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Top armory bid envisions market, shops, hotel

The old National Guard site in West Tampa would be transformed for $98-million and create 2,300 new jobs.

By JUSTIN GEORGE
Published August 2, 2006


TAMPA - Imagine a large open-air, European-style market selling organic produce in a West Tampa courtyard.

Ethnic restaurants, cafes and shops would be just a step away inside a converted historic armory. Nearby, there would be Hotel Sevilla, advertised as a place with as much charm as its name conjures.

A park with a water fountain would spring up, and a history museum and art gallery would beckon from another restored building.

This vision took a step towards bricks and mortar Tuesday after a committee ranked Heritage Square LLC its top choice to redevelop the 10.3-acre Fort Homer Hesterly Armory.

The armory at 522 N Howard Ave. served as the National Guard's home until 2004, when the unit moved to Pinellas County.

The guard owns the property, but the city of Tampa holds rights to acquire the building if the guard abandons it. The guard wants to sell the property, and the city agreed to release its rights once both parties agreed on a redeveloper. Thus, a review committee made of two National Guardsmen, two city officials and two community members was assembled to rank six private proposals.

Tuesday, the committee selected Heritage Square, which is made up of local investors led by Thomas Marler, who also serves as chief executive officer of Intelident Solutions in Tampa. That company purchased the Tampa Cuba cigar factory at 1202 N Howard Ave in January and plans to move there after a historic restoration is complete.

Heritage Square plans to turn Fort Homer Hesterly into a 10,000-square-foot open-air market, 300-room hotel, spa and park. Developers also would renovate the West Tampa Cultural Arts Center, a 1940s red-brick building just north of the armory. Heritage would buy the property from the Guard.

According to developers, the project could cost $98.3-million, employ more than 2,300 people and eventually generate $250-million annually.

Heritage Square edged out an ice rink, events center and residential development proposed by Reliant Development partners E. William Henry and Robert C. Goen. The Armory Partners Group's proposal for a mixed-use complex featuring a film studio and soundstage finished third.

"If it doesn't work out with Heritage," said Cyndy Miller, Tampa growth management and development services director, "then it would go on to the next proposal."

Miller said committee members liked the jobs and financial return Heritage Square would generate, and thought an events center would generate too much traffic. They didn't like Landmarc Realty's proposal to demolish the armory, and said Coastal Retail of California's pitch lacked details.

Now, National Guard officials must approve Heritage Square's proposal. Miller and other leaders will present the recommendation to them Aug. 12. If approved, negotiations could begin and the project could eventually wind its way to the City Council.

Justin George can be reached at 813 226-3368 or jgeorge@sptimes.com.

[Last modified August 2, 2006, 06:14:53]


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