I know some of you will disagree, but I don't think height is the only thing to consider in a downtown area. Not every block needs to be a highrise. That would make the area bland and boring. I would be okay with a 5 or 6 story european style perimeter block development on the northern lot, since that would add hundreds of apartments and create an urban feel. However, I would hate to see a garage developed on the lot across the street from the Straz. In my opinion the city should buy that lot and use it as an expansion area for the Straz since Tampa should have a separate symphony hall. Both large halls in the Straz are not really made for symphny concerts.
I wanted to come back to this, because I think you really hit the nail on the head for this particular part of downtown.
Height isn't an issue on the northern lot imo. Do an 8-10 story tower at the far NE and far SW corners, and a 5-6 story band of apartments in between, towards the corner of Laurel and Doyle Carlton, where the building would set back to create a mini-plaza to act as a architectural focal point. That would be enough room for more like 500+ apartments (which on 5 downtown acres is still low, but is double what is rumored to be in the works on the full 7.5). Ground floor retail along Laurel (maybe 5-8k sqft? Doesn't need to be much there, but it's vital that there be space for a few merchants, for the viability of the lengthy portion of the riverwalk between the Straz and Waterworks Park. Plus this project is the keystone for this overall corner of downtown, which is presently d-e-a-d, and offers residents virtually no retail options without hoofing it several blocks.). I would also cover the entirety of the lot with a two floor parking garage which goes under the band of apartments as well, and then cover that on the backside with the pool area and make the rest greenspace for residents. Yes, it abuts the off ramp, but if the choice is a view of some grass and ornamental trees, and a place to walk your dog right out back, or a view out onto a sea of parked cars, we all know what any sane resident would choose.
Look at a map, as I mentioned above, this lot will be a key to the vitality of the riverwalk between the Straz and Waterworks Park which needs destinations where there presently are none. More importantly, this is one of a few lots which sit at the epicenter of the city's vision to extend downtown across the river to the west. A key to making that link real, is to bring foot traffic right up to the river and across it, and this is one of just two lots which sit adjacent to a river crossing (the other being the old HRT site at the Kennedy Blvd bridge), giving us the opportunity to create those links. With the city controlling the redevelopment of the park across the river, there is an opportunity to make Lane Park an attraction of similar magnitude to Hixon Park after its redevelopment. Have a kick ass park on one side, a nice mixed-use project anchoring the other side, and places to go on the riverwalk beyond that, and you actually get people out and about, and that boost desirability, livability, land values and commerce. Which means more tax revenues downtown, bolstering the entire city's budget.
These pieces need to be considered in their whole by all stakeholders, and acted on as a whole. The old approval with blinders on planning process simply has to end if this city is going to become a better place to live.
And I also strongly agree that if there is not going to be a compelling project built on the southern parcel, which contributes to the vibrancy of the neighborhood, then leave it the hell alone until there is. I'm not sure and don't have the time to really research it, but I believe the city can (and hopefully will) deny a garage only structure if that is what is submitted for approval. A parking garage next to the Straz? Ludicrous!
(I have some ideas on what I would do with this land, but I'm out of time for now)