Finally Time For Channelside

Three years ago this month, Tampa hosted Super Bowl XXXV. Right before the $45-million Channelside entertainment area opened. Talk about timing.

When Channelside did open, it was in piecemeal fashion. In fits and starts — and departures. Talk was more of vacancies and competition from Centro Ybor than of a place to hang out and have fun. Tampa’s Chamber of Commerce wound up taking space to help jumpstart the complex.

Fast forward to now. Stumps Supper Club is a success, and Howl At The Moon does well on weekends. But it’s the new tenants and their $10 million in investment that have made the marketplace take note. No one remembers the last rites for Pop City. The buzz is all about the new mix at Channelside — as well as its role in Channel District synergy and its part in plans for Tampa to create an increasingly attractive destination for visitors and locals.

“It looks like a good mix,” assesses Karen Brand, vice president for marketing for the Tampa Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It gives us a great package to sell to groups.”

Nothing embodies change at Channelside more than Hooters. The ultra successful, high-energy, wings-beers-and-babes restaurant occupies Channelside’s northwest corner and fronts — uh, beacon-like — Channelside Drive.

Hooters also brings a Channelside order of savvy marketing. It has a radio studio. It offers the “Hooters Express,” a free HARTline bus shuttle to accommodate the downtown lunch crowd. There are co-promotions with The Forum and possibly “bon voyage” parties for cruise customers.

“We love collectively bringing the market here and then letting it bounce around to the other places,” says Hooters’ co-founder Ed Droste.

Directly above Hooters is the 250-seat Signature Room Grille, scheduled to open in February. It will feature 1930s dinner club ambience and live jazz. It’s the first venture outside the Chicago market for owner Rick Roman, who also owns the Signature Room near the top of the John Hancock Center in downtown Chicago.

“Tampa is the perfect town for us,” says Roman. “A strong business community, a growing tourism base, nice weather and we’re on the water. What’s not to like about the potential around us? We love this location.”

And what of the juxtaposition with Hooters?

“We love the exposure,” deadpans Roman.

Other high profile newcomers include: Splitsville, 27,000 square feet of high-end, retro-look bowling alley; Grill 29 steak house; TinaTapas and Cold Stone Creamery. Channelside is 80 per cent leased. According to Susan Martin, marking director for Channelside leasing agent CB Richard Ellis, retail is being targeted for the remaining 20 percent.

“More clothing, a souvenir shop, perhaps a day spa,” says Martin. “We have stuff in the works.”

To Hurricane Pass Outfitters owner Bruce Rabon, his yearlong wait has been worth it.

“They said they were going to aggressively market the center, and they have,” notes Rabon. “I think the restaurant and entertainment components will be phenomenal. I recently told a business acquaintance, ‘You wait another year and you won’t be able to afford it.'”

Channelside opened ahead of its time, points out Christine Burdick, president of the Tampa Downtown Partnership. “But now it’s the right space for the right time. It’s in the heart of an area with other attractions, such as The Forum and the Aquarium. It’s on the way to Ybor — by trolley. And it’s so close to the most eclectic neighborhood in Tampa.”

Indeed, Channelside will benefit from burgeoning neighborhood development. From tony lofts to pricey condo towers, more than 1,500 residential units are in the works for various projects in the Channel District. Nearby Harbour Island will soon be built out — and home to 8,000 residents. In fact, 88,000 people currently live within a mile radius of downtown.

It should also be helped by a sizable hike in cruise passengers — to an estimated 800,000 in fiscal ’03 — plus plans for several more downtown hotels, including a 400-unit Embassy Suites across from the Tampa Convention Center.

The final piece in the short, closely scrutinized evolution of Channelside will be a subtraction. That’s when the chamber leaves to make way for a more entertaining tenant.

Timing is everything.

Channelside Tenants

Banana Joe’s Island Party

Grille 29

Cold Stone Creamery

Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce

Ciara’s

Howl At The Moon

Cigars by Antonio

Hurricane Pass Outfitters

Channelside Cinemas and IMAX

Joffrey’s Coffee

Margarita Mama’s

Tampa Bay Information Center

Paintings Of The World

TinaTapas

Signature Room Grille (Opening)

Wine Design

Splitsville

White House Gear

Stump’s Supper Club

Quoteworthies

The newcomer: “We saw the Channelside Shops location with new major restaurants coming in, the cruise ships increasing their visits as a perfect spot

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