Soiree Setting For Renaissance Plans

It took the better part of a year, but someone has now stepped forward from the private sector to say they want in on the cultural arts district synergy. It’s precisely what Mayor Dick Greco had in mind with his Last Hurrah -like championing of the CAD cause last year.

Chesapeake Atlantic Holdings did the stepping, and they did it in style. As in a media all-call/soiree for its high-rise announcement at the Tampa Museum of Art — replete with catering by the Blue Gardenia, artistic dancing by Blake High performers and power schmoozing by Greco and the downtown cognoscenti. Pam Iorio was there without so much as a single touch-screen in tow.

To recap the run-up to last week’s grand-plan proclamation:

Last spring Greco pushed hard for the cultural arts district downtown. The contentious campaign was as high decibel as it was high profile. His was a vision that some labeled legacy-driven. But it was also a bricks-and-mortar-and-money plan that had to be jumpstarted by a City Council vote to use some Community Investment Tax dollars. Twenty-seven million of them.

Greco said the revitalization of downtown depended on it. He said a bona fide CAD was the key catalyst for residential — as well as more commercial — development in downtown.

To City Council, he said: If you pass it, they will come. Developers, that is.

Well, less than a year after City Council’s critical vote in favor of allocating CIT funds for the CAD, Greg Hughes, Chesapeake’s president and CEO, has made that first private-sector sortie. The Palm Beach native wants — initially — to build a 28-story office tower, featuring some 450,000 square feet of office space. The $100-million, limestone building would be the vanguard of a mixed-use development project called Renaissance Tampa. Condominiums and apartments — mostly along Ashley overlooking the CAD — would be key components.

The downtown office market, however, remains dicey with vacancy rates higher than preferred and square footage rates lower than desired.

So, amid the rebirth scenarios, easeled renderings, champagne, pineapple ponzu and andouille sausage, there was this reality. Hughes wants to break ground within 12 months, and to do that he needs an office anchor tenant in the worst way. But so do a couple of other developers still in pre-groundbreaking mode.

It will take a large tenant, such as a Bank of America, “to step up and drive the rebirth of downtown Tampa,” acknowledged Hughes, whose Chesapeake Atlantic Holdings owns or controls three continuous blocks adjacent to the CAD along Ashley Drive.

Clearly, a lot of people at the beam-a-thon were happy to hear of Hughes’ ambitious plans. Clearly, they could be the perfect complement to the Tampa Downtown Cultural District master plan that includes a new Tampa Museum of Art, history museum, riverfront housing and showcase civic spaces.

Clearly, Hughes’ announcement was also a classy, splashy tenant pitch.

No one, not even Hughes, looked happier than Greco, who gushed that “in the next five to 10 years you’re not going to recognize downtown.” He’s all too mindful, of course, of what a CIT “no” vote from City Council would have undone.

Also making the ecstatic list: Bank of America. Can’t have too many solicitous suitors.

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