Oldsmar officials okay latest downtown development plan

After several failed attempts, Oldsmar officials recently okayed a new conceptual plan for the city’s downtown development project.

A raw, conceptual design of the downtown Oldsmar development project created by architect Francisco Semsch and developer John Bewes shows the different components of the project, including a park, parking garage wrapped with retail and residential space, an office building, a boutique hotel and a restaurant.. Credit: FSA, Inc.

A raw, conceptual design of the proposed downtown Oldsmar development shows the different components of the project, including a park, a parking garage wrapped with retail and residential space, an office building, a boutique hotel and a restaurant. Credit: FSA, Inc./Bews Design Group.

City of Oldsmar officials have been trying to bring a multi-faceted, mixed-use complex to the downtown area for more than a decade, only to run into roadblocks ranging from the recession to poor planning and/or direction.

But a collaboration with University of South Florida architectural students last spring brought some new ideas and a fresh perspective to the proposed project, leading officials to turn to a pair of local experts with proven track records to create a new vision for what was formerly known as the Market Square project.

During a workshop on Tuesday, Tampa architect Francisco Semsch and Oldsmar developer John Bews presented their conceptual plan for developing the seven-acre parcel adjacent to City Hall to several Oldsmar officials, including the five City Council members and City Manager Bruce Haddock, and the pair explained how they combined aspects of previous plans to create a project that would reshape the face of the downtown district.

Tampa architect Francisco Semsch explains his downtown development project to Oldsmar city officials on Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2017.

Tampa architect Francisco Semsch explains his and John Bews’ (seated, center left) downtown development concept to Oldsmar officials on Jan. 10, 2017.

“What we’re trying to do is to create a downtown transformation, to bring foot traffic to State Street,” Semsch, who also came up with the design for the city’s proposed baseball stadium, explained. “The whole development will be very eye-catching.

Conceptual artwork for Oldsmar's downtown development project created by Tampa architect Francisco Semsch. Credit: FSA, Inc.

Conceptual artwork for Oldsmar’s downtown development project created by Tampa architect Francisco Semsch and Oldsmar developer John Bews. Credit: FSA, Inc./Bews Design Group.

Semsch then outlined the main components of the project, which he said would be completed in individual phases. Those “modules” include a mixed-use building featuring a parking garage surrounded by retail and residential space; a 60-80 room boutique hotel; a “live” park park with places for gathering; an office building; and a restaurant with a rooftop deck.

Other elements of the plan include a tall, lighted monument near the intersection of SR 580 and State Street that Semsch said would be “an iconic way to introduce people to the downtown corridor,” additional parking and greenspace as well as a redesign of some existing cross streets to better utilize the walkability aspect of the plan.

“This package has seven elements,” Bews, whose company, Bews Design Group, is located at 150 State Street, said. “It has the mixed-use building, it has an office, it has the park, it has a hotel, it has restaurant, it has the monument.”

“We’ve taken all of (the ideas) from the past ten years and taken the most popular and/or what we think can be the most business-friendly, meaning there are people out there doing this kind of project, and that’s all that’s on the site,” he added. “It might not be the highest use of the site, but we think it’s the best use.”

The plan grabbed the attention of the council members.

All five agreed the concept hit the right notes based on what they want to see happen with the project, although there were some concerns about pulling the whole thing off, especially in light of past failures.

Conceptual artowrk for Oldsmar's downtown development project created by Tampa architect Francisco Semsch. Credit: FSA, Inc.

Conceptual plans for Oldsmar’s downtown development project created by Tampa architect Francisco Semsch and Oldsmar developer John Bews. Credit: FSA, Inc./Bews Design Group.

“I don’t want to say this is a great plan because I’m not a retailer or restaurateur,”  Council Member Gabby McGee said.

“I want to shop it out, put out a call to successful retailers and restauranteurs and see what they think about it.”

Semsch said if the plan moves forward, the next step would include creating a graphic that would be used in conversations with potential tenants.

He also noted they have already spoken with parties that have expressed interest in being part of the project.

“We might have an investor,” Semsch said.

Vice Mayor Eric Seidel questioned the roles Bewes and Semsch would play in the project moving forward.

Oldsmar Vice Mayor Eric Seidel.

Oldsmar Vice Mayor Eric Seidel.

“What is your role in this, from a monetary standpoint, from a leadership standpoint?” Seidel asked.

“We’re discussing a leadership role,” Semsch replied. “We haven’t decided yet.”

“But for this to happen, we need an organized atmosphere with a one-stop shop to hold conversations, so everything is moving towards the same group.”

Despite the questions and concerns that are typical with any project of this size and scope, city officials said they were excited about the proposal.

“I like the plan,” Haddock stated. “This is a different approach. It used to be, ‘this is what I’ll put there for you,’ but this is, ‘this is what you want.’ And we struck out three times with the other approach.”

“I like it,” Mayor Doug Bevis said. “I have much more confidence in you two to bring this forward. With the previous person, the conversation changed to, ‘what do you want there?’ and what we took away from that is we’ve got to guide this ship ourselves.”

This property adjacent to Oldsmar City Hall is the prosed home for a multi-faceted, mixed-use development project.

This property adjacent to Oldsmar City Hall is the prosed home for a multi-faceted, mixed-use development project.

After receiving a consensus to move forward with the project, Haddock explained the next step is for the council to vote on the conceptual plan, followed by a site plan, and to formalize the relationship with Bewes and Semsch.

When asked for an estimated timeframe to begin work on the first part of the project, which is expected to be the park space, Haddock said, “optimistically, something could happen in six months, or it could be a year.”

Conceptual artwork for Oldsmar's downtown development project created by Tampa architect Francisco Semsch. Credit: FSA, Inc./Bewes Design Group.

Conceptual artwork for Oldsmar’s downtown development project created by Tampa architect Francisco Semsch and Oldsmar developer John Bews. Credit: FSA, Inc./Bews Design Group.

Haddock said if all goes well, the entire project could be completed within 5-6 years.

After the meeting, Semsch and Bevis spoke about the new project, which the architect has dubbed the OLDS Site.

“I think we’re getting closer to finding a viable solution for the property,” Semsch, who previously worked on the city’s Galleria project, said. “Right now it’s more of an inside job where all the participants are in the same frame of mind as to what should be done in the city.”

“I want to find the right partnership to make this work,” he added. “I have the goals of the city in mind.”

“I like the approach,” Bevis said. “It has a lot of similar components we’ve seen in the past.”

“The big part is they’ve used the best aspects of the previous plans. But now we have to have it come to fruition.”

Oldsmar Mayor Doug Bevis.

Oldsmar Mayor Doug Bevis.

Bevis went on to praise Bews and Semsch, who so far have not been paid a cent for their work.

“With the people now involved, John and Francisco, there’s definitely a difference with them being in the industry,” he said. “They complement each other. The previous team had more of a project manager to carry out the vision, but tonight we heard people are already interested in being involved with the project. I’m excited about that. I think it’s a lot better thought-out.”

When asked what he liked best about the proposal, the mayor didn’t hesitate.

“I’m excited that the modules are what is popular right now, boutique hotels and retail-wrapped garages,” Bevis said. “We’ve heard that before, but it’s hotter now than it was then.”

“The other big plus is we don’t have to go through any zoning changes or other roadblocks,” he added, noting all the land, save for a small sliver, is already owned by the city and zoned for mixed uses, and the long-vacant Goodrich buildings on the property are set to be demolished soon.

“It’s not turnkey, but from a land ownership and zoning perspective, it is. We just have to make sure that they have our best interests in mind and we stay fairly close to this concept and don’t deviate too far from it. Tweak it, yes, but keep it close to the core concept.”

Related content:

5 Comments
  1. Marilyn 4 months ago
    • David Frank 4 months ago
  2. JOHN 4 months ago
  3. Jeffrey S Willett 4 months ago
  4. Jeffrey Ardolino 3 months ago

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *