Plans for hotel, restaurants, market fall through
TAMPA - Fort Homer Hesterly Armory has a storied history, but a plan to redevelop the Florida National Guard property as a $98 million luxury development has stalled. Following a lengthy selection process, a city-created review committee in 2006 unanimously gave top ranking to Heritage Square at the Armory, a corporate partnership that proposed developing the Tampa landmark into a 300-room hotel, spa and more on the 10 acres at 522 N. Howard Ave. Negotiations with the partnership have failed and the Florida National Guard is exploring other potential buyers for the long-vacant armory. "We reached an impasse and we were asked by the National Guard if we could just pause the negotiations, and we agreed," said Christine Duffy, spokeswoman for Intelident Solutions, owner of Coast Dental Services, the failed project's primary backer. "There's just some terms we were not able to agree on," she said."That's one way to describe it," said Maj. Stephen Stroud, quartermaster at the Florida Department of Military Affairs headquarters, St. Augustine. "Based on the information I have, I don't know if I would characterize it that way. I would say we're pretty much back to square one." Heritage Square's winning bid, in response to a request for ways to redevelop the armory property, proposed a mixed-use retail campus with a five-star hotel, fitness center, farmers market, cafes, restaurants, boutiques, artist studios, park and cultural center. Three years ago the partnership predicted it would be completed by 2011, create 2,000 jobs and boost the local economy by $250 million annually. Two other groups were finalists in the 2006 rankings by the six-member selection committee of residents, city officials and National Guard representatives: ** The Armory Partners Group of Tampa proposed a video, film and sound studio, plus creative arts businesses. The $64 million project was to include retail shops, a grocery store, restaurants and apartments. Armory Partners was formed by four groups interested in developing the property: Tampa Digital, DeBartolo Development, Newkirk Ventures and West Tampa Partners. In October 2007, Tampa Digital moved into an 11,500-square-foot space in Centro Ybor. ** Reliant Development of Tampa submitted a $65-million proposal for an ice rink and multipurpose facility. The rink could be converted to accommodate concerts, basketball games and indoor soccer matches. Stores, restaurants and condominiums also were planned. The National Guard used the armory until 2005, when it shifted most of its local operations to a $47-million facility in Pinellas Park. In 2006, Tampa officials received half a dozen responses to their request for proposals to redevelop the 75,000-square-foot structure. Maj. Stroud led a tour of the armory Thursday for a group exploring its possibilities as a motion picture and television sound stage. "The facility sets up nicely for a production company," he said. Jeff Ginn of Emerge Design Group, Tampa, an experienced creative director for dozens of motion pictures, agrees. During the tour, Ginn measured the facility and its second-floor offices. The armory's main floor of 32,000 square feet is wide open, without supporting beams or other obstructions, making it ideal for accommodating movie set construction, he said. The armory was dedicated the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, but its fame came later as an entertainment venue. Elvis Presley, Tom Jones, The Animals, James Brown, Andy Griffith and the Doors performed there. President Kennedy addressed the Florida Chamber of Commerce at the armory four days before his assassination in Dallas. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. also spoke there. The armory hosted Florida Championship Wrestling matches during the era of grappler Dusty Rhodes, Jack Brisco and announcer Gordon Solie.
Reporter George Wilkens can be reached at (813) 259-7124