The debate over the newest high-rise plan on the Hillsborough River rages on. Monday, both sides of the issue had their say at the board of trustees meeting for the Straz Center for the Performing Arts.
At question is the $88 million, 36-story Residences at Riverwalk project—set between the David A. Straz Jr. Center and Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park. Opponents to the plan say it is just too disruptive for the flourishing arts neighborhood.
The board came to the meeting severely divided on the issue. Some argued the massive tower would dwarf the surrounding area, including the Straz Center, John F. Germany Public Library, Curtis Hixon and the Tampa Museum of Art.
A recent Tampa Bay Times editorial fell on that side of the conflict, echoed Monday evening by trustee Don E. Jones.
“This building is too big,” Jones told the committee. “(It is) just not suitable.”
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn insists it is not the height of the building, but the amenities it will present at ground level that will make the tower a key feature for downtown. The Residences will become an integrated part of the pedestrian experience on the riverfront walkway, he said.
Buckhorn believes the facilities would make it, and the surrounding area, more attractive to young professionals.
Buckhorn’s presence at the meeting — he reportedly stayed throughout the entire meeting — also turned heads. Critics of the tower said afterward that they did not want to speak out directly against Buckhorn.
The plan provides 10,000 square feet of ground floor retail and dining. Buckhorn sees those features as more productive than focusing simply on the tower’s height. As for “blocking” the waterfront—another concern of naysayers — the tower will be 200 feet away from the edge of the Hillsborough River, more than both the Straz Center (at 67 feet) or the Tampa Museum of Art (127 feet).
Beyond the scale of the tower, other issues were disruptions in the Tyler Street traffic patterns and the elevated walkway connecting the William F. Poe Parking Garage, the library and the Straz Center. Any construction and related traffic would affect the series of events held at the Straz from November to May.
Recently, developers Greg Minder of the Intown Group and Phillip Smith of the Framework Group told the city they would hold off on any modifications until next spring, to avoid impacting the Center’s popular Broadway series. They also promised to keep the overhead walkway, with some changes, in the finished plans.
Buckhorn said that selling the property to the developers would produce enough funds to make improvements to the surrounding street grid. The city could make Cass and Tyler streets into two-way roads, alleviating traffic jams and providing better access to the entry of the Straz Center.
“It’s about a city moving forward,” Santiago Corrada told reporters Monday. Corrada chairs the local tourism board Visit Tampa Bay and was recently the mayor’s chief of staff.
Although the Straz group has no real veto power over the project, they would continue to evaluate the proposal, which includes developers paying $4 million — still to be negotiated and approved by the city — for property behind the Germany Public Library.
The board’s findings will then go to the Tampa City Council, who will make a decision on the project Aug. 8.