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(To Be) Built Environment – Downtown

November 28, 2011

The Tampa City Council recently approved rezoning for a project by TramellCrow for an office building and hotel in downtown Tampa near the corner of Brorein and Florida. (See also here and here) This is the layout:

From Bizjournal - click on picture for article

The proposed project is to have a 450,000-square-foot office tower, a 350-room hotel and a 1,200-space parking garage.

In a general sense, this is a good project.  Tampasphere is very happy that there is interest in building downtown.  More so since the lots in question would help connect the downtown core to the Forum/Channelside area.  While it is not a big distance to walk, presently anyone walking down Florida has to walk by the very inviting streetscape of the Ft. Brooke Garage, dirt parking lots, and the blank wall being built on the Florida side of the USF CAMLS project (While the Franklin side is nice – look here – the Florida side is basically a blank wall. Nothing like a three or four story cement wall to invite activity).  Because of that streetscape, it feels a lot farther than it really is. The Trammell Crow project could help change that.

As far as we can tell, there has not been a full, official rendering of the office project (like we said, the hotel is still under design so we do not expect a rendering soon).  This is a rendering of the office building that was released:

from BizJournal - click on picture for article

This drawing is remarkably similar to TramellCrow’s cancelled Prime Meridian Project that was supposed to be in Channelside:

From HOK website - click on picuture for website

A full brochure here:

Setting aside the design of the building in its monumental sense, what we are struck by is the complete lack of interaction with the street/sidewalk – unfortunately a seeming Tampa trademark.

Not only is there no clear interaction with the street, there is actually a little wall or rise that cuts most of the street/sidewalk off from the building.  Apparently, there is no awning or covering on any part of the sidewalk from the sun and rain (This is Florida, not California).  It appears that there are no obvious stores on Brorein (maybe there are stores on the side of the building off the street, but this is downtown, not a suburban strip mall).  Even if there is a bank or restaurant in the building, from what we have seen, it is appears designed for people inside the building, not to be accessible directly from the street.

Anyone who spends any time in downtown Tampa can quickly see there are two downtowns (at least).  There are the old buildings north of Kennedy where there is street retail, street covering, restaurants open to the public, etc.  Then there are the buildings from the 80s and 90s south of Kennedy – where much of the daytime workforce is.  While there are a few nice little plaza’s south of Kennedy, generally these buildings ignore the street and are usually devoid of obvious signs of life, except for people walking north to go eat at lunch and come back – unless you go to Hattricks.

Because we have not seen a final rendering of any of the buildings, we cannot be sure the lack of street interaction is actually the developer’s plan, but if it is, we hope the City pushes for changes.  Tampa has enough dead streetscapes.

Tampasphere hopes that the City has learned that the lack of street retail will kill any benefit to greater downtown of bringing workers into downtown.  We hope the City has learned the very basics of urban planning and successful pedestrian environments (if not, drive to Orlando or St. Pete [or go look at Skypoint on Ashley and Element on Tampa Street] which, while not perfect, are doing a much better job).  We hope that the City is not so desperate for any downtown development this year that it fails to work with the developer to benefit the city as a whole for decades to come (because, really, if it is built, the building will be there for a long time).

Let us be clear: We like the project’s idea and the project overall. We hope that the project gets built but that TrammelCrow and the City make sure it is really good, not just ok – because, as we’ve said before, it is just as easy to make it so.

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