TAMPA - Trustees of Tampa's Straz Center for the Performing Arts have a front-row seat for the proposed development of a high-rise apartment building between their theater and the Tampa Museum of Art. On Monday afternoon, they let Mayor Bob Buckhorn know how they felt about the 38-story project, dubbed the Residences at the Riverwalk. Retired drama teacher Don E. Jones Jr. made his point -- obscured behind a centerpiece of tall plastic daffodils -- that the tower is out of scale with its neighbors. "This new edifice is just not suitable," Jones said.
The scale of the proposed tower was a common concern among those opposed to the proposal by developers Intown/Framework Group, the same group that built downtown Skypoint and Element high rises in the mid-2000s. Supporters of the project seemed to be in the minority at Monday's gathering. They tended to echo the sentiments of the developers and Buckhorn, who see the tower as an important step toward making downtown a vibrant, round-the-clock place. "It's about a city moving forward," said Santiago Corrada, head of Visit Tampa Bay, the region's tourism board. Until May, Corrada was Buckhorn's chief of staff. "It's about not being paralyzed by the what-if's," Corrada said. The gathering was the latest step in a effort to gain the backing of the Straz Center's trustees, who worry the project could be detrimental to the theater. That's particularly true for the first phase, which would straighten Tyler Street and redesign the Straz's complicated arrival plaza -- thing the city, which owns the Straz, cannot easily afford to do itself. Developers Phillip Smith and Greg Minder have agreed to hold off on those alterations until next spring to avoid impinging on the Straz's November-to-May Broadway series of musicals. "That was always a major point of concern for them," said Phillip Smith, president of the Framework Group. "That's taken a big pressure off," Straz's chief executive Judy Lisi said Monday. "The traffic situation here is already very challenging on show nights. If the streets were obstructed, it could really be a financial disaster for us." The developers have also agreed to keep the overhead walkway that connects the theater with the city's Poe parking garage, although the design of the walkway will change, Smith said Monday. Smith and Minder plan to build their 380-unit tower on a one-acre parcel of city-owned land between Cass and Tyler streets. They will pay the city $4 million for the land, which will cover the cost of realigning Tyler, along with turning it and Cass from one-way to two-way streets. Supporters of the tower say the height is less important than what's at ground level: 10,000 square feet of retail and an overland segment of Riverwalk linking between Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park and the Straz. Then there will be the 500 new residents of downtown living a few steps from the Straz's front door, Buckhorn noted. Opposition by the Straz's board has been enough to delay rezoning of the tower site until Aug. 8. "We very much wanted the Straz to be part of the discussion from the beginning," Buckhorn said after hearing the trustees' concerns. "I care about their opinions." [email protected] (813) 259-7871 Twitter: @kwiatrowskiTBO