Investors show interest in Tampa port’s Channel District plan

September 15, 2015

TAMPA — Investors and developers, including some of the world’s wealthiest, want a role in creating Port Tampa Bay’s Channel District vision, a port consultant said Tuesday.
The splashy renderings showing a new marina, apartment buildings, restaurants and a park along Channelside Drive got just the kind of reception port officials had hoped for when they unveiled the plan in August, said Luis Ajamil, the consultant heading up the project for the port.
On Tuesday, the Tampa Port Authority Board approved a $1.3 million contract extension for the Ajamil’s Miami planning firm helping to move the colorful sketches from Power Point to point of sale.
“Now we can formally engage the investor and development community,” said Ajamil. He declined to give any specific names of businesses inquiring about the master plan, but said it is an impressive lineup.
“So far, all we have is a lot of pretty pictures. Now the real grunt work has to start to make it a reality, ” he told the board.
This phase of the master plan, which will take about a year, will include more public input, working with the City of Tampa on zoning changes and setting development guidelines.
All along the way, said Ajamil, with Miami-based Bermillo Ajamil & Partners, he will come back to the board with tweaked versions of the plan.
The plan for 45 acres of land between the Florida Aquarium and the port’s historic banana docks would be one of the largest waterfront undertakings in the nation. It will transform the working waterfront into four districts — the marina district, the park district, the central waterfront and the cruise district. It would take some $1.5 billion in private investment money and require about $200 million in infrastructure improvements that the port and the city’s Community Reinvestment Act or CRA funds would cover.
Just how the Channel District will be developed has yet to be determined, Ajamil said. It could be developed one land parcel at a time, by individual district, or as one huge project with a master developer, he said. The port owns all of the land, some of which might be sold, while other parcels could be leased.
As the plan moves forward — and it will move forward quickly, according to Ajamil — the board may see changes to the original renderings, based on input the port receives.
“There’s a lot of detail work” still to be done before that time arrives, Ajamil said.
That detail work should include a look by an independent consultant in how financing will proceed, said Hillsborough County Commission Chair Sandy Murman, who sits on the port authority board. “I think the port is assuming a lot of risk at the front end because we don’t have a developer on aboard yet. In my opinion, the financial plan is going to need more scrutiny.”
Port President and CEO Paul Anderson said the work done to date on the plan includes market analysis from a third party independent firm. The budget will likely tighten as details are honed, he said, and nothing will proceed without approval of the port authority board.
Two members of the public also questioned one particular detail of the plan during Tuesday’s meeting — a plan to fill several hundred feet of the canal near the historic banana docks to construct a marina.
George Lorton, who owns International Ship Repair and 24 acres near the proposed marina, spoke Tuesday against filling in about 600 feet of the canal.
“I pay half a million bucks a year in taxes and rent” for the property and two berths at the port to use them for business, Lorton said, adding that no waterfront should be filled.
Ajamil said there is plenty of time to address those concerns, since the marina property at the north end of the plan area will be the last piece to be developed. “We’ll meet and discuss it,” he said, noting that the master plan still has some flexibility.
The south end of Channelside Drive, just past the Florida Aquarium,, for now, isn’t included in the port’s plan. That is the parcel that will eventually mesh the port’s plan with those of Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, He and his development team have devised a billion-dollar master plan for Channelside and portions of downtown that include hotels, offices, restaurants and apartments and may incorporate a more expansive modernized streetcar system.
“We haven’t touched the south end,” Ajamil said.
By Yvette C. Hammett | Tribune Staff