Ultra high-end restaurants aren't the only ones moving into the West Shore area.
A number of semi-casual and mass-market restaurants are coming in, too. Construction could start this month on a new LongHorn Steakhouse, Olive Garden and Pei Wei Asian Diner in a new complex of buildings on West Shore Boulevard, just south of Boy Scout Boulevard.
At one point, those brand names were just hypothetical ideas in an architectural rendering that made the real estate rounds in town. Now, executives with those companies have signed leases for the site.
That site is in the shadow of the new, quite-popular Container Store that opened this year in what real estate executives call "The Corner" at the entrance to International Plaza.
"The Corner development has been in the works for almost five years," said Larry Anderson, a real estate executive in Tampa who does work across the East Coast and first envisioned a project there years before the downturn.
Plans then included several acres at the corner, and wrapped around an existing La Quinta hotel/motel. Then the real estate market blew up in 2008 and everything sat dormant. When the market improved in 2011 and 2012, stores and restaurants started hunting for space again and Anderson orchestrated a Phase 1 with Saber Real Estate Advisors that included a huge new Container Store, plus a Lime Fresh restaurant and a Select Comfort retail store.
Both those stores far exceeded their sales projections upon opening, Anderson said. In the next few weeks, lawyers should close a deal on Anderson's Phase 2, the site immediately to the south on West Shore Boulevard with Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse, AT&T Mobile, Pei Wei and the workout gear store Gym Source.
That will take the place of a Rainbow airport parking lot that's now being cleared in preparation for ground work.
Those new restaurants should do well in the area, as some local business groups calculate there are tens of thousands of office workers located in the immediate area.
Most of the existing restaurants tend to skew to an affluent spender. There are the established locations like Fleming's, Roy's, Seasons 52, P.F. Chang's, The Palm, Mitchell's Fish Market, plus those in International Plaza. The neighborhood has seen several other high-end newcomers: Cooper's Hawk Winery & Restaurant opened in March and the ultra-high end seafood restaurant Eddie V's opened in April.
To an extent, the balance is diversifying, as a Grimaldi's pizza restaurant opened at WestShore Plaza, and McAlister's Deli should open in July on Boy Scout Boulevard.
Meanwhile, Anderson joked that he's worked on the Corner project so long that he'd prefer not to calculate his hourly wage on it. "Seeing it come to fruition," he said, "is personally very satisfying."