Tampa: America’s Next Great City! Well…Detroit says that about themselves to. And Fargo. And, like…any city. A chamber of commerce cliche. The “State of Tampa” is a whole, broad concept that could fill an entire blog. I’m not gonna bother with that, and just cut to the point. Ignoring South Tampa, Westshore, Brandon and all the surrounding neighborhoods, suburbs and components of the metro area, let’s just make this easy and focus on Tampa’s downtown. Considering the abysmal downward spiral it took in the 90′s, great strides have been taken. The Riverwalk, Curtis Hixon Park, the new Art Museum, the Children’s Museum, the dramatic bridge lighting and a myriad of other public works projects, met with new residences such as Skypoint and Element, and new dining options like Taco Bus. All just in the last few years, plus hosting the Republican National Convention; all spurred by Mayor Iorio and catalyzed by Mayor Buckhorn (God among mayors himself). An declaration of praise to Bob Buckhorn is something that will also have to wait. Point being, the area made big strides, it’s just not “there” just yet. But it’s getting closer.
In 2012, new ventures like Carmel Cafe, Grill One Sixteen, the Oxford Exchange and the massive behemoth LA Fitness sprung up all around South Tampa. Now the ever worshiped (at least by anyone from Pennsylvania) Wawa is expanding and set to open here soon. Wha…Wawa? Great place, it really is…there’s just no way to say it without sounding like an idiot. Additionally Bern’s Epicurean Hotel is set to open next year. Okay, back to downtown. My point there was, the economy seems to be turning around. 2012 was a big year for South Tampa, 2013 may be a big year for downtown. Securing those permeant residents through apartment developments like Skypoint and Element was critical. It ups the demand for basic necessities such as restaurants, general merchandise and grocery stores, bars and nightlife and various services. Then follows major retailers like department stores and entertainment destinations like multiplex movie theaters. High volumes of office space only allot so much activity and trade…9 to 5 business, places only open for breakfast and lunch, coffee shops, news shops, dry cleaners and…that’s about it. Securing temporary residents, via hotels, is also key. Downtown has always been slightly below par in the hotel department. The Floridan Palace is a solid example of historic restoration at its finest. An eighty-year-old homeless lodge, meth house and makeshift brothel turned luxury boutique hotel. Marriott Waterside, Embassy Suites, Hyatt Regency, Sheraton Riverwalk…smaller ones like a Courtyard, Residence Inn and Howard Johnson (overrun by UT students) and that’s it, save a few less than 5-star motels. In the past, talk came here and there about a Ritz-Carlton, a W and other big name hotels. And then there was Trump Tower turned Trump Dirt and Scrub Palm Lot. Now, that may change. Donnald just won’t be involved…darn.
Not one but four hotel projects have at least been planned for downtown. Mind you, I’ll get excited if they make it to ribbon cutting or at least ground breaking. One of the most talked about converts the former federal courthouse at Florida and Twiggs, into Le Meridien, a boutique hotel. This would create a “boutique” hoity-toity corridor linking it to the Floridan Palace and the abandoned Kress, Woolworth and Newbury buildings (assuming they become something). The next big one is a bland, old low riser right at Kennedy and Ashley that’s been empty for years. The Mercantile Bank building, right at the gateway to downtown, this could soon become a notch in Starwood’s Aloft hotels belt. Aloft, a hotel for the thrifty yet contemporary-minded yuppie still come across as a neat presence, typically with striking architecture. The last big one is the glassy Hyatt Regency, which is already no longer a Hyatt. Already part of Hilton, it is in the early stages of a major renovation to roll it over to a 4-star Hilton by the end of the year. The Hilton name won’t come until the end of the renovation. In the meantime…it’s simply called the “Hotel Tampa”. Having an already dated hotel, now billed with a seemingly cardboard sign that simply reads “HOTEL TAMPA” is not helping with the image. And that’s really the best they could do for a temporary name? In the meantime, it looks like a former luxury hotel that’s been bought by a Trump type and flipped into a pay-by-the-hour type lodging. Hopefully big things will be to come. Additionally, a fourth joint office/hotel concept is planned by Trammell Crow at Morgan Street near Brorien St; OR&L Facility Services has recently acquired the Trump Lot and issued an architect RFP; and the city recently announced a major residential tower project between the Straz Center, art museum, Riverwalk and library. All four hotel concepts are detailed in a Tribune article, and more are being talked about by the week. Assuming the economy doesn’t fall into the toilet again, maybe Tampa really can call itself “America’s next great city”.