Tampa’s Imposing Parlay: Museum And Hotel

OK, so Trump is a towering, SimDagian disappointment, light rail still seems a light year away and downtown remains more potential than presence.

The last month, however, has seen two developments that ought to impress all but professional cynics. And we’re not even talking about the $2 million earmarked for the Riverwalk that went un-vetoed by Gov. Not Jeb. Or the imminent opening of a waterfront Malio’s. Or even the cachet of our very own IKEA store. Nor are we referencing (cue the drum roll) another downtown street converted to two-way.

After the gestation from hell, this city finally has a workable design and plan for a Tampa Museum of Art worthy of a major city. Additionally, Tampa is now primed to join the ranks of the metropolitan parvenu with its very own, five-star Ritz-Carlton hotel.

For anyone remembering the mother of all carports, that Rafael Vinoly-designed museum fiasco, the Stanley Saitowitz model seems a true work of, well, art. The $32.5-million, 68,000-square-foot, two-building first phase appears modern without being too stark, gimmicky or ego-centric – no minor contemporary feat.

The lobby, which is under the gallery level in the main building, will be transparent, thus highlighting — and sharing — the aesthetics inherent in a winding river and iconic minarets. Built-in, fiber-optic lights can be programmed to change colors at night, and the green rooftop will be lush and redolent with plants. An outdoor sculpture garden will overlook the Hillsborough River.

Tampa City Council member Linda Saul-Sena called it “ingenious” and “unique to our situation.” The way it will “play off the sky and the water,” said Saul-Sena, will create an “animated visual.”

No less impressive is the art of the deal.

This one has a viable business plan and a pay-as-you-go mantra for expansion – to 120,000 square feet. For that to happen, however, the private sector will have to step up in a way truly befitting big city ambitions. To that end, the unveiling of the Saitowitz model, the groundbreaking – set for early next year – and the probable pressing of Paul Wilborn into fund-raising, piano-playing mode are expected to accelerate the pitch to the public.

As to the Ritz-Carlton, it’s been no secret that the Bay Area has long pined for a five-star property to round out its convention and tourism appeal.

If Clearwater developer Sandip Patel finalizes negotiations, which are reportedly close, a Ritz-Carlton property would replace a razed Radisson Bay Harbor Hotel at Rocky Point on Old Tampa Bay. The two-towered, $300-million, mixed-use project would include 274 hotel rooms plus 184 residential units. Construction would begin in 2008.

Besides the star power of the Ritz-Carlton brand, such a totemic property would also represent a vote of confidence in the Bay Area. It would mean that the Tampa Bay market, never confused with a Naples or a Palm Beach, was dynamic enough to command $400-a-day rates.

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