The Ybor City issue: Designing Ybor — A shapeshifting neighborhood is becoming a hub for creatives

Born a cigar town, Ybor City has assumed several identities in its long history, some more intentionally than others. Indie business incubator. Hardcore party precinct. And now — design district?

For years, architectural firms have been quietly setting up shop in Ybor alongside ad agencies and other creative businesses. Now AIA Tampa Bay, regional chapter of the American Institute of Architects, is preparing a move from downtown Tampa into an expanded Ybor facility, setting a capstone on the trend.

As a professional association, AIA Tampa Bay represents 650 members in seven counties, a united voice that offers building tours, lectures, and design competitions. President Phil Trezza said their new Center for Architecture and Design is slated to open at 1315 E. 7th Avenue by June.

“I think the whole Ybor City area is so rich with architectural history, and has a really urban feel that is attractive to us as designers and architects,” Trezza said. “The area also gets quite a bit of foot traffic during the day, and we wanted to have that visibility for our new headquarters.”

Roughly 2,000 square feet, the new AIA hub is one-third larger than the organization’s former office, and includes flexible meeting space for exhibitions and lectures. A retail portion will sell architecturally minded apparel, housewares, books, and art.

Developer Barry Boyer, whose business partner Alan Kahana owns property across Ybor, said the atmosphere is a magnetic draw for innovative types.

“Several projects are now underway that are very emblematic of the direction Ybor City is heading,” Boyer said. “It’s morphing really quickly and organically into a design center.”
There are upwards of 15 architecture and design firms in Ybor now, award-winning studios among them.

Founded in 1988, Alfonso Architects is designing St. Petersburg’s new Museum of the American Arts & Crafts Movement from their headquarters on Ybor’s 16th Street. ASD Architects, one of the partners creating the new St. Pete Pier, keeps an office on 5th Avenue (as well as in Atlanta, San Francisco, DC, and Nashville). Wilder Architecture, on 7th Avenue, was named AIA Florida’s 2015 Firm of the Year.

“The architects, the designers, they want to be somewhere creative — they don’t want to sit in a cubicle,” Boyer said. “They want this kind of environment where they can step out of the office and hit the street, get a café con leche, get a Cuban sandwich, and soak it all in.” 

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