It’s Ybor City’s turn for a renaissance and one passionate, business-savvy man is leading the charge. Developer Darryl Shaw has won the hearts, minds and pocketbooks of an impressive array of key players in the game of Ybor Monopoly, buying up much of the historic gem and setting big plans into motion for its revitalization.
“Precious few cities are lucky enough to have civic leaders like Darryl Shaw, who is not merely planning to develop property, but thoughtfully create an entire transformative neighborhood that respects history while also embracing the future,” Tampa Mayor Jane Castor says.
Shaw plans to resuscitate once-teeming Ybor, primarily by creating the Gas Worx district (named after a gas works plant often referenced on the site). The 30- to 40-acre mixed-use development will fill the gap between Historic Ybor and Downtown’s Channel District, also connecting to The Heights. Plans include a family friendly mixture of new residences, shops, restaurants and office space, while enhancing Ybor’s walkability, green space and art scene, adding trails and parks and restoring the street grid. Can you say ambitious?
“Over the last several years we have been thinking through how to help bring back Ybor to become again one of America’s great neighborhoods,” Shaw says. “We have a very significant plan and vision for Ybor that will unfold over a number of years. By far the most significant but not the only component of it is the Gas Worx plan. We are very, very excited about what Gas Worx will do for Ybor, for the people of Ybor, for the city of Tampa and for the Tampa Bay area. Development in Ybor is going to blossom and bloom.”
Vince Chillura, first senior vice president of commercial real estate for Valley National Bank, is involved in Gas Worx, as well as Tampa’s other major mixed-use redevelopment projects — Water Street, Midtown, Westshore Marina District and The Heights. Chillura cites Shaw’s project as perhaps the most important Tampa development of them all.
Called Ybor’s kingpin by historian E.J. Salcines, Shaw has even been compared to Ybor founder Vicente Martinez Ybor and industrialist Henry Plant by restaurateur Richard Gonzmart (caretaker of the 1905 Family Of Restaurants, formerly Columbia Restaurant Group) for the economic and cultural impact he is expected to have upon the region. In fact, Ybor’s Chamber of Commerce president Lee Bell believes Shaw could make Ybor one of the most desired destinations in Tampa Bay.
Shaw partnered with longtime Ybor families of influence to gain their support and formulate a plan that would honor the key people and places of Ybor’s past — the Gonzmarts, Capitanos, Guagliardos, De La Granas, Buchmans, Newmans and Fuentes among them.
“Darryl Shaw has been the kingpin to bring these different lovers of Ybor City together and give them a transfusion of hope,” says Salcines, a Tampa native and former appellate judge and state attorney. “They’re dancing together for the benefit of the people. Twenty to 50 years from now we will say that they produced magic and made this a gorgeous place to live, all for the benefit of Tampa.”
However, others might still be saying, “Darryl who?” The quiet, unassuming businessman has kept a low profile while strategically building his Ybor real estate portfolio for around a decade.
Born in South Africa, Shaw moved to Tampa at age 8 and has lived here ever since, with the exception of going away to college. Shaw and his brother, Neil, founded BluePearl Veterinary Partners and Darryl spent over 25 years as CEO before retiring in April in order to go all-in on Ybor. If it’s any indication of his business acumen, BluePearl became the nation’s largest network of specialty animal care hospitals with 53 locations upon Mars Veterinary Health’s acquisition in 2015.
Ybor City was founded in 1886 and became the “cigar capital of the world” and a melting pot for immigrants from Cuba; Spain, Italy and other European nations; as well as robust Black and Jewish populations. It was a tight-knit neighborhood with a strong community feel and Shaw hopes to restore that sense of place. Several factors contributed to its decline through the years, including the U.S. embargo against Cuba, urban renewal, the building of the expressway, the rise of shopping malls and the dissolution of deed restrictions.
“Right now people say Ybor is an entertainment district — it’s far from the only thing we want it to be known for,” Shaw says.
Shaw’s real estate and development efforts have always been laser-focused on Ybor, an area he moved to after college and fell in love with. Recent milestones have started to put him in the media’s spotlight, including the Tampa City Council’s August approval of several rezoning requests for Gas Worx.
To execute Gas Worx, Shaw partnered with Washington D.C.-based Kettler to plan 5 million square feet of development, proposing nearly 4,500 apartments, over 500,000 square feet of office and 140,000 square feet of retail. Shaw has partnered to purchase over $110 million of properties in the Ybor area so far, spending over $70 million since 2014. Construction on Gas Worx is planned to start this fall. It could be about a 10-year buildout due to its complexity, Shaw says, since the area overlaps with a historic district and four CRAs and has to account for changing density toward downtown.
Shaw is committed to offering a diversity of housing options, including 325 workforce housing units, Tampa’s largest private project commitment to affordable housing today. About $40 million in privately financed infrastructure improvements are among the plans, including 1.5 miles of new public streets and utilities, 3.6 miles of new sidewalks, 1.2 miles of multi-use trails and 2 acres of open public space. Phase 1 of Gas Worx is 8 acres and will have 720 units and 20,000 square feet of retail on the former Tampa Park Apartments site as the first project expected to come out of the ground.
In just the past few years, Shaw has already transformed several buildings around Ybor, including the old Oliva Cigar Factory into residences; El Dorado Hotel and Casino into Hotel Haya; and the former Buchman Department Store into retail and residences.
“I think a lot of Darryl,” says Booky Buchman, an Ybor native and businessman who sold Shaw his first piece of Ybor property and invested in his plan. “He’s a very honest man who is very fair with everybody. We believe in the same dream — to make Ybor what it used to be so it becomes a destination.”
Looking ahead, Pedroso’s will soon change to a restaurant, brewery and 33 residential units, and Shaw is also a partner in Miles Ybor, fully furnished rental micro-units, a bar and gym coming to a vacant lot around 2024. As this magazine went to print, Shaw was under contract for 25 acres of land along the Ybor Channel near Downtown Tampa to further enhance connectivity between Ybor City and the Channel District. Similar to Gas Worx, he plans to make it another mixed-use community with housing, offices and retail. The first component of the sale looks to be closing in 2023.
At 56, Shaw says he has his work cut out for him.
“There’s so much to do here that I don’t know that I ever see myself doing something else,” Shaw says. “I think there are decades of work here. It’s going to take a lot of people, not just one person, to move the district forward.”
Thankfully, Shaw has already secured those stakeholders, having built strategic partnerships in the private arenas with the aforementioned families and landowners, as well as in the public arena, including with the city, Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority and the Port Authority.
With Shaw at the helm, the best just might be yet to come for Ybor City.