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Warehouse may bow to upscale living space

Tampa planners hope to reclaim the industrial waterfront to allow homes, offices and apartments.

© St. Petersburg Times
published June 21, 2002

For years, the hulking warehouse on West Shore Boulevard employed hundreds of workers, cranking out industrial boilers for nuclear power plants and then ships for the U.S. Navy.

But the one-time site of Westinghouse soon may be coming down and replaced by waterfront homes.

Tampa's city planners say the 66-acre warehouse location is the last major parcel zoned for industry along West Shore south of Gandy Boulevard.

Now it's in the process of being rezoned to accommodate a mix of houses and apartments, and perhaps office space and a restaurant.

"I wouldn't call it a trend yet," said Rick Harcrow, a Tampa lawyer who is representing the landowner, South Westshore Corp. "But there's finally some attention being given to this area."

Harcrow said the development details haven't been worked out, in part because of environmental concerns. But local planners say an upscale project is in the works.

"This will be a showcase," said senior city planner Tony Garcia.

WCI Communities, a home builder with master-planned communities throughout Florida, including Sun City Center, has a contract for the land, Harcrow said.

Chris Malzone, a Hillsborough County city-county planning commissioner, said word is the development will be akin to a "Harbour Island project," with high-end homes and boat slips.

"I was very thrilled," said Malzone, who lives in Port Tampa.

Last week, the Tampa City Council sent the proposed land use change to the state for review. If the state likes the plan, it should be back before City Council for a vote this fall.

Attorney Harcrow said it's unclear how much of the land, dotted with cabbage palms and a smattering of oaks, is environmentally sensitive. The north end of the property has wetlands and a creek.

Until those systems are mapped, the developer can't figure out what goes where, Harcrow said.

The land is also in a coastal area at higher-than-average risk for hurricanes, which is why the state is taking a look at it. City planners say the high-hazard designation could result in fewer homes.

Westinghouse Electric built the giant building -- large enough to hold eight football fields -- in the 1960s. It was sold in 1989 to American Ship Building, which is owned by George Steinbrenner. It has been unused since 1993.

South Westshore Corp. bought the land last year for $6-million.

There's still plenty of industry near South West Shore.

Tyson Avenue on the north end of the warehouse property is a hardscrabble mix of railroad tracks, metallic fuel tanks and towering cranes. Two other warehouses, with big asphalt parking lots and dozens of trucks, sit adjacent to the former Westinghouse land.

The new project "is not going to run industry out of the area," Harcrow said.

But, to some, the warehouse land seems destined to go the way of other bayside properties. Places where older generations worked are being turned into neighborhoods where new generations live.

Tampa has been "the Pittsburgh of the South in terms of turning our worst face toward the waterfront," Harcrow said. Now "we can go back and reclaim some waterfront."

So far, there have been no objections from the public.

If the project materializes, it will join a part of South Tampa suffering from multiple personality disorder.

West Shore south of Gandy is home to high-end apartments with terra cotta roofing, middle-income apartments where Ford Escorts park next to BMWs and a mobile home park with boarded-up windows. In neighborhoods on the east side of West Shore, $200,000 homes rise next to older ones worth half as much.

"It's a rather eclectic mix," said city planner Garcia.

In another development, the city will begin work this fall on a $4-million project to add a third lane to West Shore Boulevard between Gandy and Interbay. The city will also add sidewalks on both sides of the road and 10 raised medians for landscaping.

Some residents like what they're seeing.

The changes could "spur redevelopment of these areas that are somewhat blighted," Malzone said.

But others worry about crowded schools, higher taxes and too many yuppies changing the area's personality.

"We're not Harbour Island," said Gandy Gardens resident Helen Price. "We're just little folks down here."

-- Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Ron Matus can be reached at 226-3405 or

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