Downtown Tampa has always had a two-faced existence. By day, it is a busy (if dull) business center that clears out at 5 p.m., with very little housing and even fewer restaurants to complement its magnificent Tampa Bay Performing Arts complex and a handful of intriguing restaurants. Within a few miles of the darkened high-rises of commerce, however, lies Ybor City, a century-old cigar capital, Latin quarter and party district with a bohemian collection of older homes and new apartments and condos. Trying to tie these two together is a newcomer: an upscale residential high-rise neighborhood in the Channel District, formerly home to port-related industrial warehouses that some artists had discovered and were trying to transform into an arts community.
That didn't happen, and in the boom of the first part of this decade, so many condos were built in the Channel District and downtown that the market couldn't absorb them all. Two Channel District developers are in Chapter 11 bankruptcy as a result. But there is great hope for the new neighborhood, as residents are starting to fill up the buildings, Stageworks Theater is fundraising to create a new home in one of them, and the color and vibrancy of the structures gives downtown some much-needed pizzazz.
The real question for greater downtown Tampa is whether city leaders can tie all those neighborhoods into one vibrant, trolley-connected, Riverwalk-enhanced urban core. There has been nearly $3 billion in downtown development since 2001, and a new Tampa Museum of Art will be coming out of the ground soon, but despite amenities that look good on paper, the reality is that if you live in downtown Tampa today, you are an urban pioneer.
"The people who are moving in now are definitely experiencing a pioneer kind of lifestyle," said Christine Burdick, executive director of the Tampa Downtown Partnership. "It is getting better but it is not there yet.
The downtown Tampa area is split into four distinct housing markets. The emerging central business district is closest to the Hillsborough River and the museum district along Ashley Drive, with the brand-new high-rise Skypoint condo and the under-construction Element the most prominent addresses, unless, of course, the dream/illusion of Trump Tower Tampa ever happens. Prices: Low-200s to $1.5 million, with very few rentals. The coolest new market downtown is the Channel District, with its bold tropical colors and deco designs. The building scale is lower, six or seven stories at most compared with 30-plus-story skyscrapers in the central business district and the exception to the Channel District rule, the 29-story Channelside Towers. Prices for condos range from the mid-200s to $4 million. Harbour Island, connected to the Channel District by one bridge and the central business district by another, features multimillion-dollar waterfront homes in gated communities, as well as apartments and condos. The newest, luxury condos here run from $700K to $4 million. And Ybor City is a collection of older shotgun-style row houses, upstairs apartments and new condos such as the Box Factory Lofts south of the main entertainment drag on Seventh Avenue. —Sales figures provided by Stan Lifsey, Smith and Associates
The top 20 draws in Downtown Tampa and Ybor.
"I liked it then. I like it now. [But] it's not what I thought it would be.