While many other metro areas felt a dip during the pandemic, downtown Tampa is experiencing an explosion of growth. Economic development experts say it’s long overdue.
At least 10 projects in the pipeline will stretch 27 stories or more, according to data collected by the Downtown Partnership. The projects, if they avoid pitfalls, will fill out Tampa’s skyline and add thousands of residential units to a downtown that’s still evolving from business district to vibrant city center.
The Tampa Bay Times analyzed city building records to line up Tampa’s next 10 tallest developments and fit them into the current patchy skyline.
While Tampa’s four tallest buildings right now supply much of the city’s office space, one thing unites the 10 tallest skyscrapers that have been planned: they’re all residential buildings. Right now, the tallest apartment building in Tampa is the Element, at 460 feet and 34 stories.
For former Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the lineup of projects is a manifestation of the “live, work, play” vision he championed in the city during his tenure. Buckhorn often speaks of Tampa’s past as a city where downtown sidewalks “rolled up by 5 p.m.”
“At one point, and this may be somewhat of an exaggeration, there were 600 people that lived downtown and 400 of them lived in the Morgan Street jail,” he said.
Buckhorn pits the city against other southeast destinations like Atlanta, Charlotte and Nashville. To be competitive, he said, the city needs to have energy 18 hours per day, not just eight.
At least one new residential building will soon trump the Element’s height by nearly 80 feet. The One Tampa, a 42-story, 225-unit condominium complex, will be complete by 2026.
Two more residential high-rises will open to tenants in 2024: the X Tampa, a 28-story apartment complex with 432 units, and the 31-story Arts and Entertainment Residences with 332 apartments.
An even more ambitious project entered the preliminary review stage this year: a 48-story, 575-foot mixed-use proposal from the Miami-based Related Group for 102 S. Parker St. If the project comes to fruition, it will be the tallest residential building in Tampa and the tallest building west of the Hillsborough River. But it could face plenty of headwinds in the meantime.
Headwinds to development
None of the buildings under development will beat the 559-foot height of Tampa’s current tallest building, 100 N. Tampa, otherwise known as the Regions building. But some will edge into the top 10.
The One Tampa was originally slated to be 54 stories and over 600 feet, beating its tallest neighbors by a fair margin. But developer Kolter Urban scaled back after concerns from the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority over building cranes that could be a hazard to flights in and out of Tampa International Airport, city records show. Now, One Tampa is set to be about 495 feet.
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Any building over 500 feet will likely face harsh scrutiny from the Federal Aviation Administration, said Jeff Siddle, vice president of planning and development for the Tampa International Airport. Downtown Tampa is sandwiched by Peter O. Knight Airport to the south, and Tampa International to the west.
“Developers by their nature are optimists. And sometimes promise more than they can deliver,” Buckhorn said. “They promise things that are outside of their control.”
Projects might get discarded due to litigation or problems in the permitting process, like what forced the One Tampa to downsize.
Then there’s the financials. Higher interest rates and recession fears mean banks have become more selective about the development loans they risk, said Trey Kohrn, the commercial real estate division head at Valley Bank. It’s harder for new developers to break in, but “the right deals are still happening,” Kohrn said.
Projects cost more, too. Last month, for example, the Related Group asked the city of Tampa for an additional $4.25 million to complete one of its prime projects known as Rome Yard, a mixed-use project including office space and 954 apartments and townhouses.
“We are seeing that pipeline slow down, but our hope and optimistic belief is that that it will be a near-term issue,” Kohrn said.
And development takes longer these days. Supply-chain slowdowns for construction materials and labor shortages have persisted since the pandemic years. Those factors slow projects down by anywhere from eight to 12 months, Korhn said.
Buckhorn is particularly enthusiastic about attracting more 18 to 35-year-old professionals with a vibrant downtown. But luxury high-rises are out of play for many young adults. Condos at the One Tampa, for example, start at $1 million.
“I don’t think any fast growing area (is avoiding) a housing challenge and a living challenge of affordability,” said Matt Siegel, leader of Colliers West and Central Florida, a commercial real estate firm.
Buckhorn insists “that’s a good problem to have.”
Becoming a livable city
Downtown Tampa’s infrastructure may need to change as apartment-dwellers flock to the core. Transportation has always been the city’s “Achilles heel,” said Keith Greminger, an urban planning expert at Stantec. Walkability isn’t just pedestrian and bicycle paths or public transportation — it’s also boosting the presence of parks, he said. He pointed to the Riverwalk as a prime example of success.
Water Street has been hailed as a mixed-use, residential panacea for downtown Tampa. Now, Greminger said, Tampa has more places to watch, like Ashley Drive on the west side.
In the end, Tampa’s high-rise transformation may leave it feeling more like St. Petersburg, Greminger said, with a mix of residential and retail evening out office space.
“St. Pete has had residents living in its urban core for 30, 40, 50 years. Tampa has its first decade of urban dwellers,” he said. “The city is going to continue to mature and create the livable environment that St. Pete already has.”
Read More: How the next decade will shape Tampa’s skyline