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Tampa's Encore project takes next step as first apartment building opens for tenants

The sprawling Encore housing and mixed-use development project under way in the northeast corner of downtown Tampa can be best described as a survivor.

Encore survived the nastiest of recessions, recent years when real estate financing all but disappeared. And it's still kicking even after Florida's housing bubble burst.

Now comes Wednesday's grand opening celebration for Ella, a seven-story senior residence. It's the first building of many expected to rise out of the ground to fill in the 40-plus acre project ringed by Nebraska Avenue to the east, Scott Street to the north, Orange Avenue to the west and Cass Street to the south.

I toured Ella last week with Page McKee, senior vice president and 30-year veteran of Hardin Construction, the firm that built Ella. Hardin has shaped much of Tampa, building such landmark buildings as the Marriott Waterside and Hyatt hotels, along with the SunTrust Building and Centro Ybor. McKee and his Hardin team are proud of their work on Encore, while acknowledging Tampa's construction market is still recovering from a severe economic hit.

But things are getting better now, right?

McKee sighs. "I think so," the veteran builder says. Plenty of other projects are booked. Few have started.

Ella offers 160 striking and affordable one- and two-bedroom and bath apartments with small balconies and closets big enough to be mistaken for another bedroom. The rents range broadly to provide housing opportunities for those displaced from public housing all the way up to market prices. One bedroom units range from $358 to $692. Two bedroom units run from $359 to $822.

Now it's time for folks to start moving in. They won't be alone for long. On Dec. 18, a groundbreaking is scheduled next door for one of the next apartment buildings, called Reed, to go up. Another called Tempo is slated for the other side of Ella. And across Ray Charles Boulevard, Encore's main thoroughfare, yet another multistory building of apartments called Trio (with one- to four-bedroom units) is already in the works.

The musical branding of buildings and roads in the project celebrates the African-American musical community that once existed in the area. Ella is named for legendary singer Ella Fitzgerald.

That theme will be reinforced with an African-American museum expected to open in an old red brick church on the site.

Encore is a joint project of the Tampa Housing Authority and Bank of America. Housing Authority CEO Jerome Ryans says the next big step for Encore is to attract commercial developers to buy parcels of the project set aside to build office space or perhaps a boutique hotel. Anchoring the project with a chain grocery store along Nebraska Avenue is also on the wish list.

For Ryans, the view in Tampa is broader than just Encore. Channelside is filling up and Ybor is expanding. "Things are happening all over the community," he says.

Contact Robert Trigaux at trigaux@tampabay.com.

Tampa's Encore project takes next step as first apartment building opens for tenants 12/10/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 11, 2012 12:16am]
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