Pillage People?

When the Wasserman Vornado Strategic Real Estate Fund bought a majority stake in Old Hyde Park Village last year, it was with the intent of doing a “complete renovation” of the Village. Estimates were in the range of $100 million.

While there’s no disputing that the status quo – in the context of tenant roulette and competition from the ritzy International Plaza and the rehabbed WestShore Plaza – was no recipe for success, there is mounting neighborhood concern about what that “complete renovation” actually entails. To wit: It’s a lot more than curb appeal and revitalized retail. More like: IN with some disproportionately large, multi-family buildings and more traffic – and OUT with the lifestyle-enhancing Sunrise Cinemas.

In short, Wasserman says that the numbers only work by adding a major residential element, for which the developer will need some zoning help. Right now plans call for razing the Brooks Brothers block (40-foot limit) and going up eight stories and 89 feet for 102 residential units. It also means replacing the theater area with 102 units – going up nine stories to 106 feet.

Letters to the editor and a recent communication from Hyde Park Preservation Inc. to Wasserman indicate that the renovation scenario will be no metaphorical walk in the (Hyde) park. City Council will eventually weigh in – as will those who come before it for public comment.

The letter from HPPI president Mary Britain suggests that Wasserman consider “dramatically limiting the residential request for the (Brooks Brothers) site within the Village if not completely eliminating that aspect of the PD (Planned Development) rezoning.”

It also unsubtly reminds Wasserman “of the current sensitivity of City Council, especially certain Council members such as John Dingfelder, Linda Saul-Sena and Rose Ferlita, to the height, mass and density issues which have been presented in a number of condominium projects in South Tampa.”

Britain concluded by acknowledging that “each project is unique and stands on its own when being evaluated.” Having said that, however, she made it clear that HPPI feels strongly that “this project certainly has its own unique issues given the strategic location of the Village. Given this, it is unlikely we could support the current residential requests.”

What remains increasingly clear as renovation plans course through the re-zoning process: The real issues will be height, mass and density as well as creativity, ego and compromise.

At the end of the day, David Wasserman should be held to his word. In February he said his company’s goal was to “unite the intent of the Hyde Park Historic district design guidelines with our development vision.” He called the Village “an icon in a unique neighborhood.”

One, presumably, to be treated accordingly.

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