Development is booming in Tampa and much of the city’s success can be traced back to the Tampa Riverwalk. Since its establishment, the 2.6-mile-long open space and pedestrian trail along the Hillsborough River has served as the city’s spine, a central support structure giving life to the major districts it runs through.
The grandiose project is originally what prompted many developers to begin working closer to the Hillsborough River that maneuvers through Downtown Tampa, with several pioneering the plots of land downtown due to talks of the Riverwalk being constructed.
Just ask Richard Gonzmart, the fourth-generation owner of the 1905 Family of Restaurants (formerly Columbia Restaurant Group). He opened one of his more recent establishments, Ulele, in 2014 along the Riverwalk for the prime location.
“Tampa’s Riverwalk provides a picturesque setting for residents and visitors to enjoy the downtown waterfront,” Gonzmart says. “It has added a vibrancy to the city, as well as serving as a connector between Channelside and the southern part of Tampa Heights.”
The Heights master plan has benefited greatly from the Riverwalk’s direct access for bikers, walkers and runners to Armature Works. Future construction will expand the Riverwalk to Ybor City, the west side of the Hillsborough River and farther north with an estimated completion date around 2030. Ybor developer Darryl Shaw is spearheading the projects in Ybor and the Banana Docks.
“The Riverwalk relieves some parking issues and makes our downtown much more walkable with easy access to the Tampa Convention Center, museums, parks, the Straz Center for the Performing Arts and Amalie Arena,” Gonzmart continues. “The Pirate Water Taxi also has numerous convenient stops all along this stretch of the river, including at two of our restaurants (Ulele and Columbia Cafe at the Tampa Bay History Center).”
Tampa was not the first city to build a riverwalk. Many major cities worldwide, including London, Chicago, Paris and San Antonio, all contain waterfront sidewalks that have attracted growth. Like many of these world-renowned destinations, Tampa is experiencing the positive impact that waterfront activation can have on building and construction.
Residential towers are being built with marketing targeting those wanting to be closer to the Riverwalk. The Arts and Entertainment Residences is a 32-story mixed-use development by American Land Ventures and Gazit Horizons within the River Arts District that will give residents direct access to the Riverwalk. Projects such as the Pendry, One Tampa and Related Group’s three-tower development will extend the Riverwalk west. The Pendry Hotel and Residences will rise 38 stories, hosting 220 five-star branded hotel rooms and 207 private luxury condominiums designed by world-renowned Arquitectonica and developed by South Florida-based Two Roads Development. One Tampa will become Tampa Bay’s tallest tower, topping out at 55-stories with 311 luxury condos and retail along the pedestrian level; a ground breaking is anticipated around mid-to-late 2023.
“The Riverwalk has always been a focal point of ours,” says Arturo Peña, senior vice president of development for Related Group. “It started with Manor Riverwalk (now called Arabelle Riverwalk), which we built near the old Tampa Tribune building. The waterfront views allowed us to charge a premium and eventually allowed us to divest the project at a record price. The river continues to play an important role for us, especially as we begin work on our next mixed-use project along the river. From the very start, we knew we wanted that project to give everyone in Tampa the chance to enjoy the riverfront, no matter their socioeconomic status, which is why our final plans include more than 1,000 rental units at various price points and nearly 33,000 square feet of commercial space.”
Related Group will also invest more than $8 million into Riverwalk improvements, including a new pedestrian underpass under the Kennedy Boulevard Bridge that allows for users to easily access Plant Park and the University of Tampa campus.
The astronomical impact that the Riverwalk has had on Tampa in its first phase has now prompted the city to seek funding for its second phase, which will include the aforementioned west extension. Phase 2 will begin with another Related Group project in partnership with the City of Tampa Housing Authority. Titled Rome Yard, the $300-million mixed-use, mixed-income development will activate 18 acres of vacant land in West Tampa. The west Riverwalk extension is valued at $30 million, funded mostly by a $25-million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation, which the Tampa City Council accepted in July.
There are a total of 6 miles of new possibilities met by the Related Group’s $8-million investment in continuing the Riverwalk where the sidewalk would have originally stopped — another 2.6 miles essentially spanning from the west Related development to the east.
“As developers, we’re always looking to place our communities in locations that put residents in the center of the action and that’s exactly what the Riverwalk offers,” Peña adds. “The 2.6-mile walkway allows our residents and their families to easily access the best of the city, whether it’s the Florida Aquarium, Port Tampa Bay’s cruise terminals, countless restaurants and bars, other public greens spaces and more. It’s quite literally a pedestrian highway through the city — and that’s something that will always motivate developers to build around it.”
Projects at the waterfront have sparked other developers to join in or seek nearby areas that could benefit from expansion. Nextdoor to the future One Tampa project, TLR Group, a real estate investment firm, purchased a Downtown Tampa office building belonging to GTE Financial in April 2021. The new owners filed proposal documentation for a 43-story high-rise that would host 480 residential units and ground-floor retail.
The Straz will move forward with its expansion now that Tampa’s Community Redevelopment Agency approved the city’s $25-million commitment to the project. The expansion will include providing retail, restaurant and pedestrian entertainment closer to the Riverwalk. After another $25-million commitment, this time from private donor Dick Corbett for the Tampa Museum of Art, this Riverwalk expansion will enhance Tampa’s modern feel while elevating its arts scene. The museum plans to expand from 14,000 square feet to 43,00 square feet — tripling the available event space and adding a public restaurant and retail store space, along with a 10,000-square-foot education center. The groundbreaking is expected by early 2023.
The Tampa Convention Center is another key expansion currently under construction; the largest renovation project in the building’s history, an estimated value of $40 million will tie this project into the Riverwalk. It will include 18 new waterfront meeting rooms that span two floors and 18,000 square feet visually adding to the pedestrian experience. The project began in November 2021 and is expected to open in June 2023.
Water Street Tampa gives its residents and daily visitors direct access to the Riverwalk and will also start its second phase, which includes a 19-story office tower with 500,000 square feet of Class-A office space and a 27,000-square-foot rooftop terrace for gatherings.
Former Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn (2011-19), a champion for Tampa’s Riverwalk, has even loftier hopes for its future.
“The completion of the first phase of the Riverwalk represents one of the major milestones in the transformation of Tampa,” he notes. “It soon became one of the city’s top destinations and has triggered billions of dollars of private development on or near the river. My hope is that the progress we made on the west side of the river will continue and that soon, the Tampa Riverwalk will begin at Bayshore Boulevard and allow people to walk in one continuous loop on both sides of the river, making the river the center of our downtown.”
A continuous loop linking in Bayshore would reinforce the Riverwalk as the city’s living, breathing spine, further activating all of the major districts by giving people walkability and easier access. Tampa has forever changed with the debut of its waterfront sidewalk, sparking new developments, revitalizing staple projects, giving locals a place to exercise and frolic, inspiring billions of dollars in private investment for new projects and giving Tampa an even brighter future to look forward to.
Tampa Tomorrow is an expert growth and development spotter established on Instagram (@TampaTomorrow) in 2020. It breaks down permits, plans and real estate and development news.