Tampa, a city of 2.3 million located on Florida's Gulf Coast, is known for football, beaches and urban sprawl. Now the city wants to be known for its cultural institutions.

In June, Tampa began the final phase of a five-year, mixed-use redevelopment of its downtown that has brought in $6 billion in new construction, including a 28-block culture zone. The crowning touch will be a new $47 million home for the city's 23-year-old art museum, a 125,000 sq. ft. design by Rafael Viñoly, who recently completed the Tokyo International Forum and Philadelphia's Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts. Construction on the building, the design of which was unveiled in June, will begin in late 2002.

“What this will add to Tampa will be that ‘wow’ factor where people will say, ‘Oh, when you go to Tampa, you have to see the art museum,’” says Ron Rotella, special consultant to Tampa Mayor Dick Greco. “It's that kind of structure.”

The “Circle of Development” series of projects was proposed by Mayor Greco to revitalize the city, which was once famous for its cigar factories but in recent decades had become a symbol of Florida's relentless urban sprawl.

Greco's plan is intended to draw businesses and tourism back downtown by adding cultural attractions and connecting the area via streetcar lines to historic Tampa neighborhoods such as Tampa Heights, the Ybor City Latin Quarter, Harbour Island and the Channel District near the Port of Tampa.

Conceived by the City of Tampa more than three years ago, the Cultural District ultimately will include a new history center, additions to the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, a river walk, an expanded waterfront park and a refurbished campus for the city's main public library. The city has hired the Chicago office of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill to design the 67.4-acre district.

In addition to the projects now under way, the Circle of Development redevelopment plan takes in some projects completed before the strategy was crafted. For example, the city had constructed a convention center that is now included, but it lacked a hotel. So, one of Greco's first steps was to convince Bethesda, Md.-based Marriott International Inc. to build the $105 million Marriott Waterside hotel, which opened in March 2000. “That commitment sent out the signal that the administration was serious about downtown redevelopment and knew how to make the deals,” Rotella says.

Other completed projects include:

  • The 20,500-seat Ice Palace ice hockey and sports venue;

  • A new cruise-ship terminal to accommodate luxury liners, with two more terminals under construction; and

  • The $200 million redevelopment of a mixed-use community on Harbour Island featuring a 40,000 sq. ft. retail complex, 1,000 apartment units and 250,000 sq. ft. of office space.



The city hopes its redevelopment efforts will boost retail spending downtown by residents and tourists alike. To get the locals into the zone, the city is spending $53 million for a new light rail system. “The streetcar ties our historic downtown, our cruise ship terminals and our Channel District together,” says Rotella. “Somebody could come to Tampa for a convention, hop on the streetcar and head out to the historic district. And that's how the Circle of Development concept evolves.”