The residential and commercial buildings at 815 Water Street.

It’s been called the Hudson Yards of the South, albeit without the density of that northern counterpart. Upon completion, Water Street Tampa will have nine million square feet of commercial, residential, retail, educational and cultural space. While the Manhattan city-within-a-city’s square footage is pegged at 20 million, Water Street Tampa covers a larger area: more than 50 acres versus Hudson Yards’ 28.

The $3 billion-plus Water Street Tampa will be unfurled in multiple phases and built over a 10-year period. It is one of a very few ground-up new construction projects in the U.S. Like Hudson Yards, Water Street Tampa represents a new mixed-use neighborhood, albeit one that will be built within the confines of an existing central business district.

“Tampa is not on the scale of New York,” said Bryan Moll, executive vice president of development for Strategic Property Partners, which envisioned Water Street Tampa. “Then again, there aren’t many other large-scale developments.”

Situated on the Garrison Channel and Hillsborough Bay, Water Street Tampa will take advantage of existing cultural, entertainment and community pillars, including the Tampa Convention Center, Amalie Arena where the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning play, Tampa Bay History Center and Florida Aquarium.

A view of downtown Tampa’s skyline after the Water Street project is finished.

A view of downtown Tampa’s skyline after the Water Street project is finished.  Courtesy Photo

Strategic Property Partners, a collaboration between Bill Gates‘ Cascade Investments and Jeff Vinik, owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning, is responsible for developing the downtown Tampa waterfront neighborhood. 

More than half of Gates’ fortune is held in assets outside his holding of Microsoft shares. Cascade, the holding and investment company controlled by Gates, and managed by Michael Larson, is the vehicle for those assets.

Vinik used a go-between to get to the project in front of Cascade and Larson. Tod Leiweke, former chief executive officer of the Tampa Bay Lightning, who is now chief operating officer of the National Football League, spent a stint in Seattle as ceo of the Seahawks, where he met several Microsoft executives, including Larson.

“Cascade and Vinik are the ownership behind SPP,” Moll said. “Cascade has a number of individuals involved in the day-to-day oversight and a board of directors. Bill Gates is not as involved on the day-to-day side.”

Moll said the project has been in the works for years. In 2010, Vinik bought the Tampa Bay Lightning, and with the team, came two parking lots on either side of the arena. “In subsequent years he was able to acquire more adjacent properties,” Moll said. “In 2014, Cascade investment came on board and formed SPP. It’s all happened organically during that time period. Without necessarily wanting to control 50 acres of land, it just happened.

“A lot of cities have recently — in last 10 to 20 years — started to take advantage of their waterfronts, especially those near downtowns,” Moll said. “The waterfronts are usually near industrial areas. Tampa had a working waterfront, the Port of Tampa Bay, which was filled with old warehouses. Slowly but surely, the city began investing in the area 25 years ago, with the History Center and Aquarium. The Lightening moved in 1997, and a hotel was built near convention center.”

Different economic cycles, not all robust, slowed the progress. “The growth you’d expect from that initial investment didn’t really materialize until a single owner took over,” Moll said, referring to SPP.

Water Street Tampa will be comprised of more than two million square feet of new office space — the first new office towers to rise in downtown Tampa in nearly 25 years — and one million square feet of new retail, cultural, educational and entertainment space. That will complement 3,500 new rental and for-sale residences, nearly double the number of housing units now in downtown Tampa, and two new hotels with more than 650 rooms, including the city’s first five-star hotel. An estimated 23,000 people will live, work, shop and visit Water Street Tampa each day.

“SPP wants to create a 24/7 type of environment,” Moll said. “There will be ground floor retail and dining options. We’re looking at the way we’re activating the entire district in a holistic manner. It’s pretty early into the planning process, so we’re looking at any and all opportunities. We think we’ll have a very diverse mix of retailers. We don’t want to skew one way or another.”

Channelside Bay Plaza, a 230,000-square-foot waterfront shopping mall near the hockey arena will be torn down and replaced as part of the master plan.

Besides retail, there are other things that “make neighborhoods really great,” Moll said. For example, education. The University of South Florida Health Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute will relocate its suburban campus to a new 380,000-square-foot HOK-designed facility at Water Street Tampa in fall 2019. SPP donated an acre of land to the university, which will bring a captive audience of students, faculty and staff to study, work and shop in a district that promotes walking and a sustainable, healthy environment.

Tampa is one of the country’s fastest-growing U.S. cities, logging 2.5 percent to 3 percent increases for the past two decades. “A lot of young professionals, empty nesters and young families live here,” Moll said. In the urban environment we’re building, the average age of residents is early 30s. We believe Tampa’s going to be a diverse place for all age groups and Water Street Tampa’s residential will focus on that. Retail users will also target that demographic.”

The residential and commercial buildings at 815 Water Street.

The residential and commercial buildings at 815 Water Street.  Courtesy Photo

Because downtown Tampa had its growth spurts, “there are already thousands of residents, office workers and visitors who come downtown, but there isn’t really a heart of retail that exists downtown,” Moll said. “We envision Water Street becoming the heart of downtown Tampa. We want them to shop, dine and linger, and enjoy concerts and really want to hang out.”

Tampa residents have active, outdoors-y lifestyles, given the mild weather and proximity to the water. “We have the bay, which people use for boating, and some nation’s best beaches aren’t far away,” Moll said.

Water Street Tampa will connect with entertainment and cultural institutions such as Amalie Arena, the history center and aquarium, by linking them to a network of new and enhanced parks and public areas that lead to the waterfront, Tampa Riverwalk, the five-mile path along Bayshore Boulevard, offers passive and active recreation activities.

“The most popular thing in the entire city is the Riverwalk,” Moll said. “It extends to one end of downtown and goes through the art center and will tie into Water Street Tampa. Here’s this wonderful outdoor walkable, bikeable path that’s already in existence and gets a ton of use that we can tie into.”

 SPP is working with 10 award-winning architectural firms on the design of 18 buildings and 12.9 acres of new and enhanced public space that will energize Tampa’s downtown.

“We’re under design on four million square feet of space across 10 blocks of development, scheduled for completion in 2010,” Moll said. “We have 11 groundbreaking schedules for next year, including hotels, office buildings and residential. All of the buildings have ground floor retail and dining. Subsequent phases of the project are expected to be finished by 2027.”

SPP assembled a broad group of architecture and design talent known for creating distinctive buildings and placing them within the existing local context. The team includes a collection of Florida-based and global firms, including CookFox Architects, which is responsible for two buildings, an office and residential with retail at the base; Morris Adjmi Architects, three buildings, including a 157-key five-star hotel, luxury condominiums, apartments and retail; Olson Kundig, an office building with retail; Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates, condominiums and apartments with a grocery store and retail on the ground floor; Gensler, two office buildings over retail; Alfonso Architects, the redevelopment of Channelside, residential and waterfront retail, and a new public park on the Riverwalk; Nichols Brosch Wurst Wolfe & Associates, a 500-key four-star hotel; Pickard Chilton — three office and residential buildings with retail beneath, and Baker Barrios, a building housing a central cooling facility and infrastructure.

The hotel at 10 Water Street.

The hotel at 10 Water Street.  Courtesy Photo

“We’ve been very lucky to pull together such a wonderful group of designers,” Moll said. “They’ve taken opportunities to work together and talk about how buildings can be collectively designed. The massing of buildings, shapes and first 20 feet where retail first speaks to the public realm has all been thought through.”

One of the most prominent features of the project isn’t attached to a well-known architect. It’s Water Street itself. A historic street since Tampa was established in the 1800s, for the longest time Water Street has been adjacent to water, but at the southern end of industrial area. “With our master planners, we’re use Water Street as the spine of the neighborhood, and we’re extending this old street,” Moll said.

The development also includes more than $200 million in new infrastructure. The revitalization started in summer 2016 with the construction of new roadways, streetscapes and utility and technology infrastructure work that will bring pedestrian-oriented design to downtown Tampa. A new cooling facility will bring efficient and reliable district-wide cooling to each of the buildings in the neighborhood. As an added bonus, the centralized cooling will free up the rooftops of new buildings. In place of the individual cooling towers typically be located on rooftops, there will be lushly landscaped terraces with views of downtown Tampa and Hillsborough Bay.

An overview of Water Street Tampa.

An overview of Water Street Tampa.  Courtesy Photo

As befitting a project that owes much of its appeal to nature, parks and the water, Water Street Tampa is aiming to set a high standard for wellness and sustainability in the built environment. SPP is pursuing both WELL and LEED building certification on individual buildings, and Water Street Tampa plans to become the world’s first WELL-certified community under the WELL Community Standard being developed by the International Well Building Institute.

“Water Street Tampa is a story of opportunity and well-being, with culture, community and character on each block. At every level, we aspire to create a well-crafted place that attracts people to come discover and create,” said James Nozar, chief executive officer of SPP. “By bringing together many of the world’s leading talent in architecture, planning, placemaking and community design, we aim to connect people to each other and to a vibrant and stimulating environment.”

The downtown area is also being primed for healthy living by a wellness consulting company that sweating details of good health fine points such as air quality meters, lighting tied into circadian rhythms, bike lanes, water fountains and fruit and vegetable gardens.