In one of the country’s fastest-growing cities, a massive and ultra-connected neighborhood is rising. The Water Street Tampa development is taking shape on a 56-acre site that was previously occupied by empty fields and parking lots in Tampa Bay, a city on Florida’s Gulf Coast. Strategic Property Partners (SPP), owned and capitalized by Cascade Investment, an investment firm funded by Microsoft founder Bill Gates, is the developer behind the megaproject. Around 9 million square feet of real estate, ranging from retail to residential to office, will be built at the site, and it is expected to generate $8.6 million for the city of Tampa and $15 million in state sales tax each year. But one of the most notable things about the multi-billion-dollar development is the connectivity features. The tech infrastructure that is planned for Water Street Tampa is so advanced, it has already achieved some of the highest certifications for tech connectivity and wellness, including being the first neighborhood in the world to achieve WiredScore’s SmartScore Neighborhood Pre-Certification.
The idea for Water Street Tampa began back in the early 2010s after Vinik purchased the Tampa Bay Lightning NHL team. In becoming the team’s owner, Vink realized that he needed to be “all in” on the market he was in, Strategic Property Partners’ CEO James Nozar told Urban Design Forum in 2020. “We were all coming out of the recession, and some parcels around the arena in downtown Tampa became available,” Nozar said. “Before he knew it, he had amassed almost 50 acres of contiguous land around the arena.” Back then, the site was just parking lots and empty land, but it was once home to Fort Brooke, a U.S. Army base from 1824 to 1882. SPP was formed in the early 2010s and the vision for Water Street Tampa began to take shape as a full-fledged neighborhood that would connect disjointed neighborhoods, improve accessibility, and offer a live-work-learn-play lifestyle experience that didn’t previously exist in the city, according to the company.
By 2017, the $3.5 billion project was moving forward, and construction broke ground on the development. Late last year, the first phase of Water Street Tampa was completed, which includes 10 buildings and acres of new public space, including a redesigned street network and plazas, and green space. Three of the finished buildings are apartment rentals, one is the city’s first EDITION Hotel-branded condo tower and Tampa’s first five-star hotel, another is Downtown Tampa’s first trophy office tower in 30 years, and two more are hotels. The completed portions of the project also include a mix of restaurants, shops, and stores. Planning work is currently underway on the project’s next phase, which will include many of the same components delivered in the first phase, like residential, office, and retail buildings. “We look forward to continuing to build on the incredible neighborhood that we brought to life in Phase 1,” said David Bevirt, executive vice president of corporate leasing and strategy for Strategic Property Partners.
So far, Water Street Tampa has already had an impact on the region’s economy. The half-finished project has contributed $520 million on an annual basis, according to a report released in May from PFM Group Consulting. The development has also led to the creation of close to 6,000 permanent jobs in the area. A number of companies have leased office space within the development, including the investment firms PEI Global Partners, Baird, and Weatherford Capital. The cybersecurity firm ReliaQuest relocated its headquarters to the Water Street neighborhood in early 2022, taking 145,000 square feet at Thousand and One, a 375,000-square-foot office tower within Water Street Tampa. And most recently, the global design firm Gensler signed on for more than 10,000 square feet at the 20-story building, where it plans to move by the end of the year.
Since the project’s inception, the developers have pursued what they described as an “innovative approach” to all facets of the development. “Technology and connectivity are critical elements of any mixed-use environment, and it was our goal from the beginning to invest in technology infrastructure that would enable our occupants and guests to enjoy a frictionless environment,” Bevirt said.
In addition to adding the highest level of tech-enabled infrastructure available at the moment to the project, the developers made sure to add in flexibility in order to prepare for the development to be able to stay updated with the latest tech advances in the future. “Our focus is and has always been on the future, and this has been a valuable strength for us at a time when many developers are just beginning to grapple with how to bring their technology infrastructure up to today’s standards,” Bevirt explained.
Water Street’s tech-enabled infrastructure is some of the most advanced in the world, and something SPP hopes will serve as a model for future cities. The tech features include 180 smart light poles, air quality sensors, a single wireless network that provides secure Wi-Fi coverage in every building and public space within the neighborhood, and EV charging stations. The neighborhood also has an innovative district cooling facility that centralizes water production and reduces energy consumption for the neighborhood. A communications corridor that houses 16 underground conduits beneath the neighborhood’s streets connects to all the building systems at the development.
The developers have also built a digital twin of Water Street Tampa, which includes an interactive, 17-foot diameter scale model of downtown Tampa that allows the team to showcase its vision for the development and plan for the future. The digital model uses an advanced projection mapping system to offer real-time data visualizations from market data to building information that can be useful for prospective residents and tenants, as well as planning future phases.
SPP connected with WiredScore, an organization that certifies digital connectivity and smart tech in office buildings, early on as the company planned its tech infrastructure. WiredScore had worked with the developer before but this project was unique because they were not just having one office property certified, but a whole neighborhood. The focus of the development was environmental sustainability, inspiring urban design, and frictionless walkability. “Building big neighborhoods like this is relatively new, there are relatively few globally,” said Will Brouwer, Group Product Manager at WiredScore. “It’s quite a unique development in that sense.”
The ambitious tech infrastructure buildout was not something that came easily. One of the first big hurdles is getting the public buy-in, a key factor that has derailed other advanced, tech-centric projects. In Toronto, an underdeveloped waterfront neighborhood was set to become a model smart city development in the late 2010s, after Sidewalk Labs became involved in the planned $1.3 billion development. But the project fell apart in 2020 due in part to the pandemic, but also after criticism from residents and privacy advocates. With a project like Water Street Tampa that has advanced tech infrastructure both inside and outside buildings in public spaces, there are security and privacy issues that need to be addressed in order to keep data collected safe.
While it can be expensive upfront for this kind of technology, like the smart lamp posts, it can end up being something revenue-generating as well. For example, the smart street lights could be rented out to network carriers. “There are so many benefits to this tech like allowing you to connect with residents, connect them with ancillary services, and promote amenities—it becomes value-generating,” said Brouwer.
Developing not just an office building, but an entire neighborhood with seamless tech connectivity and tons of smart features is something a lot of people talk about but few have actually done so far. There are a lot of obstacles that may stand in the way. Some are obvious, like cost and buy-in from the community and public officials. Others may come up during the planning and development process, like privacy concerns over data or the possibility of malfunctioning devices. Tampa Water Street is one of the first mixed-use developments of its kind to see its ambitious connectivity vision come to fruition, but given how it could become a model for other developers and communities looking to do something similar, it may not be the last.