The city will now negotiate a contract with Taurus Investment Holdings for the long-awaited Midtown development, which is expected to be completed by summer 2022.
The Community Redevelopment Agency hit the reset button on selecting a developer for its decade-old Midtown redevelopment project Tuesday after partner negotiations failed at the contract stage last year.
Taurus Investments Holdings will now be the sole developer of Midtown. Taurus, a real estate investment company with a global footprint and an acquisition value of more than $3.5 billion since its formation in 1976, partnered with Maitland-based E2L Real Estate Solutions for a development proposal the city accepted in July. However, the partnership fell apart during contract negotiations with the city, forcing the city to re-enter the request for proposal stage.
Taurus, E2L and Blue Sky Communities presented to the CRA, which is comprised of the city’s commissioners, during a special meeting Tuesday. E2L and Taurus opted for proposals to develop the entire 15-acre section of the city south of Historic Downtown into a mixed-use live, work, play community featuring a boutique hotel, enhanced parks, residential space, restaurants and retail. The E2L and Taurus proposals were seen as the most viable, as they would complete the mixed-use community vision the city had for the land when it began acquiring and preparing it for development in 2007.
Blue Sky, a Tampa-based company specializing in developing affordable housing, proposed building more than 100,000 square feet of affordable housing on three acres of Midtown’s land. Blue Sky’s manager, Shawn Wilson, said the project would use about $20 million
of government funds for completion, which would have to be applied for by March to be awarded in June. Beginning revitalization with affordable housing, he said, would be a sure-fire way to kickstart business.
“You need look no further than right across the bridge in St. Petersburg to see that affordable housing, which is what Blue Sky does using tax credit programs, is a catalyst for neighborhood redevelopment,” Wilson said. “It’s a catalyst for private enterprise coming in and doing something exciting”
Commissioners asked Taurus to work with Blue Sky on incorporating affordable housing into Midtown.
“We’ve already traded numbers,” Jeff McFadden, a managing director with Taurus, said.
Commissioners said they liked the flexibility in Taurus’ presentation.
“Whatever we show you right now is going to be wrong,” McFadden began his presentation by saying. “It’s going to change.”
Taurus presented an outline for its Midtown vision, but project architect Kim McCann of Eleven18 Architecture said any master plan should only be a guide to allow developers to go to market, then divide prospective tenants into the master plan based on location needs and desires.
“From the fabric and overall planning it’s almost like a puzzle and it doesn’t matter which piece you start with,” she said. “It matters what it looks like at the end.”
Financial stability was also a major deciding factor.
“One of the important things is the financial capacity. We see that with Taurus and the projects they’ve done,” Commissioner Nate Kilton said. "To me, the financial aspect is a huge part of the decision making.”
Both E2L’s and Blue Sky’s proposals lacked immediate funding. Blue Sky’s development would rely solely on tax credits, while E2L’s combined tax programs with reaching out to investors. Taurus said it has its own money ready to go.
“We’re relying on the CRA and city to pay for public infrastructure, everything else we’ll handle,” McFadden said. “I don’t have the patience to do the public funding. It’s easier to raise our own money.”
Vice-Mayor Bill Dodson said the city has already invested more than $10 million in infrastructure into Midtown and hopes more won’t be necessary. However, Bob Lochrane, the proposal’s civil engineer, said changes to existing infrastructure, like utilities and pump stations, would depend on the use in any given space. One of the most important aspects would be beautification and walkability of streets, he said. Plans are already underway to turn a section of Collins Street running past Midtown into a ‘Complete Street’ concept, making it a shared-use roadway with beautification enhancements.
Representatives for Taurus said with enough tenant interest, Midtown could be completely built out by June 22 and separate teams are already looking for a boutique hotel, housing and potential retailers to come in. Taurus currently has a similar project in the Apopka City Center, where it has invested millions and attracted an incoming Hilton Garden Inn among other shops and restaurants.
“Midtown’s been a dream of ours for over a decade. We’re ready to start taking a dream and making it a reality,” Mayor Rick Lott said. “We appreciate everyone’s desire to see it become a reality.”
Now that Taurus has been selected as the sole developer, city officials are confident the project will quickly make it through the contract stage and are eager to begin negotiations. With a smile and a laugh, Interim City Manager Kim Leinbach looked to start work on the contract right away asking Taurus’ managing directors:
“What are you doing for lunch?”