Tampa’s Water Street development is intended to be one of the world’s greenest neighborhoods and one of the first true “smart districts.” The development is being built according to WELL standards of design, which focus on air and water quality, access to natural light, and the creation of spaces that encourage interaction. (Strategic Property Partners)

Despite experiencing above-average growth and being larger and denser than some of its peer cities—including cities like Charlotte, Austin, and Nashville—Tampa has lagged in developing its downtown. With roughly 58,000 people moving to the city of Tampa in 2016 alone, the region stands out as an example of accelerating U.S. growth. New residents and employers are moving to the area and looking to rent office and residential spaces located in dynamic urban neighborhoods with exciting work and play amenities.

“Tampa has the best of everything—great weather, friendly people, world-renowned beaches. It is a great city for professionals looking for a more lifestyle-driven and affordable alternative to other major cities,” says James Nozar, the CEO of Strategic Property Partners (SPP), a real estate development company backed in part by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik. “Tampa is one of the fastest-growing cities in the U.S., but it has lagged behind many of its peer cities in terms of new downtown office, retail, hotel, and residential offerings despite great demand for these spaces.”

SPP is focused on changing that with the construction of Water Street Tampa, an enormous $3 billion redevelopment project set to give an urban facelift to Tampa’s skyline and double the downtown area in size. Although cities across the United States are responding to increased demand in urban areas, the scale and diversity of Water Street are unparalleled. Nine million square feet (836,000 sq m) will be developed into two hotels, along with 3,500 residential units, 1 million square feet (93,000 sq m) of cultural and retail space, and 2 million square feet (186,000 sq m) of office space to be spread out over 53 acres (21 ha) in 18 different buildings that sit right on the bay.

“Water Street Tampa is literally and physically filling a void in downtown Tampa,” says Nozar. “We see Tampa’s growing base of workers, residents, and visitors demanding more and better opportunities for work space, housing, retail, dining, culture, entertainment, and leisure. Water Street Tampa will unlock that potential.”

Water Street’s master plan was conceived by Stantec’s Urban Places group in collaboration with walkability expert Jeff Speck, further analyzed by design firm Elkus Manfredi and landscape architects Reed Hilderbrand. The team considered decades of insight before breaking the redevelopment project down into three distinct phases, to be carried out over the next ten years by some of the world’s most respected planners, architects, and designers. The development of Water Street is intended to create a unique way of living in Tampa, with an inclusive, live/work/play attitude meant to appeal to new residents from all walks of life.

Residential planning includes everything from a two-bedroom apartment for a young professional couple moving to Tampa, to cost-effective studio apartments appealing to local university students, to luxurious penthouse condominiums for an affluent empty nester downsizing from a large home in the suburbs. Retail and office spaces have likewise been dreamt up to appeal to a large set of new residents. Small neighborhood-serving shops intermix with large-format anchor tenants, including a full-service grocery store, a high-quality gym, and several restaurants and office spaces that range from Class A corporate units to small boutique spaces. Water Street Tampa will also be the site of the University of South Florida’s Morsani Medical College, which is already under construction and is expected to be complete in 2019.

(Strategic Property Partners)

The project’s investment in developing office properties, however, is especially compelling: Water Street plans to increase downtown Tampa’s office supply by nearly 50 percent, adding over 2 million square feet (186,000 sq m) of office space to the region.

The Tampa skyline was mostly built over a ten-year period in the late 1980s and early 1990s, with nearly 6 million square feet (557,000 sq m) of office space. Since that original development boom, most of the office development that followed was built in suburban formats, nearly five to ten miles (8 to 16 km) away from the downtown core. No new buildings have been erected in nearly 25 years.

While on the surface that may sound nearly impossible to fill, Tampa leads the state of Florida in job growth, and its swelling population suggests demand for more urban offices.

“With such an influx of people, employers will need new office space to support their needs,” says Nozar. “Just in the past few years, companies such as Bristol-Myers Squibb, Amgen, Depository Trust and Clearing Corporation, and USAA have opened offices in the Tampa Bay area. For those looking to expand or open a new office, it is next to impossible to sign a new lease for office space within Tampa’s downtown because the inventory of large blocks of space simply does not exist.”

Water Street is intended not only to meet the direct needs of its new residents but also to serve as a benchmark city of the future with forward-thinking approaches to sustainability and resilience.

Though the project was not affected by Hurricane Irma last summer, “at a time when coastal cities are reevaluating storm resiliency, a large part of downtown Tampa’s waterfront is being rebuilt with an unprecedented emphasis on stormwater management,” says Nozar. “We are doing several things to make our investment in Water Street Tampa as protected and sustainable as possible.”

Water Street aims to be one of the world’s greenest neighborhoods and one of the first true “smart districts.” The development is being built according to WELL standards of design, which focus on air and water quality, access to natural light, and the creation spaces that encourage interaction.

(Strategic Property Partners)

“One example of what a WELL community will look like and feel like is our design of Water Street, the neighborhood’s namesake. Once completed, Water Street will connect the heart of the neighborhood to both the central business district and the waterfront. Sixty percent of its use is dedicated to pedestrians, with a 45-foot-wide [14 m] promenade featuring a mature tree canopy, an expansive linear water feature, and abundant outdoor space for dining, recreating, and people-watching,” says Nozar.

The project is also poised to implement an array of innovative systems, such as the fastest available high-speed WiFi in all public spaces, technology-driven infrastructure tapped into every new building, smart building management systems and WELL monitoring in multiuse spaces, and wide pedestrian-oriented sidewalks and bike paths and lush shaded green spaces.

“The end goal for this is to create a high level of service and convenience for the workers, residents, and visitors to Water Street Tampa, while also being as efficient as possible with our available resources to keep costs down and productivity high,” says Nozar.

In 2018, SPP is set to break ground on several new buildings, including a 519-room JW Marriott Hotel, the first luxury hotel of its kind to be built in the Tampa area. Taken together with the redevelopment of the Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina—the city’s anchor for large conferences and events due to its prime location next to Tampa’s Convention Center—SPP expects to attract an influx of business travelers and group meetings to Water Street.

“The ongoing renovations to the Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina echo SPP’s vision for Water Street Tampa—to create a thoughtful, well-designed, and purposeful environment that embraces an interaction with quality outdoor spaces,” says Nozar. “Combined, the JW Marriott and Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina will create the largest collection of hotel rooms and meeting space in the Tampa Bay area with 1,246 rooms and 150,000 square feet [14,000 sq m] of meeting and event space, including Tampa Bay’s largest hotel ballroom at approximately 30,000 square feet [2,800 sq m] in the JW Marriott.”

Roughly 9 million square feet (836,000 sq m) of Water Street’s total development area is slated for completion by 2021.

Water Street Tampa Illustration from Water Street Tampa on Vimeo.