Economic development is possible at Tampa's Riverwalk and beyond
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02/10/12 Janelle Irwin
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Tampa is committed to a Riverwalk connecting the Channel District to Tampa Heights. But development along the Hillsborough River may not stop there. During a discussion at the Tampa Convention Center this morning experts from the Urban Land Institute shared ways the river can connect neighborhoods to downtown.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn said 20 years from now early plans to transform Tampa’s waterfront could be what re-shape its history.

“If downtown is the hub, the neighborhoods are the spokes. And the ability to connect the neighborhoods, which we have never done in this city, from Ybor City all the way to North Hyde Park, Channelside, Tampa Heights. The relationship between all of those various functions, how Ybor City fits and how Ybor City connects to North Hyde Park because ultimately those will be the places where people will live, work and play and commute to downtown and we’ve got to figure out that connectivity down to the granular level.”

Tampa is one of four cities selected this year for a 12-month study on economic development. Bridgette Williams works with the Urban Land Institute on the project and her focus is on the already growing Riverwalk area.

“The waterfront and the river can be a bigger regional attractor and an economic development driver to create many opportunities to both bring crowds and, quite frankly, make money.”

But she said the goal of using the river to bring life to areas outside downtown, like West Tampa, comes with a challenge.

“We’ve heard over and over again that there is a perception that it is not safe in the area and once a perception is there it’s difficult to change. So, there’s going to have to be some energy and work around changing that perception. There’s a negative perception about he area’s identity. In other words, there isn’t one. There’s just a bunch of poor people that live there and no one should care about it. So, the neighborhood really needs to, the community needs to really create an identity.”

It’s also costly. But Cathy Crenshaw with the Urban Land Institute, said there are things the city can start right away with little expense. One suggestion is to reduce the Laurel Street Bridge from four lanes to two and add a bike path.

“There’s some money that we heard is budgeted for improvements on that bridge and it might be very easy to go ahead and add some bike lanes and some pedestrian pathways so that people can walk to and from the neighborhood. And again, just think about pathways for walking and for bicycling. It just takes a little paint so that’s something that you can go on and put in place early on as you continue to develop a roadway plan throughout the neighborhood.”

Expanding multi-modal transportation is a large part of the conversation. But other proposals to link areas like West Tampa and Hyde Park to the downtown core include improvements to already existing parks and possibly some new ones. Mayor Buckhorn said he’s already considering other uses for a property that’s now a parking lot for city trucks.

“I’ve already started the process for the relocation of the wastewater and the parking facility. It’s probably about a $10 million hit for us to be able to move it and find a different location for it, but we are doing the brownfield mitigation already on the site in anticipation of that happening.”

Another piece of prime real estate along the river is already used as public housing. Charles Long, a panelist and member of the Urban Land Institute, said city officials should start planning to relocate those tenants within two years.

“You’re going to be in the process of redeveloping the public housing site and allowing tenants to take section 8 vouchers and go around the city and find where they would like to live. So, hopefully within the next two years you will have completed that relocation process and that site will be one of the first opportunity sites that you have available.”

The panelists only made recommendations to city officials, but they did give Mayor Buckhorn and his staff some homework, including creating a Community Redevelopment Agency and a committee to lead the planning process. Another meeting with panelists will be held in April.





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