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Tower trio could soar
into Tampa's skyline

Heritage Park, with an amphitheater and walkway to the waterfront, would seek to keep people downtown after hours.

photo
Courtesy of the Hogan Group
The centerpiece of the Heritage Park office complex would stand out with its stone-look facade similar to classic skyscrapers. Click here for a full skyline photo rendering

By KYLE PARKS

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 29, 2000


TAMPA -- A Tampa developer on Tuesday proposed the largest office project ever built in the city's downtown, a $200-million development that would include three office towers and a park with an amphitheater for outdoor concerts.

The ambitious project, on a 9 1/2-acre tract just south of the downtown's core, would be called Heritage Park.

The Hogan Group plans to start the 1-million-square-foot development with the largest building, a 40-story skyscraper called Heritage Tower that would be the third-tallest in the Tampa Bay area. The 100 North Tampa and Barnett Plaza buildings in downtown Tampa are each 42 stories.

The project is no sure thing because the developer must still land tenants for 200,000 of Heritage Tower's 500,000 square feet to get financing. The question is whether downtown Tampa has recovered sufficiently from the overbuilding of the early '90s, when vacancy rates for top-of-the-line office space soared to 26 percent.

But the Hogan Group has a track record of delivering on its projects, and this one has backing from two partners with deep pockets, giant pension fund TIAA-CREF and Naples-based landowner Collier Enterprises. Also, downtown's towers have been filling up: The vacancy rate for top-quality "Class A" office space is now at a relatively low 11 percent.

The Heritage Tower building, made of precast concrete designed to look like stone, would be reminiscent of classic Manhattan skyscrapers such as the Empire State Building and Rockefeller Center. It would sit next to a 4-acre park with an amphitheater that could host 3,000 people for outdoor concerts.

If the development is built, it would be the first significant office project in downtown Tampa since 1992. Its success would be a major boost to an office district that turns into a ghost town after its 45,000 workers leave at the end of the day.

Right now, the site just north of the Lee Roy Selmon Crosstown Expressway has nothing but parking lots. But the new development would include a covered walkway designed to encourage pedestrian traffic to such waterfront attractions as the Ice Palace, the new Tampa Marriott Waterside hotel and the planned Channelside movie/retail/restaurant complex.

"The idea is to connect the traditional downtown with the water," said Mike Hogan, chief executive of the Hogan Group, which is also the developer for the Channelside project, set to open in November.

If everything goes according to schedule, the tower would open in early 2003, with the other two office buildings -- each planned to be 250,000 square feet -- coming later.

[Times art]
Still, the challenges are steep. The developers must hope that the economy continues its record run. A competing downtown project, a planned 41-story building called the Hillsborough River Tower, is also looking for tenants. And around the Tampa Bay area, there is 1.1-million square feet of speculative office space already under construction, though it's all in the suburbs.

"This is a big bet, but it seems like time for someone to step forward and do something downtown," said Larry Richey, who runs Florida operations for the Cushman & Wakefield real estate company.

Around the Southeast, construction is starting in downtowns that have absorbed most of the extra space created in the overbuilding binge of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Two new towers have opened in downtown Orlando, and another is on the way. Similar growth is under way along Brickell Avenue in downtown Miami.

Developers feel confident because the vacancy rate for Class A downtown office space around Florida is averaging 9.4 percent. Such low vacancy rates historically have been a signal that a market is ready for more space.

Some commercial real estate experts say the losers in this new round of construction could be owners of older downtown towers, where many tenants are nearing the end of 15- to 20-year leases.

The Hogan Group's head-to-head competition for tenants will come from the planned 920,000-square-foot Hillsborough River Tower, which would be near the University of Tampa, across the river from downtown's core. Its developer has struggled to find an anchor tenant.

"We feel like we have a superior location," said Mike Hogan. "We are within walking distance of so much."

John LaRocca, who is handling leasing for the Hillsborough River Tower, thinks the two projects really won't be facing off head-to-head.

He's pitching the river project as a pricey, flashy product. "Our building would be more for a headquarters-type tenant," he said. "And in some ways, new construction anywhere in downtown helps us, because it helps get the word out that it's now a place that has new space available."

Beyond the location of Heritage Tower, Hogan will pitch its parking and large floor plans. The building will offer three parking spaces per 1,000 square feet -- most downtown towers offer only one -- and wide-open floor spaces ranging from 30,000 square feet at the bottom to 12,000 square feet at the top.

"Parking rules," said Nancy Herz, an office broker with the CB Richard Ellis real estate company. "Anyone who can deliver parking downtown will have a successful project."

Still, the Hogan Group knows pulling this off won't be easy, and as longtime Tampa developers, its executives know the value of perseverance. The company struggled for years to get the Channelside movie/retail/restaurant complex, its other major downtown project, off the ground.

If Heritage Park makes people feel more comfortable walking south from downtown's core at night, it would help Channelside, which is now 70 percent leased but will face tough competition from the Centro Ybor complex a mile away.

Heritage Tower, the project's signature building

[Courtesy of the Hogan Group]

photo

The Hogan Group is negotiating with a company that would build an amphitheater on the Heritage Park site for concerts. "Venues of this size are usually for concerts by music groups that are on their way up or on their way down," said John Twomey, Hogan Group's vice president of development.

The goal: help turn downtown into a place to be, both day and night.

"The idea of combining a park with the office buildings is used a lot more in other cities such as Dallas," said John Twomey, vice president of development for the Hogan Group. "In downtown Tampa, the towers have usually just gotten enough land for a building and a parking garage."

The project's signature building, Heritage Tower, was designed by HOK Architects in Tampa, where architects looked at photos of 1930s skyscrapers for inspiration.

"Mike Hogan wanted something that would age well," said Chris Osborn, vice president of HOK's Tampa office. With that in mind, HOK figured out a way to set the windows back in the concrete. "Some depth in the facade will give it a sense of permanence," Osborn said.

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