, not years.
Neighbors should not expect the site to go downscale, WS officials said. Rather, they expect to bring in more upscale and independent retailers and restaurants. When one neighbor asked about beer festivals that have packed the area, Masiello said that while festivals are nice, they’ll be targeting more of a “pinot grigio” crowd.
“We’ll make sure events are tailored to the property,” he said.
Neighbors applauded several times and seemed thrilled at the plans WS laid out, as well as the knowledge WS officials had of seemingly every detail of the site – from sidewalk paths to local park names to how the village interacts with SoHo nightlife on nearby South Howard Avenue.
“With the economy still slowly recovering, it’s nice to see they have a track record of successful sites,” said Rosemary Henderson, who has lived in the same house near Hyde Park Village for 43 years. “I’d hate to imagine what life would be like around here without the village. It’s the core of our neighborhood.”