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PUBLICATION: Tampa Bay Times

TITLE: As downtown booms, historic Tampa Heights next door is seeing change, too

AUTHOR: By Sue Carlton

DATE: February 7, 2023


To fanfare, a mixed-use apartment development just broke ground in the neighborhood that has been around well over a century.

Attorney Harvey Schonbrun has this affinity for Tampa Heights. Given history, who could blame him?

The neighborhood at the north edge of downtown — dating back to the 1880s and known as the city’s first suburb — was where he was born 75 years ago. Later, he would buy a graceful two-story home with a wide front porch that had come on to the tax rolls in 1904 and rent it out as a law office.

For nearly 40 years, his own law firm has been in Tampa Heights, where homeless people and vacant lots shared space with shady oaks and historic bungalows — and, more recently, where hip coffee shops, breweries and Armature Works have become part of the scene.

On Tuesday came more change: the groundbreaking for a new 321-unit apartment community that will encompass a full city block bordered by Florida Avenue, Morgan Street, Oak Avenue and Seventh Avenue — with a small park where Schonbrun’s sprawling two-story house once stood.

“It’s just going to change the nature of this neighborhood,” he said. “Instead of homeless people, you’ll have mothers walking their babies.”

The project, by Loci Capital, a Florida-based middle market real estate investment firm, and co-developer Maifly Development, will include 32 units for residents earning no more than 80% of the area’s median income.

“This is a great example of the future,” Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said at the groundbreaking in a dirt lot with a graffiti-splashed wall as background. “We’ve got to look at multiple solutions to our housing crisis right now.”

She told the crowd that the neighborhood, just on the other side of Interstate 275 from downtown, used to be known as North Tampa. The waterfront the city now treasures, with 2.6 miles of picturesque Riverwalk on it, once housed the police station garage.

Construction of the apartment project is expected to take two years.

“I can’t wait to cut the ribbon,” Castor said.

Brian Seel, board member and past president of the Tampa Heights Civic Association, called it “a solid project for the neighborhood.” Tampa Heights has seen an influx of development since the popular Armature Works opened with its busy bars and restaurants — some good development, some not, he said.

With certain developers and others in the industry, some want to engage with neighborhoods and some want to fly below the radar,” said Seel. “This group from the get-go was very conscientious about engagement with the community.”

The complex of one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments ranging from 512 to 1,393 square feet will have a rooftop pool, fire pits and grilling stations, fitness center, coffee bar, meeting rooms and a dog park.

Schonbrun’s law office is on the property and will be demolished. But that old two-story house he owned on the same block was considered a contributing historic structure to the neighborhood. Instead of being knocked down, it was moved across the street, a four-day process for a building weighing at least 200 tons.

“We don’t bulldoze them down as we did in the past,” Castor said.

Currently under renovation, the house will live on as part of Tampa Heights history.

“And I’ll occupy it as my law office,” said Schonbrun, who handles wills, trusts and estates. “My daughter practices with me, and when I’m retired or deceased, she’ll continue.”