TAMPA, Fla. — It's out with the old and in with the new in downtown Tampa. Tampa Mayor Jane Castor took the driver's seat of an excavator to mark the beginning of demolition at the Ardent Mills flour mill.
“This will have a major impact on one of our most important goals for Tampa: bringing the people of our city together,” Castor said. “For 84 years, this site fragmented our streets and sidewalks, splitting our Downtown in two. By reconnecting these links, we will supercharge the sense of community that we know every neighborhood needs to thrive.”
The Ardent Mills site will soon be converted to fit the current Channel District landscape. Tampa Downtown Partnership CEO Lynda Remund said this new construction will help bring the area into the 21st century.
"Standing here a few decades ago, we were surrounded by an asphalt factory, banana docks, and dozens of warehouses," she said. "Today we're down the street from billions of dollars of investment, two renowned cultural institutions, a tech startup hub, a world class arena that's home to back-to-back Stanley Cup champions the Tampa Bay Lightning, and one of the premier medical schools for research in America."
The mill was built in 1938. Its story begins decades prior, according to Tampa Downtown Partnership. TDP said much of eastern Downtown, including the former flour mill site, was laid out in the 1910s. It was created with leftover sand when crews dredged Ybor Channel, which is now a key part of nearby Port Tampa Bay.
But as time went on, the area started to shift into what we now know as the Channel District.
"This site has long been seen as a block for our pedestrian bicycle and vehicular connectivity downtown," said Remund. "The future of this site will connect these neighborhoods back together and complete downtown's 50 year evolution from warehouses and industrial yards into a 24/7 live, work, play, learn destination."
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said the development will connect Channelside to other downtown areas in a more neighborly way.
"Complete Streets are really turning roadways back into neighborhood roads as opposed to fast highways. We will have larger sidewalks, putting segregated bike lanes, providing greenways and connecting all of our neighborhoods through that form of safe transit," she said.
The mill sits on three acres now owned by Strategic Property Partners. SPP is behind the Water Street Tampa development as well. This latest project is Phase II of Spp's plans.
Hillsborough County Commissioner Harry Cohen says the development is important because downtown Tampa is expected to grow 25% by 2026.
"1.6 million people are going to be living in Hillsborough County by the year 2026. The fastest growing zip code is right here 33602. So this is a really, really important piece," said County Commissioner Harry Cohen.
There are no renderings for what will replace the mill. Many in the community said they hope this time, the site will bring affordable housing to the bustling part of town.
"That is a conversation that we had, actually a couple of years ago. Moving into phase two is looking at the prospects of workforce housing and affordable housing. The city also has a tract of land that we purchased, the Army Navy store in the downtown area, that we're going to turn into affordable housing. We have other imagined areas," said Mayor Castor.
The mill isn't the only thing being removed. The Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority has plans to remove the nearby train tracks. THEA said it leased the tracks to Ardent Mills while it was active. Now THEA is removing the tracks to help the City of Tampa create a street grid system.
THEA expects this will help with traffic delays due to frequent rail crossings while allowing for timed pedestrian crosswalks, sidewalks, connected bike paths and pedestrian refuges.
Currently, the defunct railroad tracks cross at E. Jackson Street, E. Kennedy Boulevard, and E. Twiggs Street are set to be removed.
Demolition of Ardent Mills is expected to wrap in the fall.
There are also plans to preserve some of the history of the building. Three silos will remain, new development will grow around them. Two doors from other silos will also be a part of the design plan. Those doors were signed by the people involved in Friday's demolition kick off.
The flour mill now operates in a facility at Port Tampa Bay’s Port Redwing near Apollo Beach.