| TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 19, 2017
Franklin Street north of downtown Tampa -- once lined with with nothing but abandoned buildings and overgrown lots -- is rapidly becoming a destination limited only by your imagination.
On a typical day, you’ll see people hopping from local cafes to a neighborhood brewery to a renovated theater and meeting space; pedestrians and bicyclists stopping at sidewalk tables to sip a cup of freshly brewed coffee; and parked cars lining side streets and filling adjacent lots.
The transformation started about 10 years ago when Cafe Hey added new life as a popular foodie pitstop and creative gathering place just north of Interstate 275. Five years ago, the Rialto Theater got a significant makeover. Then Hidden Springs Ale Works opened. Then Foundation Coffee Co. And, now, just three weeks ago, The Hall on Franklin became the new kid on the block.
What makes The Hall special and ensures a growing urban scene for the neighborhood is the concept behind it. The first of its kind in Tampa, the European-inspired marketplace combines plenty of options in food and drink with full table service for an energetic chaotic environment commonly found in much bigger cities around the globe.
Lindsay Dixon, the director of operations at The Hall, says owner and mastermind Jamal Wilson chose the location based on the emerging neighborhood and surrounding community.
Additional investors in the neighborhoods just north of downtown include the City of Tampa with the Tampa Riverwalk and Waterworks Park, the Central City Family YMCA, the Gonzmart family's popular Ulele restaurant, Bush Ross law firm, Stetson Law School's Tampa Center, the Beck Group, Armature Works and several other shops, apartments, townhomes and houses.
“He’s really looking at trends and cities that are standing alone and have a strong community that will enhance it, instead of capitalizing on expected revenue,” Dixon says.
Diversity in food and drink
The Hall on Franklin is home to seven unique “taste architects,” as their website calls it.
Poke Rose offers vegan tofu bowls to shrimp and spaghetti squash bowls. Created by Chef Jason Kline, who has over 20 years of restaurant experience, Poke Rose uses fresh and local ingredients whenever possible.
You can get your daily coffee fix at Ko-fe, a coffee bar run by former Buddy Brewbarista Ty Beddingfield, or you can try an original carbonation concoction, like hibiscus ginger spice soda.
Bake’n Babes started off as a small catering company run by self-taught Julie Curry, where she was also the pastry chef at Anise Global Gastrobar. “Jamal sampled some of my desserts from Anise and instantly fell in love,” Curry says. The owners of Anise partnered with Curry to give Bake’n Babes its first store front.
The owners of Anise also created North Star Eatery. For new and exciting flavor combinations, this Southeast Asian street food eatery is a terrific place to go.
Heights Fish Camp is a seafood and raw bar, offering gator bites to grouper BLTs. It’s managed by Dave Burton, who also owns Tampa Pizza Company, SoFresh, Holy Hog BBQ, The Getaway, and a restaurant consulting business in the Tampa area.
Burton also manages the Melt Shoppe, where all of your grilled-cheesey dreams can become a reality.
And last but not least, The Collection, run by mixologist expert Ro Patel, offers craft cocktails created by Patel himself. Patel moved from London to Florida in 2008 and has 23 years of experience.
“We take away the concerns of customers,” Dixon says. “There’s one check at the end of the service and they can order from all of the different kiosks.”
Building an urban scene
Wilson invested a total of $1.5 million and he’s already on the hunt for several other locations, Dixon says.
The Hall’s grand opening in late August surpassed all expectations, according to Burton, someone who’s passionate about building an urban scene.
“The goal of The Hall is to give our guests a unique experience with great food, drink and service that is approachable and value-driven,” Burton says.
Burton says he was “instantly sold” when Wilson approached him to be a part of it.
“It’s wonderful to see both Seminole Heights and Tampa Heights booming,” Burton says. “Both have very strong neighborhood feels and really embrace the retailers and restaurateurs that open in their districts.”
What’s happening now on North Franklin Street is a similar to what happened a few years ago on North Florida Avenue when The Refinery, Rooster and the Till and Bart’s Tavern gained traction.
Kimberly Overman, president of the Heights Urban Core Chamber, an organization that represents all Heights neighborhoods, says a lot of recent investment and redevelopment can be attributed to resolving issues of public transportation.
Recent additions of Uber and Lyft, the Downtowner, and the Water Taxi on the Hillsborough River plus easy access to The Tampa Riverwalk help businesses that have minimal parking.
The Chamber negotiates with government officials in the city and state to help business owners succeed. Three years ago, when the Chamber was reengineered, 25 businesses were members. This year, there are more than 250.
“Challenges still exist,” Overman says. “But we got the Heights Mobility Project moved forward. We advocated to get the transportation project moved from 2024 to 2018.”
From the project, an extension of the streetcar system will be added to connect with downtown and Ybor City, along with more bike and walking options on various roads.
“It’s necessary for businesses without a lot of parking,” Overman says.
Along with added transportation options, three new housing developments are also underway -- the Heights, the Milhaus and the West Burdet -- which are expected to attract hundreds of new residents and greater investments in nearby properties.