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Alafia Project Takes Shape on Waterfront

Fri September 17, 2010 - Southeast Edition
Cindy Riley

A three-phase construction project near downtown Tampa has crews putting in long hours to complete the first stage of a $100 million project that’s won the endorsement of The Sierra Club. Located on the Alafia River in Hillsborough County, the apartments of The Preserve are part of a mixed-use master plan spearheaded by Garrison Developer Group.

The buildings are situated in a park-like setting with more than 1,200 ft. of waterfront and a 3,000-ft. frontage on the 80-acre Alafia River nature preserve and wildlife conservation area.

“We have saved a lot of trees on site and left the riverfront as an amenity for the entire project, not just a few units,” said Rey Ortega, president of Garrison Developer Group. “This was done by going vertical, with three of the buildings being five-story with covered parking. The Sierra Club understood this property would ultimately be developed, and supported our plan because they understood the lengths we went to in order to be environmentally sensitive.”

Work on the luxury units, located in Brandon, Fla., began in December 2009, with the apartments dubbed “The Preserve at Alafia,” Upon completion, residents will be roughly 10 minutes from downtown Tampa using the adjacent crosstown expressway.

“Just because the economy is in bad shape does not change the fact there is a demand for this type of investment in south Hillsborough County,” Ortega said. “There’s a shortfall of 3,000 to 4,000 rental units in this market. The Preserve at Alafia, with 351 units, covers just a fraction of that need.”

Alafia Crossing, meanwhile, calls for 63,000 sq. ft. of commercial/office space and a full-service hotel with conference facilities. A number of restaurants have committed to Alafia Crossing, which is currently waiting for construction to begin. Commercial financing has yet to be secured, because of the ongoing recession.

According to Ortega, the property for The Preserve was assembled from 11 parcels and rezoned in 2006 and features waterfront access to Tampa Bay. Residents will be able to rent kayaks or canoes at the clubhouse and paddle down river to the Audubon Society bird sanctuary. They also can picnic along the River waterfront.

The developer has approximately 50 percent of space under lease and reportedly has additional tenants waiting to sign leases.

Residential Amenities

As the general contractor of The Preserve, Sound Construction Group Inc. of Clearwater, Fla., is responsible for the utilities, site development, eight garden and three mid-rise apartment buildings, garden gazebos and sundecks, and a waterfront clubhouse and gym. The two- and three-story walk-up garden buildings contain one- and two-bedroom units. The mid-rise structures feature under building parking and elevators and contain units from one to three bedrooms. There are half-a-dozen different units types ranging in size from 708 sq. ft. studios to apartment homes just under 1,200 sq. ft.

When finished, the project will offer a river walk, full docks, fitness facilities, a yoga pavilion, a business center, a cyber-café, a demo kitchen for cooking classes, a big screen theater room, pool, spas and a volleyball court. Sound Construction Group, which has constructed office buildings, luxury high-rise condominiums, themed restaurants and entertainment venues, was given the task of coordinating all the elements necessary to bring the designer’s images to life.

The Preserve is spread out over 30 acres. There are six different ponds that were excavated for water management, and that also provided the fill necessary to balance the site. A variety of bulldozers, track-hoes, front end loaders, off-road trucks and rollers were used as dirt was removed from the site, while cranes are being brought on-site periodically for hoisting.

All of the apartments are stick constructed, so lumber was hauled in in large quantities. An exterior stucco system is being used which combines the exterior finish and building color all in one. Standing seam metal roofs will complete the exterior design.

Crews work different shifts to keep the project on schedule. All the concrete pours, whether conventional slabs on grade for the garden buildings, or the elevated, 15-in. post-tensioned transfer slabs for the mid-rise buildings, had to be poured overnight.

“The heat and extra rainfall we have received this summer have no doubt been challenges, but these are elements we are used to dealing with here in Florida,” noted Sound Construction Project Coordinator Katherine Hess.

Speaking For The Trees

“In conjunction with the developer, civil engineer Cumbey & Fair Inc., and professional arborist Richard Bailey, great care was taken in the building and infrastructure placement to preserve and protect the trees on-site and in the end,” added Hess. “Root pruning was performed by hand and machine to protect and maintain the health of the existing trees, while still allowing the underground utilities to be placed into service. Tree trimming and shaping was also performed to aesthetically improve the health and appearance of the trees being preserved, as well as to allow the apartment structures to coexist with the tree canopies.”

First, the land was cleared, with the majority of the trees chipped on-site, and the mulch recycled and bagged for yard use.

“This was a heavily wooded site, directly adjacent to the Alafia River,” explained Philip Poulter of Tampa-based Ripa & Associates. “The site slopes over 30 feet from one side to the other towards the river, which leads to a challenging drainage component during the wet season.The developer went through great strides to salvage as many of the old growth trees on-site, and adjusted the design and layout of the buildings to accommodate over five grand oak trees, including pavement design, to ensure future protection of the roots and drainage systems.”

Ripa & Associates used a smaller Cat equipment earthwork setup on the 22-acre, heavy tree save site, to excavate the ponds and prepare the buildings for a fast-track accelerated delivery date for the general contractor. A Cat 330 excavator was used to load Cat 325 and 330 off-road haul trucks, due to the site restrictions. Most of the ponds were dewatered using a horizontal dewatering sock technique, to minimize turbid discharge to the downstream river, and adjacent wetlands.

“The ponds,” Poulter added, “were interconnected by a maze of RCP storm pipe designed to balance the stormwater runoff, prior to discharge to the Alafia River, which leads directly into Tampa Bay.”

On-Site Arborist

Master arborist and professional forester Richard Bailey was contracted to identify the grand oaks at the site, property so close to his childhood home that he remembers exploring it as a youngster.

“Mr. Ortega loves trees and has put a lot of effort into saving as many as possible. He has kept me involved in the building process to address tree issues as they come up. Sometimes he wants to save additional trees or root prune where excavation takes place within the drip line. We used a Dosko root cutter adapted to a Bobcat skid steer. We have the only one like it.

“It was a difficult site with many changes to the tree protection plan,” Bailey pointed out. “Hillsborough County has agreed to let me document necessary changes due to tree quality and disease problems. I think my being on the site has helped the county and the builder so that activity doesn’t stop when a problem crops up. We still have a lot of work to do with the final trim and hand clearing in the tree preservation areas. We are losing a number of sabal palms to the Phytoplasm disease. But, overall, the trees look great and the work that Sound Construction has done keeping up the tree protection barricades has worked very well.”

Ed Hoffman, AIA principal with Hoffman Architects added, “With Mr. Ortega being an architect himself, there was a wonderful respect for our roles in the project. He allowed us to have input in the master plan and then take the commercial/retail portion of the project to a level of Florida character and sophistication of which we are quite proud.

“The second draw to this project was the great site, even though it presented the biggest challenge,” Hoffman admitted. “The team wanted to be as sensitive as possible with the existing magnificent trees, yet still obtain the necessary square footage our commercial buildings required.”

Subcontractors on the project include Carr and Son Masonry and Concrete, Power Design Electrical, H and H Mechanical/ Plumbing and Dependable Stucco.

Phase II of the project, called Alafia Crossings, will reportedly be approximately 40,000 sq. ft. of retail space, and more than 20,000 sq. ft. of professional office space. Plans for the total project also include a number of restaurants that may include a large chain coffeehouse.

Phase III of the master plan is a full-service Holiday Inn with restaurant and meeting rooms, to be developed by American Hotel Development Partners.

“This will be different from the ’Express’ Holiday Inns currently in the area because it will offer all residents of the area a place for meetings and fine dining,” Ortega explained.

Apartment leasing is set to begin in the final quarter of 2010, with move-ins scheduled for summer 2011.” CEG

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