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Seminole Heights tour of homes showcases renovations, historic preservation

Take a step back into yesteryear at this year’s Old Seminole Heights Home Tour on Sunday, April 12th. The event will showcase 10 homes, some of which are more than 90 years old.
 
This is the 17th year that the Old Seminole Heights Neighborhood Association and Old Seminole Heights Preservation Consortium have presented the home tour, but according to one of the organizers of the event, this year will feature the unexpected.
 
“First you think that the charm of Seminole Heights is just about bungalows, but there is more,’’ says Bill Truett, home tour committee member. “Attendees will experience the charm of all these homes that integrate design elements that take you back in time to the 1920s, ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s, yet many have the up-to-date conveniences of today. You will even see how pennies, yes copper pennies, were used in a remodel of a home.’’

The experience is a self-guided tour; however, neighborhood association members will be on-hand to provide attendees with maps and tips on how to make the most of their day. The tour showcases many of the historic neighborhoods in Seminole Heights, and can be completed by car, tour bus or bike. The TPD Bike Patrol will also be available to help cyclists maneuver the streets.
 
In addition to experiencing a relaxing Sunday wandering in and out of beautiful houses, those who attend will be bettering the community.
 
“This year a portion of the proceeds will be donated to Community Stepping Stones (CSS) in Sulpher Springs,’’ Truett says. CSS is a non-profit learning center that offers an arts-integrated curriculum to inspire and educate at-risk teens and youth. The art work from CSS will also be displayed at the garden center and select homes.’’

The Old Seminole Heights Home Tour will be on Sunday, April 12th, from 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Ticket prices are $15 in advance and $20 day of the tour. For more information, or to buy tickets visit the Neighborhood Association website.

The Ella at ENCORE! Tampa earns Gold LEED certification

The Ella at ENCORE! Tampa has been awarded a prestigious LEED Gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. 

The apartment building, one of four newly built in the planned community designed to accommodate 2,500 residents on 40 acres between downtown Tampa and Ybor City, is already at full capacity. The neighborhood developers are working to build and attract retail and other amenities to further serve residents. 
 
The developers -- the Tampa Housing Authority along with the Bank of America CDC -- sponsored a celebration of the LEED certification in March attended by Ed Jennings, the highest ranking HUD official in the southeastern United States. 

“The LEED Gold Certification for Ella at ENCORE! means this building is a showcase example of sustainable design,’’ says VP and COO Leroy Moore, Sr. of the Tampa Bay Housing Authority. “LEED Gold certification requires efficiency in design at every level starting with building orientation to maximize solar exposure, a commitment to some of the most advanced energy efficient equipment from windows and doors, water conservation, waste recycling, heating and cooling, low emitting, volatile organic compounds in finishes such as carpeting and painting, just to name a few.’’

Robert Ledford of Baker Barrios, whose design team helped the building achieve the certification, says he is proud of the accomplishment and credits all of the people who were involved. 

“This is a great achievement for the team, however, there was a lot of effort on behalf our partnerships to achieve this,’’ he says. “It is a great win for all of us, and we look forward to the projects ahead.’’

Vinik hires top urban planners to design waterfront properties in downtown Tampa

Jeff Vinik’s Strategic Property Partners LCC has appointed world-renowned urban planners Jeff Speck and David Dixon to lead the design of downtown Tampa’s southern waterfront into a mixed-use, walkable metropolitan neighborhood.

The property abuts the Tampa Riverwalk, a miles-long stretch of pathways that snake through downtown Tampa’s Channel District and along the Hillsborough River north to Water Works Park in the Tampa Heights neighborhood. A new over-water Kennedy Boulevard segment is set to open in late March 2015. Eventually, 2.2 miles of uninterrupted sidewalk will follow the river through the city.

Vinik's SPP master planning development team is behind a billion dollar plan to transform the area’s landscape over the next five years, with new downtown facilities for the University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine and USF Heart Institute proposed, along with hotel, retail and mixed-use residential space. The TECO Line Streetcar would also be expanded.

Over the next four months, Speck and Dixon will work with retail planners, transportation and traffic design engineers, brand architecture designers and New Urbanism residential planners to create a practical plan for the 40 acres SPP owns along downtown Tampa’s southern waterfront.

Tampa Bay Lightning owner and SPP principal Vinik says, "At the onset, Urban Design Associates initiated a wonderful vision for what the area can become -- America’s next great urban waterfront -- and now we are confident that Jeff and David will guide us in turning that vision into a practical, yet dynamic Master Plan."

SPP, which Vinik founded in 2014, controls Amelie Arena, Channelside Bay Plaza and the Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina. Cascade Investment, based in Seattle and founded by billionaire Bill Gates, is the primary funding partner for the project.

Speck, who wrote a book in 2013 titled Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time, leads a design practice (Speck & Associates, LLC) based in Washington D.C. He is the former director of design at the National Endowment for the Arts, where he oversaw the Mayors’ Institute on City Design and worked with dozens of American mayors to solve city planning challenges.

Dixon, a Senior Principal and Urban Design Group Leader for Stantec, has won numerous urban planning awards, lead the redevelopment of post-Katrina New Orleans, and helped Washington D.C. maximize the social and economic benefits of a new streetcar system.

Speck will serve as SPP’s overall consulting Design Leader, while Dixon will lead the SPP Master Plan team.
 
"We are asking Jeff and David to help us advance a great live, work, play and stay district,'' Vinik says. "One that is welcoming, pedestrian-friendly, progressive, and also healthy, as we aspire to create a true 'wellness' district for our residents, employers, students and visitors.''  

New Montessori School to open in Trinity, Pasco County

Parents looking for a Montessori School in the Trinity area of Pasco County will be pleased to know that one is currently under construction and set to open this fall.

Ground broke four months ago on The Montessori at Trinity Oaks, after one mother, a former Montessori student herself, saw a need in the community.

“I was a Montessori child as were my two younger siblings. Montessori was a big part of our lives,’’ says Anisha Patel, President of The Montessori at Trinity Oaks. “I have two young children of my own now, and it’s time for them to go to school. I wanted to bring the Montessori curriculum into the community. There is not a Montessori school nearby. I decided that would be a good location to open a school and bring the Montessori curriculum here.’’
 
The school will feature three classrooms, an activity room and administration offices, and will serve children ages 2 to 6. Offering two, three and five-day programs, The Montessori at Trinity Oaks will offer both part-time and fulltime schedules depending on the needs of your child.
 
Construction is being completed by Spartan Builders Design & Contract of Tampa.

“We should complete construction in June, and at that time we will begin parent tours,’’ says Patel. “In the fall we will be ready to take in students for the academic school year.’’ 

The Montessori at Trinity Oaks will be located at 9941 Trinity Blvd. in Trinity.

Art party studio under construction in Oldsmar, Pinellas County

While traffic zooms by on Tampa Road in Oldsmar, construction is underway on the Bottle & Bottega, an art party studio. 

The studio, which is set to open mid-May, will marry art with food and wine in a judgment-free zone where ordinary people can become artists for a couple of hours. 

While the Tampa Bay area has several studios with the concept of painting while enjoying adult beverages, Bottle & Bottega will be different by going beyond the canvas.
 
“We strive to be innovative by introducing glass painting, crayon mounting for kids, mixed media, ornament paintings during Christmas time and glass cutting board paintings,’’ says Minal Patel, General Manager of Bottle & Bottega. “There are a lot of things that we do that are not canvas only.’’

In addition, to the brick-and-mortar location, the studio also offers a mobile service in which artists will go to a company or home for private events and instruct a class at a customer’s preferred location.

The 1,625-square-foot space located in Oldsmar at 3687 Tampa Road, Suite 205, in Bay Arbor Plaza is surrounded by Aveda Hair Salon, Rumba Bar and Grill, Salt Rock Tavern and Tijuana Flats. Patel says the space is larger than similar studios and thus offers the ability to accommodate more customers and give them their artistic space.

“We will have two studios, one public and one private, the private studio will be for events like bridal showers, bachelorette parties, baby showers or corporate events,’’ Patel says. “This offers us the opportunity to have two events going on at the same time. Plus, with the larger space, people have more room to move around. If you are painting, you really want to have your own space to let your creativity flow.’’

Urban Charrette, CNU Tampa Bay host open mic on urbanism and the arts

Tampa's Urban Charrette and the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) Tampa Bay will host Urbanism on Tap at the Independent Bar and Café in Seminole Heights on Tuesday, March 24, starting at 5:30pm.  
 
Urbanism on Tap consists of recurring open mic discussions, thematically organized in groups of three. Each event generates constructive conversations within the community about current ideas and trends that are shaping our city. Events are open to the public, and moderators and attendees are invited to share their views and stories related to the topic of the day. 

The resulting lively exchange of ideas is designed to enhance attendees’ ability to make Tampa a more livable city, says Organizer Ashly Anderson. 
 
Starting this spring, Urbanism on Tap organizers have moved to Seminole Heights, a neighborhood north of Downtown Tampa, to host a new Urbanism on Tap Series on Arts and Urbanism. The series will explore the link between the arts and the development of neighborhoods.
 
Tuesday’s discussion, “The Visual Identity of Tampa,” is the first in the Arts and Urbanism series. Organizers will focus on how the arts have shaped the visual identity of Tampa. Participants will talk about how Tampa's image is defined by its iconic structures, landmarks and historic places, resulting in a unique urban form. 

Questions to be addressed: What makes a visitor remember Tampa? How should the visual identity of Tampa be kept intact as development continues within the area? Participants will have the opportunity to answer these questions and many more, trying to decide what matters most.  
 
Residents, students, art enthusiasts and neighborhood groups are encouraged to attend. 
 
The event organizers encourage people to share their opinions on this topic by visiting Urbanism on Tap’s online Facebook page and website before and after the event.  
 
Venue: Independent Bar and Cafe, Seminole Heights, 5016 N. Florida Ave. Tampa, FL-33603  
Date and time: Tuesday, March 24, 2015, 5:30pm–7pm 
Questions: email the Urban Charrette

Haven opens in Sidebern's former SoHo space

A new upscale dining destination and sister to world famous Bern’s Steak House opened in Tampa’s popular SoHo neighborhood in early March 2015.

Haven, housed in the the former Sidebern’s and Bern’s Fine Wine and Spirits space at 2208 West Morrison, delivers a modern sensibility to the SoHo dining experience with rich wood, strategic lighting and upscale décor. The redeveloped bar, lounge and restaurant is a refuge for lovers of charcuterie, cheese and cellars full of fine wine on a street that mixes casual dining with upscale experiences.

Haven’s menu will be under the direction of Executive Chef Chad Johnson (two-time James Beard Award Best Chef: South Semi-finalist), along with Chef de Cuisine Courtney Orwig and General Manager Kira Jefferson. 

Menu offerings focus on beverage selections as much as food: craft beer, 300 Bourbons and over 40 wines by the glass mingle with featured wines from a 2,500 bottle wine collection that includes 550 regional and global vintages. At the 25-seat bar, handmade signature cocktails are muddled using fresh ingredients. 

Attention to detail can be found in everything from a “cheese cave” with over 100 cheeses to homemade sodas on tap. 

Along with interior renovations at Haven, additional dining space and an exterior patio area facing Howard Avenue have been added to the restaurant.

“Our bar and charcuterie areas are sure to be a popular gathering place for guests, in addition to our newly added patio space,” Owner David Laxer says in a news release.

Laxer calls Haven "a new beginning for SideBern’s, and a tip of the hat to the history of Bern’s. It’s a natural progression of our brand and growth of our restaurants.”

Laxer’s parents, Bern and Gert, bought the Beer Haven bar in 1956 and moved it to 1208 S Howard Ave., renaming it Bern’s in the process. Over time, the restaurant and bar grew to include eight dining rooms and the renowned Harry Waugh Dessert Room, which was built in 1985 from redwood wine casks. 

Bern’s Steak House is a mainstay on a street that is a growing foodie destination for both fine and casual dining. In 2014 alone, the long-anticipated Epicurean Hotel opened at 1207 S. Howard Ave., home to Bern’s sister restaurants Élevage on the ground floor and the EDGE Social Drinkery rooftop bar. Former Tampa Bay Rays owner Joe Maddon and 717 South owner Michael Stewart opened the upscale, Italian-inspired Ava at 718 S. Howard Ave. in Nov 2014. 

Well-known Tampa restauranteurs Ciccio & Tony’s latest venture, Fresh Kitchen, opened at 1350 S. Howard with a healthy fast food concept in October last year. And in early 2015, the popular Tampa food truck Wicked ‘Wiches opened a casual dining spot, Wicked ‘Wiches and Brew, on the end of South Howard closest to bars and clubs that are frequented by many young professionals and college students.

Now, Haven will join the mix.

Haven will serve dinner from 5:30-10pm Mon-Weds and 5:30-11pm Thurs-Sat. The bar at Haven will be open from 5-10pm Mon-Weds and from 5-11pm Thurs-Sat. 

For more information, visit the restaurant’s website. 

Community kitchen brings new hope to Tampa's University area

Combating adult obesity begins with small steps, like the community garden that the University Area Community Development Corporation (UACDC) first opened in Tampa in November 2013 to provide residents with access to healthy food. Now, the group has opened the Harvest Hope Center Kitchen to further help residents of Tampa’s university area learn about healthy eating and sustainability. 

UACDC first began making moves toward a healthier Tampa by teaching University of South Florida area residents how to maintain beds of leafy greens and cultivate an array of hearty vegetables in the community garden on North 20th Street.

In March 2015, the program’s efforts expanded with the opening of the Harvest Hope Center Kitchen, directly adjacent to the community garden, with the aim of teaching more members of the university area community about healthy habits and nutritious eating. 

The Harvest Hope Center Kitchen, located at 13704 N. 20th St., is designed to serve residents of the University area, a community that has been the focus of economic revitalization efforts in recent months.

“We believe that educating residents about good nutrition can make a positive, long-term impact on those in our neighborhood,” says UACDC’s Executive Director and CEO Sarah Combs in a news release.

The Harvest Hope Center Kitchen is a fully functional kitchen that provides a classroom-like setting for lessons in nutrition and opportunities for cooking demonstrations, using fruits and vegetables from the community garden. Lessons will focus on teaching residents about the nutritious benefits of the items, along with their seasonal attributes.

“The opening of the Harvest Hope Center Kitchen is a key component in building and keeping a strong, healthy community,” Combs said.

The Harvest Hope Center Kitchen is made possible by community partners and sponsors, including: the Florida Medical Clinic Foundation of Caring, Whitwam Organics, the Westchase Rotary Club, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office and Hillsborough County Code Enforcement.

Community partners and sponsors provide the renovations, equipment, education and support for the Harvest Hope Center Kitchen.

Combs, along with UACDC’s board Chairman Gene Marshall, board Secretary T.J. Couch, Jr., and board members Jo Easton and Darlene Stanko, led the Harvest Hope Center Kitchen ribbon cutting in late February 2015.

UACDC is a 501c3 public/private partnership based in Tampa’s University Area Community Center Complex at 14013 N. 22nd St. The UACDC is focused on helping to redevelop and sustain the areas around the University of South Florida through children and family development, crime prevention and commerce growth.

To learn more about upcoming classes and events at the Harvest Hope Center, or for details on services and programs available through the University Area Community Development Corporation, contact the UACDC by visiting the organization’s website or calling 813-558-5212. 

'Building a Healthier Sulphur Springs' project aims to create safe, energy-efficient Tampa homes

Slowly but surely, efforts to transform a long-neglected neighborhood north of downtown Tampa are taking shape.

“Building a Healthier Sulphur Springs” is a new collaborative community program that will address the shortage of safe, suitable housing in the neighborhood, a factor that Rebuilding Together Tampa Bay says increases housing instability and transiency in the area.

Sulphur Springs is a blighted section of Tampa known for high crime rates and low income but the neighborhood was, decades ago, a destination that attracted tourists with its sulphur waters, spring-fed swimming pool and lively storefronts.

“Through our neighborhood revitalization initiative known as ‘Building a Healthier Sulphur Springs,’ Rebuilding Together Tampa Bay intends to improve the living conditions of this community for its present and future residents,” says RTTB Executive Director Jose Garcia.

Creating stable opportunities for children, improving general wellbeing and developing more positive neighborhood settings are part of the “Building a Healthier Sulphur Springs” program goals.

The program is “uniquely positioned for success because of the collaborations formed with numerous nonprofit organizations that are part of the Sulphur Springs Neighborhood of Promise and the support of the City of Tampa,” Garcia says.

“Building a Healthier Sulphur Springs” services aim to make homes in the Sulphur Springs neighborhood safer, healthier and more energy efficient. This will include implementing the “Healthy Home Kit” in many homes: a combination of learning workshops for residents and on-going community support in the form of home repairs and services.

Efforts to revitalize the low-income community in Sulphur Springs have been underway for several years, with the opening of Springhill Community Center and Layla's House, which offers parenting programs and resources for children to neighborhood families. The Sulphur Springs Neighborhood of Promise, which was founded in the mid-2000’s by the Tampa Metropolitan Area YMCA in partnership with local organizations like United Way Suncoast and the Children's Board of Hillsborough County, led the efforts to open Layla’s House.

Backed by federal funding, the City of Tampa also initiated the Nehemiah Project, an effort to tear down dozens of dilapidated abandoned Sulphur Springs houses, in 2014.

“We have strong support from various corporations and foundations that want to see the neighborhood stabilize and thrive in their new environment,” says Garcia. “We look forward to sharing the outcomes with everyone in the Tampa Bay area.”

The “Building a Healthier Sulphur Springs” project launches at 10:30am on Thursday, March 19, at the Abundant Life Worship Center, 8117 N. 13th St. “Healthy Home Kits” will be installed in the homes of several Sulphur Springs residents following the program kickoff.

RTTB, a nonprofit organization dedicated to rehabilitating neighborhood homes and providing home repair services to low-income families as well as elderly residents, wounded veterans or those with disabilities, has already renovated or repaired more than 350 neighborhood homes through sponsorship support, labor and hundreds of volunteers. Services include anything from emergency repairs to weatherproofing or improvements to make homes more energy efficient.

More information is available at the Rebuilding Together Tampa Bay website.

Tampa Pizza Company opens downtown, Westchase locations

Downtown Tampa residents and visitors may already be familiar with the locally driven, all-natural restaurant that shares a corner of the ground floor in Skypoint Condos with Kurdi's Mediterranian GrillAnise Global Gastropub and Taps Tavern.

The pizza restaurant’s name and menu, however, is new.

Local restaurateurs Dave Burton and Ralph Santell, who previously ran the downtown and Westshore locations of the Deerfield Beach-based Pizza Fusion franchise, have reopened the establishments under the new name Tampa Pizza Company.

Though the decision to leave Pizza Fusion before contracts expired led to a lawsuit, which was settled in Feb 2015, the restaurateurs remained focused on the vision of Tampa Pizza Company.

“We believe in Tampa and all the great things going on in our community,” says Santell. “We strive to be a point of pride for all of our customers and local residents through our restaurants and out in our neighborhoods.”

Indeed, the creation of the Tampa Pizza Company brings together many local elements, from mural art to menu ingredients.

The Tampa Pizza Company’s downtown location is home to new murals of local Tampa scenes painted by artists Robert Horning and Bianca Burrows.

New furniture for the location was purchased at local independent furniture stores such as Rare Hues and The Missing Piece, while Florida Seating in Pinellas County serviced reupholstered banquettes and Tanner Paints of Tampa developed a new interior paint palette.

Upgrades to the Tampa Pizza Company’s Westchase location include new paint and décor, along with a server system with mobile tablet ordering capabilities.

“It was important to us to turn to our local vendors here in the Tampa Bay area to make improvements to the dining experience that we offer our guests,” adds Burton, who hopes to see changes to the space make it feel “more eclectic, independent and local.”

Changes at both locations include upgraded bars and an expanded beverage program, along with plans to expand the restaurant craft beer selections in coming months.

One unique implement? A wine tap system.

Some aspects of the new brand won’t feel like a big change for customers – the lean, healthy influence of a menu laden with all-natural, vegetarian and special dietary needs-friendly options is still there.

Traditional pizza is also available, along with chicken wings, seasonal appetizers, custom sandwiches and wraps, and desserts including bakery items and gelato.

“Ralph and I have built a loyal following over the years, and it is very important to us that we maintain the quality service and incredible food that our guests expect,” says Burton. “Our mission is fairly simple -- create fresh, delicious meals that are appealing to even the health conscience customers who crave great tasting food.”

The first two Tampa Pizza Company restaurants are located in downtown Tampa, in the ground floor of the Skypoint Condos at 777 N. Ashley Dr., and in Westchase, at Westchase Town Center, 9556 W Linebaugh Ave.

Downtown Tampa quiet zone silences train horns with FDOT grant funds

Downtown Tampa and Channelside residents will rest a little easier in coming months, thanks to a $1.35 million grant from the Florida Department of Transportation.

Trains travel through Tampa on a daily basis, and their horns “are a nuisance,” says Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

Train horns are sounded in compliance with federal rules and regulations, which require a train to blast its horn for 15 to 20 seconds at any public crossing. As a result, the loud but legally mandatory horns are “bouncing off the buildings throughout downtown, bothering residents and impacting our economic opportunity as our urban core continues to densify," Buckhorn says.

In fact, the sound of train horns in downtown Tampa has been such a sore subject among residents that some have turned to a Facebook page, called “Help Tampa Sleep,'' to address the topic in a public forum.

Back in August 2014, the city contracted King Engineering Associates to study the development of a “quiet zone” in downtown Tampa.

Buckhorn’s staff reached out to the FDOT to seek information about quiet zones after learning that Florida Gov. Rick Scott was to include quiet zone funding in the state budget. The funds, awarded to the City of Tampa through FDOT’s Quiet Zone Grant program, will be used to create the “quiet zone” along CSX railroad tracks throughout downtown Tampa -- meaning trains will no longer blare their horns in the middle of the night as they pass through town.   

State funding will not cover the entire cost of creating a “quiet zone” in the middle of downtown Tampa -- the anticipated cost for the projects is $2.7 million. FDOT grants will provide up to half the cost of creating quiet zones. The projected improvements are expected to begin in summer 2015.

To silence train horns in downtown Tampa, the City of Tampa must meet “quiet zone” safety requirements established by the Federal Railroad Administration. The project will include the upgrade of nine public highway-rail crossings through downtown Tampa -- from North Jefferson Street to Doyle Carlton Drive -- with additional gating, street medians and signage. 

“Downtown residents and businesses can coexist with the trains, and a quiet zone allows us to strike that balance,” Buckhorn says.

Some citizens are concerned with the solution, however. Gasparilla Interactive Festival Executive Director Vinny Tafuro, a downtown resident, says that he is "hopeful that the project successfully quiets the horns," but is also "concerned with the aesthetics of how the crossings will look, and the reality of the CSX engineers actually following the guidelines and not blowing the horns."

"As a fan of innovative technology, I would prefer a long-term solution that improved on a loud horn as a warning," Tafuro says. "Seems archaic."

In fact, the Train Quiet Zone rules do stipulate that a train horn may be blown in a "quiet zone" during emergency situations.

To view the grant application and award, please visit the City of Tampa’s website or click here. To learn more about the Train Horn Rule as well as Train Quiet Zones, visit the Federal Railroad Administration's website.

McAlister's Deli will add Tampa/Hillsborough County restaurants

McAlister's Deli plans to open as many as 30 new restaurants around the country in the next four years. About 10 to 12 of those restaurants will open in Tampa and Hillsborough County in Florida.

The chain restaurant specializes in sandwiches, spuds, soups, salads and desserts and features its McAlister Sweet Tea. In Tampa current locations for McAlister's franchises include 11402 N. 30 St., near the University of South Florida, and 4410 Boy Scout Road in the Westshore Business District. The Westshore site opened in 2013 as part of the retail portion of the Modera Westshore apartment complex.

The Westshore area is expanding rapidly with new apartments, retail and restaurants. It also is home to the Westshore Business District which includes about 4,000 businesses and about 95,000 employees.

McAlister's looks for "rooftop" communities as well as office districts that can do a big lunch business, says Jeff Sturgis, the company's chief development officer.

Tampa and Hillsborough County are seen as areas with "robust growth" that are rebounding from the economic downturn, he says. "There is a demand for new (dining) concepts where old concepts aren't doing as well anymore."

Additional restaurants could open in Carrollwood, Brandon, Westchase, Citrus Park and New Tampa.

"We're actively looking for sites," says Sturgis.

McAlister's added 19 new restaurants in 2014 including a location in The Villages, FL. In 2015 expansion plans will focus on states such as New York, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Georgia and Florida. 

McAlister's offers dine-in and take-out options as well as catering. Menu items include Cajun Shrimp Po Boy, Four Cheese Chili, Horseradish Roast Beef and Cheddar sandwich, McAlister's Club and a variety of meat, cheese and vegetable toppings for its spuds.

Founded in 1989, the brand has more than 335 restaurants in 24 states.

Franchise Business Review named McAlister’s one of its “Top Franchises” in the Food and Beverage category in 2015 and 2014 based on franchisee satisfaction. In 2014, Nation’s Restaurant News named McAlister’s the top limited-service sandwich chain in its Consumer Picks Survey.

Waypoint Homes aids restoration at Tampa Heights youth development and community center

For more than four years volunteers have shown up weekend after weekend to put in sweat equity to salvage the historical Faith Temple Missionary Baptist Church for a new mission. By March the church is expected to be ready for its debut as the Tampa Heights Youth Development and Community Center.

The final push to complete the makeover is coming from Waypoint Homes and its WIN (Waypoint Invests in Neighborhoods) Program. On successive Thursdays in January a dozen or so WIN team employees work room by room to hang doors, install drywall, put up light fixtures, and finish up trim work. 

The single family rental company owns property throughout Tampa Bay including in the Tampa Heights neighborhood. As part of its WIN program, Waypoint Home sponsors a number of projects to give back to those communities. 

"We search out projects," says John Rapisarda, regional property manager. "We love to do something where we impact the neighborhood where we rent and own  homes."

Company officials are offering materials and company volunteers to finish renovations at the community center for its March opening. Some of it vendors also are contributing materials and labor including Sherwin Williams which is providing flooring.

Waypoint Homes employees will install the flooring.

"It was perfect for us because in addition to contributing financially we want our team to contribute their time," says David Diaz, Waypoint Home's regional director.

The Tampa Heights Junior Civic Association, which is spearheading the renovation project,  provides free youth programs year-round, including after-school and summer activities. The renovated church will include a computer lab, art classroom, recording studio, dining/kitchen area, 300-seat auditorium and performance stage.

"We like everything about this program," says Diaz. "They follow the kids from kindergarten to make sure they graduate from high school."

Over the years national chains, such as Sears, and local businesses, such as CGM Services: Air Conditioning and Heating, have contributed labor and materials to the project. Nonprofit Rebuilding Together Tampa Bay and Richard Gonzmart of the Columbia Restaurant Group also are contributors. 

The total in donations and volunteer labor  likely is close to $1 million, says Lena Young-Green, president of the Tampa Heights Junior Civic Association. Once Waypoint Homes completes its work, the last step is finding a vendor and materials to replace the roof, Young-Green says. 

The Beck Group is helping with this search.

Local architect John Tennison, with Atelier Architecture Engineering Construction, has supervised the volunteer work and guided restoration efforts. 

"It's been enlightening working with people who come by to help," he says. "It's surprising how many people want to give their time and effort. It's a great program and people see that."

Bus riders get new transit center in Pinellas Park

Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority is setting ridership records and filling a need for a growing urban population in Pinellas County. Two express routes also carry riders to and from downtown Tampa.

Now the new Pinellas Park Transit Center at 3801 70th Ave. is filling a "huge hole'' in customer services for riders in the middle of the county, according to Brad Miller, PSTA's chief executive officer, who spoke at the center's grand opening on Jan. 13.

The transit center is the first Customer Service Center in 13 years. The last was opened at Grand Central Station in St. Petersburg in 2002. Riders at the new transit center can buy tickets, figure out bus schedules or get a quick question answered by a PSTA employee.

The facility replaces the former transit center behind the Shoppes at Park Place. Boulder Venture South, a commercial real estate company with offices in Clearwater, donated the land. CHTR Development, LLC, built the transit center after winning the contract with a low bid of about $360,000.

"This is the first public/private partnership in our system," says Bill Jonson, PSTA'S board chairman. "It turns out to be a welcome one."

The transit center has public restrooms, a 2-station customer service booth, security cameras, an ATM machine, a new sidewalk and a raised traffic table for safer pedestrian crossings.

In November 2014 voters rejected a "Greenlight Pinellas" proposal for a 1 percent sales tax to pay for a 30-year plan to improve transit service and potentially have light rail service connecting St. Petersburg and Clearwater. 

"PSTA is in sort of a transition phase right now, looking beyond Greenlight Pinellas, looking at ways we might be more efficient and provide the best services," says Miller. "No matter what our funding status, our size or growth, we have to maintain our (commitment) to our customers."

In fiscal year 2013-2014, riders boarded PSTA buses about 14.5 million times or about 35,000 more boardings than the previous fiscal year, according to PSTA records.

Fodder & Shine and Bourgeois Pig open in Seminole Heights

More restaurant doors are open in the Seminole Heights neighborhood of Tampa, and the eclectic dining choices just keep growing.

Fodder & Shine, at 5910 N. Florida Ave., is serving a dinner menu of delectable Florida cracker-style cuisine from grilled frog legs and fried liver and gizzards for starters to grilled smothered quail and roasted pork for the main courses. In between table mates can devour a diverse array of sides from crackling cornbread to cathead biscuits. The bar serves craft beers, cocktails and wine.

Breakfast and lunch menus are on the way.

The Bourgeois Pig, at 7701 N. Nebraska Ave., is bringing Bohemian chic with an old world flair to the neighborhood. A menu of "adult comfort food" offers starters of softened goat cheese spread and olive oil poached yellow fin tuna; entrees of beef stroganoff on the bone, lamb osso buco, and Brittany fish stew. The Oz bar is stocked with craft beers, hand-crafted cocktails and craft liquors, and a selection of "old world" wines.

Chef Chris Juers is a California transplant.

The Pig welcomes the well-behaved pooch. Morning coffee and lunch will begin in February.

"It's pretty awesome," says co-owner Lysa Bozel. "We've had a good response from the public. The neighborhood has been very supportive."

Bozel and her husband Michael Bozel restored a 1920s bungalow, putting their personal design stamp on each detail including a fireplace and 4-foot chandelier in the main dining room. The Bourgeois Pig sign outside and the Oz bar top are the work of artist Dominique Martinez of Rustic Steel Creations in Tampa Heights.

The Bozels also operate Mockingbird Vacation Rentals with several rental homes in Tampa neighborhoods.

Fodder & Shine is the second Seminole Heights' restaurant for owners Greg and Michelle Baker. Nearly four years ago, the couple opened The Refinery, at 5137 Florida Ave. The Florida-centric restaurant changes menus three or four times a week. In 2014 Southern Living magazine placed The Refinery among the top 100 restaurants in the South. Chef Greg Baker is a four-time James Beard semi-finalist. The Bakers have built a national reputation for fine dining and shone the spotlight on Seminole Heights as an emerging foodie neighborhood. 

Among restaurants and bars attracting patrons to Seminole Heights are Rooster and the Till, Ella's Americana Folk Art Cafe, Independent Bar and Cafe, The Mermaid Tavern, Angry Chair Brewing, Florida Avenue Brewing Co., San Carlos Tavern & Grill, El Rincon Catracho, Reservations Gourmet to Go, The Front Porch Grill and Bar, and Cappy's Pizza.
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