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Riverside project is stymied by landowners

Owners of two key pieces of waterfront land do not sell, spoiling the grand design. Some Tampa Heights residents are happy to see the proposal go.

By CHRISTOPHER GOFFARD

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 15, 2000


TAMPA -- Unable to acquire two crucial pieces of waterfront property, developers have walked away from a $217-million plan to transform the fraying neighborhood around the old Tampa police headquarters into a waterfront haven replete with boat slips and a riverwalk.

Centex, a Dallas construction giant, and the Hogan Group, a local real estate firm, proposed the network of townhomes, shops, restaurants, office towers and a 70-slip marina in November 1999.

The city hoped the plan would revitalize a 70-acre chunk of Tampa Heights along the Hillsborough River, a historic neighborhood just north of downtown.

But the plan hinged on whether developers would be able to buy waterfront properties from Tampa Armature Works and Tampa Gateway Marine.

Ron Rotella, development consultant to Mayor Dick Greco, said Armature Works just didn't want to sell, and a sales agreement could not be reached with Tampa Gateway Marine.

"There was no sense in assuming there would be a breakthrough," Rotella said, adding that in recent weeks the city and the developers have agreed to terminate talks on the project. The city sent fliers to residents this week alerting them to the development.

What happens next?

Rotella said the city will rethink its options, meet with neighbors and property owners, and seek input about alternate developments. Rotella said the collapse was a letdown.

"Whenever you have an opportunity to have 70 acres right on the waterfront, immediately adjacent to downtown, immediately adjacent to the interstate, sure it's a disappointment" when it falls through, Rotella said. "People in growing areas are tired of the commute and are looking to move back in town. That would have been a great asset to downtown."

John Twomey, spokesman for the Hogan Group, said the company still had an interest in the area but had reached an impasse. The new development would have been called River Bend, and its focal point would have been the riverwalk.

"It's a beautiful area. It certainly ripe for revitalization," Twomey said. "We've spent tens of thousands of dollars and a year of our time trying to move forward, but a project of this magnitude and complexity has its share of hurdles." Twomey said there were about 12 people on the development team.

In March and April 1999, Tampa Heights residents expressed chagrin on receiving belated notice that the city had redevelopment plans in the works, which included designating the area "blighted" in order to buy up property more easily. The city apologized.

Council member Linda Saul-Sena said she held out hopes for the area, despite the plan's collapse. "Even if this particular deal fell through, I'm very optimistic that another developer will step forward and see it as workable," she said.

The collapse of plans to build River Bend isn't a disappointment to some residents, who fear being ousted. "Everybody loves this area," said resident Richard Brooks. "Everybody's been here for years. Everybody's comfortable. Everybody's fine."

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