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2 major Tampa streets get new trees, flowers in $1 million makeover

Two gateways into Tampa will look prettier after a $1 million makeover from the city of Tampa and the Florida Department of Transportation.

The grant from the state's Landscape on State Roadways program will pay for new landscaping along Hillsborough Avenue from the Hillsborough River to Interstate 275, and along Dale Mabry Highway from Gandy Boulevard to MacDill Air Force Base. The landscaped design along Dale Mabry, which ends at the air base, will be a tribute to fallen soldiers.

“Just as we did throughout the urban core, we’re expanding our beautification efforts and working to transform our arterial roads to become the welcome signs they should be.  A community feels about itself the way it looks,” says Mayor Bob Buckhorn in a news release announcing the grant. “These roads are true gateways throughout our community.” 

The Hillsborough Avenue gateway runs through Seminole Heights, which is an emerging neighborhood that is home to a growing collection of premier dining destinations, boutiques and micro-breweries.

Nearly 10 years ago the area was spruced up with a landscaped median and a red-brick wall on Hillsborough Avenue between Central and Florida avenues.

"It's just a little tired looking," says Brad Suder, planning and design superintendent of the city's parks and recreation department.

Landscape architect Celia Nichols of Lutz-based Nichols Landscape Architecture will design new landscaping for the roadway, which Suder says will cost between $300,000 and $350,000.

Approximately $800,000 will be spent along Dale Mabry on a landscaped memorial leading to the entrance of MacDill that will honor fallen soldiers. Suder says the design, which is about 50 percent completed, is being done in-house by city employees.

These projects are part of the city's "Opportunity Corridors" efforts, which began in 2012. 

"We really want the city to look like a vibrant city that is open for business and positioned to encourage more business, and to have a better experience for visitors,"  Suder says.

Among the beautified roadways are Bayshore Boulevard, Ashley Drive, Franklin Street, Doyle Carlton Drive, Union Station and Interstate 275 ramps at Orange and Jefferson streets. More than 700 trees were planted in the downtown area along with lighting and irrigation.

Green is the color of Tampa's newest bike lanes

Tampa is adding a new color palette to its bicycle lanes.

Green-painted stripes will mark off designated bike lanes on two road projects that will re-surface portions of Cleveland and Platt streets. Both are major roads carrying heavy traffic loads into and out of downtown. Work is underway on Cleveland; crews will start on Platt on Dec. 8.

City officials say these will be the city's first green, protected bike lanes. More likely will appear as more roadways are re-surfaced.

Roads generally are striped in white and yellow. New recommendations from federal highway safety officials point to green as an attention-grabber for bike lanes when motorists and bicyclists are sharing the road.

Tampa Transportation Manager Jean Duncan says "conflict areas" on Cleveland and Platt will get the green stripes. "These are areas where we feel there is more weaving and merging going on and more chance for bicyclists to be in a precarious situation," she says.

The city also will reduce speed limits on Cleveland and Platt from 40 mph to 35 mph as part of traffic calming in the area. 

The addition of bike lanes using the latest in safety design is in keeping with the vision for the city's downtown residential and commercial growth. City officials anticipate more people pedaling along city streets. And, Coast Bike Share recently opened 30 bike-rental kiosks around the city.

Construction on Cleveland runs from the Hillsborough River west to South Armenia Avenue. The work will repair existing utilities and drainage. Energy-efficient street lighting and pedestrian ramps that meet federal disability rules will be installed.

A bike lane will be added on the north side of Cleveland with additional parking designated on the south side. Work on the approximately $2 million project will be done in phases by Ajax Paving. The project is scheduled for completion in April 2015.

“There probably isn’t a roadway as in need as Cleveland Street is, but we’re going in to fix the source, the problems you can’t see below. As the City moves forward to repair and improve our existing infrastructure on streets like Platt and Cleveland, it’s important that we make sure they are really serving all its users, including cyclists and pedestrians,” says Mayor Bob Buckhorn. “In this case, we are adding new bike infrastructure, the first of their kind in Tampa, but we’re already planning miles more.”

Platt will be resurfaced from Audubon Avenue to Bayshore Boulevard. One travel lane will be removed to make room for a bike lane and additional on-street parking on the south side. The approximately $1.4 million project also will be done in phases by Asphalt Paving Systems, Inc. Work is scheduled for completion in February 2015.

During construction, city officials recommend motorists use alternate routes to avoid potential traffic congestion. However, access to businesses and residences will be kept open.

Developers plan hotel/residences at Tampa's historic Kress building

The historical Kress Building may have found the right buyers for a makeover that will bring the iconic landmark back to life and propel a rebirth on North Franklin Street in the heart of Tampa's downtown core.

The Atlanta-based HRV Hotel Partners and a team of Tampa developers including EWI Construction Executives Sam and Casey Ellison, and partner Anthony Italiano; and Tampa developer Alex Walter of Walson Ventures are joining forces to re-develop the Kress building as a 22-story tower with a 190-room hotel and 58 residences. About 15,000 square feet is planned for "restaurant uses."

The former F.W. Woolworth and J.J. Newberry department stores, which sandwich the Kress building, are incorporated into the re-design.

A sales contract is pending the city's approval of the project, says real estate broker Jeannette Jason of DjG Tampa Inc. Realty Services. She and her father, Miami-based real estate broker and developer Doran Jason, are management partners in Kress Square LLC, which owns the property in the 800 block of Franklin, across from the Element apartment complex. An entry into Kress also is located on Florida Avenue.

"We still have due diligence. We have a ways to go,"  she says. "I'm optimistic that these guys can get the deal done. I think the community will like the new plan and design."

Jason declined to provide details, saying she would leave that to the prospective development team.

But the project will have about half the density of another project initially approved in 2005 that never got off the ground, she says. That project included two residential towers with about 400 units, a parking garage and nearly 85,000 square feet for retail, office and other uses.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn says the redevelopment of the Kress building is the last major structure that his administration had set its sights on. "This is a building we have tried for three-and-a-half years to get done. It was a grand old structure that needed to be restored," Buckhorn says. "We have pushed. We have prodded. ... I couldn't be happier. It's nice to hopefully bring this one in for a landing."

Buckhorn also is hoping developers will honor the Blake and Middleton High School students who held the lunch counter sit-in at Woolworth in 1960. Their efforts pushed the city to integrate its businesses. "People need to know what took place there," he says, adding that public art could be included in the project.

City planners will review plans submitted by Walson Ventures and determine administratively whether to approve the project.

Preliminary plans submitted by Alfonso Architects show nine floors each for hotel rooms and residences, a 2-story garage and an amenities deck. Four restaurants and a coffee/tea lounge for "grab and go" items also are shown. 

"We're ready to go," says Buckhorn. "I'm hoping we see a groundbreaking in the not too distant future."

He sees the demand for more downtown residences growing especially among young professionals. "They are flocking here and bringing their friends with them," he says.

The Salvador is newest condo project for Downtown St. Petersburg

Residential development in downtown St. Petersburg marches on with the latest announcement of a 13-story, 74-unit condominium within a block of the The Dali museum.

Smith & Associates Real Estate will begin brokering pre-construction sales for The Salvador on Oct. 17. The public is invited to visit Smith & Associates office, at 330 Beach Drive NE, from 4 to 7 p.m. on Oct. 16 to learn more details about the project.

The upscale condos from DDA Development will feature tall windows and glass doors opening to private balconies, stainless steel appliances, European style cabinets, quartz countertops, gas cooktops and wide plank porcelain tiles for the latest in luxury flooring.

Home owners can choose among one-and-two-bedroom residences from 964 to 1,810 square feet. Spacious three-bedroom penthouses with more than 2,500 square feet will be available on the top floor.

Currently price ranges for one bedrooms along Beach Drive are about $315,000 to $450,000. Two bedrooms are about $440,000 to $750,000. And penthouses will go for about $1.2 million to $1.4 million.

The ranges may be tweaked, says David Moyer, director of developer services sales for Smith & Associates Real Estate. "We're getting a little bit of feedback," Moyer says. "We'll finalize this before we start sales."

The intent is to provide an upscale residential experience at an attractive price, less costly than other real estate along ritzy Beach Drive. "There is a lack of inventory for sale for a new product such as The Salvador," Moyer says.

The Salvador will have an "art-influenced" design by Mesh Architecture, the same firm that is working on Bliss, a 30-unit condominium on Fourth Avenue, off Beach Drive. Balfour Beatty Construction is the contractor and the building will be green-certified with the latest in energy-efficient technology.

The Salvador is the latest in a steady stream of apartment and condo projects ready for occupancy, under construction or on the drawing board. Downtown St. Petersburg continues to attract young urban professionals and others seeking the vibrant energy of an urban life style with everything within walking distance for living, working and playing.

In July Coral Gables-based Allen Morris Company announced plans for The Hermitage, an eight-story apartment building and hotel complex covering a city block at 700 1st Ave. S. Two condominiums, Rowland Place and Bliss, are planned off Beach Drive. And American Land Ventures plans a 15-story apartment tower on Third Street South. Beacon 430, Urban Edge and Modera Prime 235 also are adding to the increasing count of apartments and condos. Read Boom! Downtown St. Petersburg Awash in new apartments.

Lake Mirror Park in Lakeland ranks among nation's top 10 public spaces

In the 1920s Lake Mirror Park was little more than its description -- a lake with a promenade.

But what New York landscape architect Charles Wellford Leavitt designed in Lakeland nearly 100 years ago is today one of the country's "10 Great Public Spaces" for 2014.

The American Planning Association recently announced its annual top 10 list of great public spaces. It is a designation Lakeland's planning department has been pursuing for at least two years, says Kevin Cook, the city's director of communications.

"It's a big honor," Cook says. "We pride ourselves on quality public spaces."

The park's ornate promenade was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. A master plan to restore the park and some of its original elements was completed nearly four years ago.

The park and lake are at the center of Lakeland's historic downtown. Among its landmarks are the Barnett Family Park, the Peggy Brown Center, Magnolia Building and the Hollis Gardens.

About 900 events are held at Lake Mirror Park annually including the Christmas parade and the Red, White and Kaboom celebration of Independence Day. Cook estimates as many as 20,000 to 30,000 people fill the park for some events.

Lake Mirror Park competed against more than 100 sites reviewed by an APA panel, says Jason Jordan, the APA's director of policy. 

"It is one of the best examples in the entire state, really nationally, of the 'city beautification' movement of the 1920s," Jordan says. "This is a prime example of a place that is physically beautiful but also has social and cultural elements as well."

In whittling down the list of great public spaces, Jordan says the planning agency's panel considers aesthetics, social, culture and economic factors.

"By highlighting some places that are successful it can be a spur to other communities," Jordan says.

Walmart in East Tampa to create 300 jobs

A Walmart Supercenter will generate about 300 permanent jobs and a new revenue stream for the city's East Tampa redevelopment efforts.

The supercenter is under construction at 1720 E. Hillsborough Ave. on the approximately 12-acre site of the former Abraham Chevrolet dealership. It has been a neighborhood blight for nearly a decade. County records show Walmart paid about $4.9 million for the property.

A grand opening for the national discount chain is expected in spring 2015.

"This is such a win-win for East Tampa," says Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who attended a groundbreaking with Walmart officials and Tampa City Councilman Frank Reddick. "This has been a food desert for a long time. Folks in East Tampa have had to rely on convenience stores and getting charged exorbitant prices for food that's not necessarily healthy."

Now the mayor says there will be an alternative that residents can reach by walking or taking public transportation. And the jobs will "give economic security to people who need it," the mayor says.

 Already Walmart officials say about 150 local, temporary jobs are expected during construction. These will be from local sub-contractors and some additional labor needed as the work proceeds.

The approximately 120,000-square-foot store is somewhat smaller than most supercenters but it will offer groceries, including fresh produce, meats, deli items and bakery goods, plus merchandise typically sold at the discount chain store. There also will be a discount pharmacy with a drive-up window.

Eco-friendly building practices will be followed by the project's contractor, Satterfield & Pontikes Construction. "The buildings that have been torn down will be (reused) to lay the foundation for the parking lot," says Glen Wilkins, Walmart's senior manager for public affairs and government relations.

Water recycling and mulching of removed trees also will be done.

While Walmart sometimes draws spirited criticism from people who say it hurts small businesses, many in East Tampa hope this project, and its tax revenues, spurs more development.

"We've been asking for this for many, many years," Reddick says. "It's not every day we get a major business to come into this community. Now that we have it we're going to have to support it. We're going to have to tell our friends and neighbors that this is a valuable product for our community."

A portion of property tax revenues collected within East Tampa must be re-invested in infrastructure projects that will encourage new investments. The district is bordered by Hillsborough Avenue, Interstates 275 and 4, and the city limit. In its best year, the district had about $6 million to spend.

After the real estate crash and plummeting property values, the coffers are now drained. The new supercenter will open the spigot again. A Walmart store on Gandy Boulevard offers a comparison for potential East Tampa property tax revenues

County property appraisal records show the Gandy site is valued at about $8.6 million and generated about $183,000 in property taxes for 2013.  The Hillsborough site is valued at about $1.7 million and its previous owner paid about $40,000 in property taxes for 2013.

"This will be an amazing transformation of what had been an eyesore," says Buckhorn. "Let's get this on the tax rolls. Let's go dig some dirt."

Tampa reveals vision for re-designed Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park

The 25-acre grasslands of Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park are dotted with berms that recall ancient Indian mounds, a concrete "Greek-style" amphitheater, basketball and tennis courts and a Boys & Girls Club. But for most people who visit the park one spectacular view is missing -- the Hillsborough River.
 
It is blocked from view except to those who almost by accident wander over to its shores.
 
Susan Lane, daughter of former Mayor Julian B. Lane, is among those who had no idea what an unfulfilled treasure the park is. "I guess they thought this was a good design," she says after taking her first walk down to the park's shoreline.
 
She likes the city's plan to re-design the more than 40-year-old public park by tossing out much of what in the 1970s was considered contemporary and cutting-edge.
 
At a press conference, Mayor Bob Buckhorn unveiled a multi-year, conceptual plan to transform the park. It is a blueprint crafted from ideas and opinions gathered at a series of public meetings attended by about 350 residents. The next step is for consultants with Colorado-based Civitas to take the plan from concept to detailed drawings. About $8 million is set aside by the city to seed the project. Final costs are unknown but could be $20 million or more.
 
"This is an opportunity that is too great to pass up," Buckhorn says. "We have a moral obligation to do it and do it big and do it right."
 
The park, at 1001 North Blvd., is a jewel in the city's 25-year InVision Tampa master plan to re-invent downtown as an urban village with connectivity to surrounding neighborhoods on both sides of the river. On the west bank more than 150 acres, including Riverfront Park, are targeted for redevelopment. The nearby North Boulevard Homes are slated to be torn down by the Tampa Housing Authority and replaced with a mixed-income, mixed-use complex similar to the Encore project under construction just north of downtown.
 
Dozens of ideas bubbled up during public discussions of desired park amenities including a ferris wheel, a beach area, picnic facilities, boating docks and a history walk. Not all are on the final list. But if the final proposal doesn't please everyone, city officials believe it does meet with approval from most residents.
 
"What we have is the future of the city of Tampa right here," says Rev. James Favorite, pastor at Beulah Baptist Institutional Church, located on Cypress Street, a short walk from the park. "My church members have used this park on many occasions. With all the improvements to be made, I like the concept. I like the vision. I like the inclusion of so many people. We feel we are a part of this. We feel ownership."
 
The new park will include a great lawn for special events and festivals; a play area with a splash pad; a history walk to honor Phillips Field, Roberts City and surrounding neighborhoods; a community center and public boathouse; a garden; an oak-lined promenade; a half-mile trail with exercise stations; an extension of the city's Riverwalk; a fishing area; and a paddle learning area created by a floating boat dock.
 
Additional parking also will be carved out by re-aligning and shifting Laurel Street. A multi-use field will be enlarged to regulation size and seating installed. New basketball courts will be built. Tennis courts will be renovated and sand volleyball courts added.
 
The berms and amphitheater will be razed. 
 
Making the park all about families and recognizing the area's history are the driving motivators that emerged from the public meetings, says Civitas' President Mark Johnson.
 
And picnic areas are the most desired feature. "That's not the most common thing I hear around the country," Johnson says.
 
Lane remembers her father's stories about being captain of the Hillsborough High School football team which played annual Thanksgiving Day games at Phillips Field. He served as mayor from 1959 to 1963 and worked with a Bi-Racial Committee to peacefully integrate Tampa's businesses following the lunch counter sit-ins at F.W. Woolworth's. The park was dedicated to him in 1977.

The city's proposed makeover, she says, "is a great, great idea. He (former Mayor Lane) would have been real pleased."

Moccasin Lake Nature Park Gets Renovations, Extends Hours

Moccasin Lake Nature Park is an unexpected oasis in the midst of Clearwater's densely packed urban landscape.

But, since its opening in 1982, the 51-acre park has been an often overlooked "hidden gem" in need of funds and a little polishing. It is located at 2750 Park Trail Lane, just east U.S. 19 and north of Drew Street. 

The park is currently in the midst of a $700,000 renovation, which is part of a 10-year master plan. And for the first time in many years the park now has extended Sunday hours from noon to 4 p.m. through December. Regular hours for the nature preserve are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Admission is free.

"It has not had any improvements since its inception," says Anna Gurney, spokeswoman for Clearwater's Neighborhood Liaison office.

To date about $100,000 has been spent on a new pier as well as improvements to nature trails, a meadow and boardwalks. In 2015 the remaining $600,000 will pay for an updated interpretive center, new restrooms, renovated picnic facilities, and parking and landscaping improvements.

"The park is a work-in-progress," Gurney says. "We're going to see a lot of changes there. Next year will be a big year for us."

The nature trails, boardwalks and camps are nestled among six eco-systems inhabited by Mother Nature's flora and fauna. Its most recent tenants are Wish and Penelope, two injured bald eagles whose care is supervised by state and local wildlife organizations including the Clearwater Audubon Society.

Moccasin Lake Nature Park also is home to reptiles, insects, amphibians, and Elvis, the oldest living vulture on exhibit. Visitors can rent meeting and classroom space, stop by an interpretive center or sit in on educational programs.

Moccasin Lake previously was managed by the City of Clearwater's recreation department but Gurney says a parks' manager is now in charge. Two city employees work on-site during operating hours.  "Right now we are actively trying to get more volunteers so that the park can be open more often," she says.

To volunteer at the park, contact Krystie Epperson at (727) 793-2976.

Writer: Kathy Steele
Source: Anna Gurney, City of Clearwater

Osborne Pond, Community Trail To Be Named For Civil Rights' Leader Clarence Fort

On Feb. 29, 1960, Clarence Fort was just shy of his 21st birthday, fresh out of barber's school and president of the NAACP Youth Council. That day he, and Rev. A. Leon Lowry, led a group of students from Blake and Middleton High Schools to F. W. Woolworth's in downtown Tampa.

They did what no blacks then were allowed to do. They sat down at the lunch counter and waited to be served. Fort's inspiration was the lunch counter sit-ins by students in Greensboro, N.C. that same year.

While blacks could enter Woolworth and buy its products, eating at the lunch counter was against the law.

"You could spend $500,000 in the store but you couldn't sit down and have a Coke," says Fort, now age 76. "It just was an unfair system."

At 2:30 p.m. on Sept. 18, the city of Tampa will name the Osborne Pond and Community Trail in honor of Fort and his long history of fighting injustice.  The park will be officially named the Clarence Fort Freedom Trail.

"I was just elated," says Fort when he learned of the city's plan.

The honor comes on the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“It’s important that we as a community know and understand our history, particularly during the 50-year anniversary of the Civil Rights Act being signed into law. I am honored to be able to dedicate this park in name after my friend Clarence Fort but also to the ideas that he fought for,” says Mayor Bob Buckhorn in his announcement for the dedication. “The park area itself is truly something special, and I think the residents will be proud of what it has become.”

The half-mile long trail circles Osborne Pond, at 3803 Osborne Ave., with eight fitness stations for adults and seniors spaced along the route at four locations. The park also features three boardwalk segments that give visitors a chance to walk to the water's edge for a bird's eye view of the egrets, ducks and moor hens that wade through the pond's waters.

More than 110 trees, including palms and cypress trees, offer shade and beauty. The trail connects with adjacent sidewalks on Osborne, North 29th Street, North 30th Street and East Cayuga Street.

About $500,000 in Community Investment Tax dollars paid for construction which began in December 2013. 

This is the third city retention pond in East Tampa to be re-designed. 

Years ago residents complained that the city's retention ponds, often locked behind chain link fences, were eyesores that contributed to neighborhood blight. Today residents stroll along walkways at the Herbert D. Carrington Community Lake on 34th Street, adjacent to Fair Oaks Park, or the Robert L. Cole Sr. Community Lake at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, across from Young Middle Magnet School.

Funds to re-do the retention ponds as "lakes" came from a portion of property taxes collected within the city's East Tampa Community Redevelopment Area bordered by Hillsborough Avenue, Interstates 275 and 4, and the city limits.

At the "lake" on Martin Luther King, segments of the walkway commemorate historical figures such as civil rights activists Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; the first black congresswoman, Shirley Chisholm; Jackie Robinson, who broke Major League Baseball's color barrier; and President Barack Obama.

The city will place a plaque at Osborne pond that will recount the role Fort played in breaking down barriers in Tampa. Following the successful Woolworth demonstrations. Fort pushed the city's bus service to hire black bus drivers, and he became the first black hired by Trailways Bus Co. as a long-distance bus driver in Florida.

Fort worked 20 years as a deputy for the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Department and for 17 of those years organized the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Parade. He also founded the Progress Village Foundation.

He isn't slowing down in retirement and works tirelessly with Saving Our Children, a youth program started nearly 26 years ago at New Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church. "I'm devoting all my time with this group," Fort says.

A rendering of the park can be viewed on the City of Tampa's website.

Writer: Kathy Steele
Sources: Clarence Fort, Saving Our Children; Bob Buckhorn, City of Tampa
 

Urban Charrette, CNU Tampa Bay Host Urbanism On Tap 4.1

Tampa's Urban Charrette and the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) Tampa Bay will host Urbanism on Tap at PJ Dolan's Irish Pub & Grille, North of USF on September 9, 2014 starting at 5:45 p.m. 

Starting this fall, Urbanism on Tap organizers have moved north of Downtown Tampa to host a new Urbanism on Tap Series highlighting “The Role of Universities in Urban Design and Innovation’’ and engage the University of South Florida (USF) community in the conversation.  

Led by Urban Charrette and CNU Tampa Bay, Urbanism on Tap is a recurring open mic event, focused on generating constructive conversations within the community about current ideas and trends that are shaping our city.

Every event is open to the public, and moderators and attendees are invited to share their views and stories related to the topic of the day. The intention of the event is to generate a lively exchange of ideas, which will enhance our ability to make Tampa a more livable city.

The upcoming event, entitled “The USF Factor,” is the first discussion of a new three-part series focused on the relationship between University of South Florida and Tampa’s urban landscape. 

Typically, universities across the country are drivers of jobs, education, innovation and urban development as well as redevelopment. Attendees of the upcoming event will look at how this trend plays out in Tampa. 

The event will focus on how the university is important for Tampa’s local economy and politics and how it can play a critical role in creating vibrant urban environments that inspire innovation. The event will explore related issues, opportunities and challenges for a range of stakeholders, including the residents, the city and the university. 

The event organizers encourage people to share their opinions on this topic by visiting Urbanism on Tap’s online Facebook page. People can also use the Facebook page and website, to continue the conversation online, following the event. 

Venue: PJ Dolan's Irish Pub & Grille, North of USF (2836 E Bearss Ave Tampa, FL 33613); 
Date and Time: September 9, 2014 from 5:45 p.m – 7:15 p.m

Writer: Vinod Kadu
Sources: Erin Chantry, CNU Tampa Bay; Ashly Anderson, Urban Charrette

Hillsborough Leaders Engage Public On Transportation

When local residents dream of transportation Utopia in Hillsborough County, what exactly do they see?

Do they see roads repaved and potholes filled? Widened interstates with commuter lanes? Bridges repaired? More connections between neighborhoods and cities? Expansion of rapid transit bus service? Automated "people movers"?

Is light rail on anyone's mind, for or against? And where do they dream the money will be found? 

Hillsborough County elected officials, community leaders and a soon-to-be-hired transportation consultant will begin a listening campaign with a series of public meetings soon after Labor Day.

A report on the findings will be brought in October to Hillsborough County's Transportation Policy Leadership Group, a committee of the seven county commissioners, mayors of Plant City, Tampa and Temple Terrace, and the chairman of HART (Hillsborough Area Regional Transit). 

"We're not selling anything, but we want to be able to bring back something that will be useful to you," says Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill. He spoke to the group on August 12 before a packed county commission chamber.

Documents and a video show the magnitude of transportation problems facing the county. 

Estimates for roads, bridges, trails and sidewalks in all parts of the county is pegged at $4.3 billion. The cost of repaving roadways alone is estimated at $745 million. Projects for walk/bike trails and sidewalks is about $680 million.

Depending on chosen options, mass-transit could be another $6 billion. 

Funding could come through a one cent sales tax that county commissioners appear ready to put to a referendum in 2016. If approved, estimates are for more than $6 billion to be collected over 30 years.

Ideas include widening five miles of Cypress Avenue; bus rapid transit and a rail option between the University of South Florida and downtown Tampa; bus rapid transit on U.S. 60 to and from Brandon; and, a water ferry from Gibsonton to MacDill with later expansion to downtown Tampa and St. Petersburg.

Policy planners clearly have in mind the political thumping that voters gave to a light rail referendum nearly four years ago. Voters then complained about the lack of specifics.

"That was very muddy. That's what happened to it," says County Commissioner Les Miller."We want to make sure it's crystal clear."

County Commissioner Victor Crist is concerned about time constraints in reaching out to the public by October. "I'm not sure we have enough time to sell this," he says.

But Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn is ready to forge ahead. "We've got to have a game," says Buckhorn. "I don't know any other way to play than full throttle. ...I can tell you sooner is better than later."

Writer: Kathy Steele
Sources: Mike Merrill, Les Miller, Victor Crist, Hillsborough County; Bob Buckhorn, City of Tampa

Water Works Park Opens With Fanfare, Fireworks

The re-invention of Tampa's urban core is mere child's play at Water Works Park.

For many years the riverfront park land sat unused behind a chain link fence, but on Aug. 12 a ribbon-cutting ceremony will officially open the re-designed park. The following Saturday will continue the celebrations with a festival and fireworks show.

For Tampa Heights' residents, the $7.4 million investment in Water Works is especially significant. The park, at 1720 Highland Ave., and the adjacent soon-to-open Ulele Restaurant are the most visible signs the neighborhood's master plan for redevelopment is taking root. More transformation is promised in future with redevelopment of the nearby historical Armature Works building and about 37 riverfront acres owned by SoHo Capital which plans a mixed use project known as The Heights.

"It's a big deal," says Brian Seel, president of the Tampa Heights Civic Association. "Everyone has been waiting for (the park) patiently."

The Aug. 16 festival will have food trucks, children’s activities and entertainment. Friends of Tampa Recreation Inc. will sell alcohol, with proceeds going towards programming in Tampa's parks.  The fireworks display will begin at approximately 9 p.m.

Work crews with Biltmore Construction are finishing up the park and laying in landscaping in time for the August opening. Dozens of volunteers spent a recent weekend cleaning algae from Ulele Spring, nestled between the park and the restaurant. Manatees, ducks and egrets are among the wildlife already spotted along the spring's banks.

The play area resembles a ship. There also is a splash pad, a performance pavilion and open lawns for special park events. A kayak launch, eight boat slips and a water taxi will be installed once permits are approved.

Water Works and Ulele will be the northern anchors of the city's 1.8 mile-long Riverwalk, which when completed later this year will link Tampa Heights with Channelside.

“This park is transformative for historic Tampa Heights and our urban core but also for our entire city. It’s another point of connection with the Hillsborough River, and will be a space for entertainment and activity,” said Mayor Bob Buckhorn. 

The civic association is thinking ahead.  "We'll probably host small events and get-togethers for the neighborhood," Seel says.

The civic association already is planning a music festival at the park for Nov. 22. Tampa Electric Company and Ulele's owner, Richard Gonzmart, will sponsor what could become an annual event. A portion of the festival's proceeds would aid the restoration of the former Faith Temple Baptist Church at Palm Avenue and Lamar Street.

Every weekend for nearly four years volunteers for the Tampa Heights Junior Civic Association have pitched in to rehabilitate the historical church which will be re-opened as a youth and community center.
  
A walking trail that slips past the Tampa Heights Community Garden on Frances Avenue and the future community center stops now at Seventh Avenue. But eventually the trail is planned as a link to the Riverwalk with possible offshoots to Perry Harvey Sr. Park and the Encore project, a mixed use, mixed-income residential and commercial development north of downtown.

"We're connecting with everything," says Lena Young-Green, president of the junior civic association. "We see it all circulating then expanding all through the neighborhoods."

Writer: Kathy Steele
Source: Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn; Brian Seel, Tampa Heights Civic Association; Lena Young-Green, Tampa Heights Junior Civic Association

Two Fold Bicycle Shop Opens In St. Petersburg

A new bicycle shop in St. Petersburg caters to enthusiasts who want the zip and portability of bicycles that can be folded to the size of carry-on luggage. Or tucked into a back pack. 

On May 10 Michael Davis will hold a grand opening for Two Fold Bicycle Shop at 657 N. Central Ave. The shop, which quietly opened at the beginning of the month, deals exclusively in folding bicycles made by major brand names Brompton, Dahon and Tern. Shortly Davis will add bicycles from Bike Friday, an Oregon company that custom-makes folding bicycles.

"They are fun to ride," says Davis, who also designs and builds wheel frames. "People who are into them really get into them. You can see them out there. It is a trend that is picking up now."

Their popularity makes sense to a lot of people who are embracing the new urban lifestyle. And, while his shop is in St. Petersburg, his first two sales were to residents of downtown Tampa's growing high-rise community.

The folding bicycles have smaller wheels, quick acceleration and ease of steering. Hinges allow for the bicycles to be folded up for easy storage at work or at home. And for multi-modal commuters they are easily carried on and off buses.

Prices range from about $400 for a one-gear folding bicycle to more sophisticated models that can cost $3,500 or more.

Davis is an avid bicyclist himself. He formerly owned 66 Fixed Gear and Singlespeed, a St. Petersburg shop that did repairs and sold custom-made bicycles. But it was a trip last year to the Interbike International Bicycle Expo in Las Vegas that spurred Davis to focus his newest business on the expo's break-out star.

 "Everybody was talking about folding bicycles," he says.

The bicycles originally were invented for use by military forces in war times in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Until recently they often were novelty items tucked away in a shop corner.

That is changing along with the urban landscape.

Condominiums and apartments are going up in downtown St. Petersburg and Tampa. The Central Avenue district in St. Petersburg is stirring to life with new boutique shops, art galleries, restaurants, offices and neighborhood bars. College students and young professionals are embracing the urban experience.

Tampa has at least five residential towers slated for construction in the next few years in downtown and Channel District.

The folding bicycles are the right fit, Davis says, for people who have to go up and down elevators, share space with roommates or just want a healthier living environment with fewer automobile trips. 

"Once you get folding bicycles in front of people, they practically sell themselves," says Davis.

Writer: Kathy Steele
Source: Michael Davis, Two Fold Bicycle Shop


 

Artspace Eyes Sarasota's 'North Trail' For Creative Redevelopment

Visitors arriving at the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, located along the Tamiami Trail at the northern edge of Sarasota County known as the North Trail, see a less than flattering portrait of the city as they drive south into the city of Sarasota.
 
“For many years, the North Trail conversation has dragged on, but the bottom line is that the space that lies between the airport, the Ringling [art museum and college] complex, and downtown Sarasota is simply not a very inviting front door to the city,” says Jim Shirley, executive director of the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota, sponsor of the North Trail Redevelopment Partnership (NTRP).
 
The NTRP is a nonprofit corporation dedicated to the sustainable redevelopment of Sarasota’s “front door” through urban renewal and the creation of affordable live-work artist spaces. 
 
In the first week of April, the North Trail took its first steps in its journey toward the artistic rebirth envisioned by the NTRP with a visit by consultants Wendy Holmes and Stacey Mickelson of Artspace, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit organization.
 
“Artspace is the largest, and really, the only organization that does what they do in this country -- which is to focus on the development of live-work environments for artists that can be used to rekindle areas of communities that need to be re-vitalized,’’ Shirley says. “They are involved in 35 projects throughout the country and have a more than 30-year track record.”
 
Led by Artist and Historical Preservationist Veronica Morgan, the NTRP raised the $15,000 required for an Artspace consultation, which included tours of Sarasota’s arts community and two days of workshops that connected artists, civic leaders and the financial community with Artspace consultants.
 
“The goal was to allow the Artspace team to get a more in-depth look at Sarasota, specifically focusing on the North Trail, and to allow us, the community, to learn more about Artspace and see if it would make sense for us,’’ Shirley says. “I believe that we had overall a very successful evening, and the indication from Artspace is that they felt the same.” 
 
In early June, Artspace will provide the NTRP with an executive summary of their findings and recommendations. Shirley says that if the organizations choose to move forward with a project in Sarasota, the next phase would include a $42,000 survey of the entire county, and that the revitilization project would commence in approximately 3-5 years. 
 
“Virtually everyone in the community knows how important the arts are here, and we’ve seen what the arts can do in communities that make a commitment to them,” Shirley says. “If we could possibly use the arts to help generate the re-vitilization of the North Trail, it would be ‘the Sarasota thing to do.’ ”
 
Writer: Jessi Smith
Source: Jim Shirley, Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota
 

Eco-friendly Communities Get New Design Guidelines

New urbanism is adding a new tool to its design palette for developing communities that are walkable, sustainable and eco-friendly.
 
For nearly 20 years the U.S. Green Building Council has issued certifications to show that building construction has met independent standards for environmental responsibility. But after testing a pilot program, a new certification is being offered, known as LEED ND, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design - Neighborhood Development.
 
This takes a more holistic approach to community development. 
 
On Wednesday, April 9, from noon to 1:30 p.m. the U.S. Green Building Council Florida Gulf Coast Chapter and the Congress for the New Urbanism Tampa Bay will host a luncheon meeting where urban designers Erin Chantry and Vinod Kadu will discuss the new rating system. The event is at The Charter House, 7616 W. Courtney Campbell Causeway.
 
Pasco County developer Frank Starkey also is guest speaker and will talk about his experiences with LEED in developing the new urban community of Longleaf as well as his views on what the new ratings mean for future development. 
 
The cost is $25 for organization members and $35 for non-members.
 
"(The new system) obviously takes into account not just buildings but the streets and overall development," says Taylor Ralph, a board member of the U.S. Green Building Council Florida Gulf Coast Chapter and president of REAL Building Consultants.
 
Storm water, energy efficiencies, sidewalks and recyling efforts are among the factors that will be reviewed in looking at the total project, Ralph says.
 
The Encore development, north of downtown, is expected to be one of the first master-planned communities in Florida to qualify for the new LEED certification.
 
Encore is a $425 million mixed-income housing and retail development being built by the Tampa Housing Authority and Banc of America Community Development Corp. The Ella, a 160-unit senior apartment building, opened in 2012 and is fully occupied. The Trio, a 141-unit multi-family apartment building, is opening in May. The Reed, a 158-unit senior apartment building, is slated to open in 2015 along with The Tempo, a 203-unit multi-family apartment building. Retail, a grocery store and a hotel also are anticipated for Encore.
 
Writer: Kathy Steele
Taylor Ralph, REAL Building Consultants
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