"Tampa's been desperate for this kind of a concept for a long time," says Commune + Co. founder Joel Davis, one of the first vendors to commit to the new Heights Market.
Standing inside the 288-foot-long, 46-foot-wide market — part of the 73,444-square-foot Armature Works building that developer SoHo Capital is transforming into the centerpiece of its mixed-use development The Heights — Davis says there's no mistaking why people would be attracted to this historic space in the city's oldest neighborhood, Tampa Heights.
Between North Boulevard and North Tampa Street, just north of Water Works Park and parallel to the Hillsborough River, Armature Works was once the storage and maintenance facility for Tampa's streetcars. SoHo Capital isn't altering the building's aesthetics. They're recycling as many materials as possible — everything from refinishing the original steps leading up to the second-floor event space called the A.W. Theatre to reusing the old roof that's been milled down as hardwood flooring throughout.
The Heights Market, at 23,000 square feet or so, won't be the only concept housed inside Armature Works's repurposed digs; restaurants, event spaces, a rooftop social area and a cowork space are also planned. However, the interactive collaboration that will drive the food hall is particularly interesting.
"We felt like it needed to be a place that was gonna engage all sides. Not just geared toward tourists, travelers, downtown or sports — any specific thing. And that was really where the market hall came in," says Adam Harden, a principal of SoHo Capital alongside Chas Bruck. "We just felt like we could create a platform for the neighborhood and the surrounding community to engage in The Heights."
The team traveled to food halls around the country in destination cities like Chicago, Denver and Atlanta to find ideas that made sense for Tampa, and learned that no one hall is the same. Accordingly, no one vendor at the Heights Market will be the same. They'll all do their own thing.
"That was important for us. And we’re sticking to that so there's no overlap. You can truly come here and get a mix of food and produce and meats and flowers and stuff like that," Chas says.
In addition to Union Coffee by Commune + Co., the 18 market stalls will include the mod-casual Ichicoro; craft cocktail emporium Fine and Dandy, offering package sales, craft cocktail kits and classes; an in-house butcher with charcuterie and artisan cheese dubbed Steelbach Ranch; the Chocolate Pi bakery with Euro-American pastries and cakes; and Tailored Twig floral boutique.
To find vendors, Chas and his wife Taryn, the director of events, reached out to established local businesses with successful locations to ask: Do you have a passion project?
Davis's coffee and tea bar is such a project. As Commune + Co.'s first brick-and-mortar operation, it represents "the most natural next step" for the coffee company, which has been in business for the last two and a half years. Davis says that Commune + Co. has always been collaborative in nature, making its inclusion a no-brainer.
"Everything that Commune + Co. has done from day one has been to create and curate space and opportunity for community to happen and engage. Shared spaces, setting up temporary pop-up coffee bars in other people's businesses and friends' shops," he says. "So to take a first full, permanent coffee bar concept into a still very collaborative, communal space for us was amazing. I don't think we could've planned it any better — and I didn't. We were just approached."
In the Bay area, the coffee company now has 25 wholesale accounts for its flagship iced coffee product, Pressure Brew. Union, which Davis describes as “a little more grown up,” will eliminate the barriers between baristas and their patrons, offering more of a bar feel. They'll focus on making made-to-order coffee quicker, too.
"For me as a vendor coming in, it's what I've always loved about the market hall concept scene across the country, or in Europe for that matter, plus the added benefit of the interactive space to really engage with people," Davis says.
And there's a ton of space.
Outside the market's main entrance on Ola Avenue, there will be an outdoor patio and two vendor booths, whose roll-up doors will act as a roof over outdoor seating when raised. Just inside the entrance there's a fireplace — one that Harden and the Brucks didn't know existed until they started removing drywall. An interactive demonstration kitchen nearby will give customers a glimpse of market booths' chefs holding cooking classes; it can also accommodate pop-up dinners for 20 to 30 people. And the market itself, whose vendors will be arranged in an open floor plan, will revolve around a 4,000-square-foot outdoor courtyard.
"Pull a seat up to the bar or the countertop. You can go look outside, in the courtyard. There's so many different areas that you can just kind of hang out, eat your food, have your coffee, whatever it may be, and be comfortable," Taryn says.
The Armature Works building's additional features will also add to its interactive collaboration with guests.
"With the other mix of uses, our cowork space and the event hall, there's another opportunity to [say] here's our on-site coffee vendor, here's our on-site florist, here's our on-site baker," Chas says. "So you're able to come to this space, book your event, book your meeting upstairs and actually see where your food is coming from, meet who all these other vendors are. Just interact on a whole different level than other venues around town. I think that's what’s exciting."
On the restaurant side, Steelbach — operated by BE-1 Concepts, which manages Tampa's Boca Kitchen Bar & Market, Ciro's Speakeasy & Supper Club and Winter Park's Park Social — will use the best meats from market butcher Steelbach Ranch.
The newest eatery to be announced for Armature Works is Atlantic Beer & Oyster, also part of the BE-1 Concepts restaurant group. Along the recently expanded Riverwalk (which the city finished two months ago), the outdoor restaurant will sit beneath a 165-foot-tall water tower, as will a pavilion shop with kayaks, paddleboards and other equipment available for rent.
Though the property's original water tower is no more, SoHo Capital found a replica in a Bartow field that it's renovated. The tower is waiting at Port Tampa Bay to be placed in its new home.
Atlantic Beer & Oyster is set to showcase a rotating selection of East, West and Gulf Coast oysters, plus local craft beer, fresh shrimp, smoked fish dip and a signature grouper sandwich. It'll be the third Atlantic Beer & Oyster for BE-1, which has a location in Winter Park and another coming to Sarasota early next year.
A third restaurant space will have a rooftop bar attached, but SoHo Capital hasn't found a concept for it yet. Chas says they're in no rush, and waiting for the right partners to come along.
The Heights Market, A.W. Gathering (the building's largest event hall on the back side of the courtyard) and one restaurant are included in the phase one opening of The Heights, which will take place in late spring or early summer of 2017.
"We're just really generating all-the-time activity," Taryn says. "I feel like Tampa needs that, where there's something to do all the time."
The best part might be that there's always a breeze, even in the middle of the building. Almost anywhere patrons stand they'll have an unobstructed view of the Hillsborough River.
"It's not just the 18 independent vendors that’re gonna be working there. It's the way we’ve concepted the market hall — we don't want to just promote it as a lunch and dinner place," Chas says. "It's an all-day place. That's why we're doing the cowork space. It helps out the daytime population. You transition into nighttime with the events and the dinner and the outdoors. It's truly finding that right mix."