It’s hard to imagine a time when Ybor City wasn’t a colorful nightlife district where locals and tourists poured in on weekend evenings only to desert it in the wee hours of the following morning.
While the neighborhood is flanked by residential areas and sprinkled with a few hotels and rental units, not a lot of people actually live here (even if more and more are starting to work here).
But that’s due to change very soon.
With help, in at least a couple cases, from local entrepreneurs who’ve built national brands, a number of Tampa’s lofty old buildings are being transformed into living space.
There’s even a new development or two going up to meet increasing demand for housing in Ybor.
City officials say the new residential developments within walking distance of Ybor’s restaurants, entertainment venues and (now) offices will help to create a neighborhood feel.
“Ybor City already had the work and the play,” said Bob McDonough, the city’s administrator of economic opportunity. “They didn’t have the ‘live,’ which is kind of backwards. And in the last couple years we’ve seen a great influx of job opportunities. They’ve always had great restaurants. There’s now great demand for housing, and because of that we’re starting to see a lot of development.”
Among residential projects currently happening throughout the area are the Martí Project at East 7th Avenue and Nuccio Parkway, the old Oliva Cigar Factory and the former Don Vicente de Ybor Historic Inn (the latter two are restorations of historically significant buildings). All three are being carried out at the behest of Darryl Shaw, CEO of national veterinary clinic chain Blue Pearl, and homebuilder Ariel Quintela. They’d comprise more than 200 new residential units and constitute $34 million in investment in the neighborhood.
“We believe that what Ybor needs is residents,” Quintela told the Tampa Bay Times last October. “It needs people living there actively participating in the city. Bringing back people is the first step of making Ybor City come back to where it used to be.”
A little to the north, West Palm Beach-based developer Bainbridge is building a 220-unit apartment complex called Urban Apartments on 12th just south of I-4.
There’s a small residential/office redevelopment project going into a space along 7th Avenue near Ybor’s western edge.
On the southern edge of Ybor, developer Mike Mincberg is converting an old warehouse into Ybor Lofts, which will comprise 22 condo units at 1728 E. 2nd Ave.
Omar Solimon and Nick Friedman, cofounders of College Hunks Hauling Junk (a locally launched business that has gone national and has for three years called Ybor home), are part-investors in the renovation of a string of bungalows and row houses, six in all, on 4th Avenue between 18th and 19th streets, a project to be called Casitas En Cuantro.
These, the Tampa Bay Business Journal reports, will range in price from $200,000 (for the bungalows) to $300,000 (for the row houses).
“There are a lot of beautiful older homes in Ybor that add to its special feel,” Soliman said in an email to CL. “We opted to invest in these and help restore them because they are an important part of the culture. Living in a beautifully restored home near all the great restaurants and coffee shops is such a cool experience and will naturally have a limited inventory. As an investor it’s a no-brainer, and as a fan of Ybor it will be great for the community.”
And a team of developers is transforming nearly an entire block along 7th Avenue into a luxury hotel called Los Novedades. Sure, it’s not a residential development, but it’s still a sign of things to come.
“I think that we’re right on the cusp of probably the greatest years we’ve ever had,” said Don Barco, owner of King Corona, a popular cigar bar also on 7th.
New housing may appeal to the many that have begun, in recent years, to come to Ybor City to go to work every day, including about 300 from the new Ashley Furniture facility, the 100 College Hunks Hauling Junk staffers and employees of architecture and design firms that have recently flocked to the area.
“Ybor City is one of the most unique places in the country,” said Soliman. “When we host prospective franchise owners or guests from out of town, they are amazed with the atmosphere and vibe. The Ybor culture is bold, creative and unique, and it matches our company culture perfectly.”
And between Ybor and Channelside, developer Donald Phillips is planning on putting up a 27-story, 1,432-unit complex as well as a grocery store on the site of a former gas plant.
If those workers decide to reside in Ybor rather than commute from places like South Tampa or Carrollwood, that means demand for services like dentists, doctors, accounting firms, nail salons and spas will also crop up.
“I think it’s the missing piece to complete the neighborhood,” McDonough said. “And with that you will start to see more service retail in Ybor, which is another element that’s been missing to make it a complete neighborhood. But, again, because I don’t think they had the number of heads on beds to support that.”
Of course, with any new residential construction boom, there’s always the concern that an influx of new, high-quality housing and the amenities associated with it might put a dent in the affordability of a neighborhood. After all, the surrounding area is home to relatively inexpensive housing, and there’s even a low-income housing complex nearby off Nuccio Parkway.
McDonough said that boosting the volume of available housing available in the area by hundreds of units won’t necessarily price current residents out of the neighborhood, given that the thousand or so residential units in Ybor are in high demand as it is.
“Housing prices have gone up quite a bit. There are very few rental units available in Ybor. As soon as they’re available, bang, they’re spoken for,” he said. “This is an increase of supply, not just strictly demand, and if you have demand without an increase of supply, that’s what raises prices. But we’re going to see a great increase in the supply, so that should change the effect of the rental rates on existing housing.”
Also a non-factor, he said, is the possibility of a new Tampa Bay Rays stadium adjacent to Ybor City, on the site of Tampa Park Apartments, the aforementioned affordable housing complex, which sits between downtown Tampa, Ybor and Channelside. It’s not an official contender (no place is yet), but local media have been heavily speculating that the space is in play, as team executives have recently begun to explore potential new homes for the team in Hillsborough County. Mayor Bob Buckhorn and others have said an urban stadium site like that one would be an ideal choice rather than a suburban or rural one not easily accessible by foot traffic or public transit.
“A baseball stadium is approximately 80 nights a year,” McDonough said. “It could have a positive effect. I think probably what has a greater effect are the conventions and the festivals that are in Ybor because they happen all year round.”
If a stadium project comes to fruition, McDonough said he doesn’t see it as having anywhere near the impact on Ybor City that an influx of residents would. Restaurants, rather than experiencing several dozen high-volume nights a year and lots more nights that are dead, could instead rely on a steady stream of locals.
“When you have people eating there every day and every night it makes things more manageable for a restaurant owner,” said McDonough. “They’re not gearing up for huge events. It becomes more of a neighborhood, and when people live in a place, they care more about it.”