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New Urban, Green Community Near Downtown St. Pete

A newly renovated 176-unit multifamily apartment community is in the works for St. Petersburg.

An example of affordable urban housing, Avesta Woodlawn Park by Avesta Homes touts itself as "St. Pete's first sensibly green apartment community" located on 18th Avenue just minutes from downtown, offering double-pane, low-e windows, ENGERY STAR appliances, water efficient landscaping featuring native plants, LED lighting, efficient plumbing fixtures and an on-site recycling program.

Avesta Woodlawn Park embodies the urban “live, work and play” concept, promoting alternative ways to travel with covered bike parking for residents and easy access to public transportation.

“Avesta Homes is very excited to be a part of the St. Petersburg community,” says Carol Toffolo, Avesta Homes director of marketing. “Improvement of a local neighborhood community while attracting residents will directly benefit local shops and business owners. Our improvements (the renovation and beautification of the prior Woodlawn Park property) increase the desirability for future home buyers and renters in the local area.”

Residents of the new urban community will also have access to eco-friendly amenities such as a community garden, fenced dog park, fitness trail and workout stations, private fenced backyards and a swimming pool featuring poolside WiFi.

The $3 million renovation project is slated to be complete by December 2012. Units are expected to be available for rent beginning September 2012 ranging from as low as $695 for a one-bedroom and up to $895 for a two-bedroom.

Writer: Alexis Quinn Chamberlain
Source: Carol Toffolon, Avesta Homes

New Trees, Artsy Bridge Lighting Spruce Up Downtown Tampa

Almost 800 strategically planted new trees and artsy lightning along Tampa's downtown bridges are among the most noticiable improvements made by the City of Tampa in preparation for the RNC.

The Opportunity Corridors Project planted 782 indigenous trees such as Southern Red Cedar, Chickasaw Plum and Sabal Palms along major streets in downtown neighborhoods; irrigation and lighting were also installed.

Agua Luces by Artist Tracey Dear features colorful lighting along five of nine downtown bridges, including the Platt Street Bridge, Brorein Street Bridge, Kennedy Boulevard Bridge, the Crosstown Expressway overpass and CSX Railroad Bridge.

The downtown Opportunity Corridors -- what Mayor Bob Buckhorn calls the “front doors” of the city -- include Bayshore Boulevard from Platt Street to Rome Avenue, Ashley Drive, the Organe/Jefferson Interchange, Union Station, Laurel Street, Franklin Street and Nuccio Parkway.

“Mayor Buckhorn believes that major transportation arteries are economic development opportunities,” says David Vaughn,  City of Tampa director of contract administrations.

The city plans to expand the tree plantings in concentric circles beyond downtown.  The goal is to encourage the improved corridors to grow neighborhood support through retail, creating a more pedestrian-friendly environment.

Agua Luces is an initiative of the Lights On Tampa Committee, Tampa Electric and Peoples Gas.

Writer: Alexis Quinn Chamberlain
Source: David Vaughn, City of Tampa

East Tampa Community Builds Playground, Ragan Park

Joined by Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Florida Rep. Dana D. Young, representatives of Humana, the East Tampa Community Revitalization Partnership, V.M. Ybor Neighborhood Association, KaBOOM! and community volunteers recently came together for a legacy project playground build associated with the 2012 Republican National Convention (RNC).

Benefiting the East Tampa community well beyond August's RNC event in Tampa, a new, one-of-a-kind, multigenerational playground was built at Ragan Park at 1200 E. Lake Ave. in just six hours on Saturday, August 11th. The unique 3,780-square-foot space features equipment designed to serve all ages from kids to seniors.

“The site was selected before our neighborhood's involvement and it is my understanding that the selection was based on replacement needs and the site's ability to incorporate some multigenerational components such as exercise and fitness stations,” says Kim Headland, president of the V.M. Ybor Neighborhood Association. “Humana was a willing partner and Ragan Park needed a new playground -- what better timing!”

Prior to recent investment, Ragan Park featured an older, worn playground desperately in need of replacement; the old play space was recently removed in preparation for Saturday's volunteer-based event. The park also features a small building for community events, a pond and a walking trail.

The new, customized playground, funded primarily by Humana and East Tampa TIF funding, was created by personal drawings and suggestions from local community members in an attempt to create a lasting neighborhood legacy promoting healthy play and living.

“The V.M. Ybor Neighborhood Association, in partnership with the East Tampa Community Revitalization Partnership, have been part of the KaBOOM! process since the preparations began for Saturday's Design Day,” Headland says. “Participation has ranged from weekly conference calls, solicitations for community donations, recruitment of volunteers and dissemination of information throughout the community.”

Approximately $43 million in projects throughout the Tampa Bay region is expected to be spent in conjunction with the 2012 RNC. In addition to 18 playgrounds being built by Humana and KaBOOM! across the United States, a playground will also be built in Charlotte, N.C. prior to the 2012 Democratic National Convention in September.

Writer: Alexis Quinn Chamberlain
Source: Kim Headland, V.M. Ybor Neighborhood Association

Kimley Horn Moves To Downtown Tampa, Goes Green

Providing a wide-range of consulting services for roadways, bridges, traffic signals, airports, land developments and landscape architecture, Kimley-Horn and Associates (KHA) recently celebrated the opening of its new office in downtown Tampa.

With 18 offices and more than 400 employees in Florida, the nationally-recognized Raleigh, N.C.-based firm opened their first office in Tampa in 1978. Making the move to 655 N. Franklin St. in downtown Tampa, KHA's new 7,100-square-foot office currently houses 23 employees.

“The combination of the location of some of the staff's homes, client locations and professional relationships made being in a more central location like the downtown area a strong contender for places to look for new office spaces,” says KHA Director of Communications Julie Beauvais.

According to Beauvais, the firm considered locations in downtown and Ybor City before deciding on the North Franklin Street space, working with Gensler Architects on interior design and Solutions General Contractors for the space build-out.

Since the move, KHA has taken pride in significantly reducing their carbon footprint: Thanks to the convenience of the downtown location, approximately 25 percent of the staff bike to work and lunch every week. Prior to the move, Beauvais says they found the majority of their staff driving more than 10 miles daily to get to work alone.

“The office morale has never been higher,” says David Walthall, KHA downtown office leader. “The work environment helped the collaboration between an already close group of co-workers, giving folks variety in their daily routine with all that downtown has to offer during work and after work hours -- hardly anyone gets in their car to drive to lunch."

Writer: Alexis Quinn Chamberlain
Source: Julie Beauvais & David Walthall, KHA

Clearwater Improves Water At Prospect Lake Park

Construction recently began on an improvement project on Clearwater's Prospect Lake Park.

Located in downtown Clearwater at Prospect Avenue and Franklin Street, the approximately $800,000 project is designed to  improve the water quality of Prospect Lake, which serves as a regional stormwater pond for an area of the downtown district; the pond ultimately discharges into Clearwater Harbor.

According to City of Clearwater Engineering Department Environmental Specialist Sarah Josuns, sediment has built up in Prospect Lake. Using a dredge to remove the sediment, the lake will also be expanded to the south; various wetland plants will also be added to the south end of the pond.

“With the expansion of the lake, stormwater will have additional detention time while the new littoral shelf with wetland plants will have an opportunity to absorb nutrients,” Josuns says. “Stormwater is directed to this lake so many properties in the area do not need to have their own pond.”

Funded by stormwater utility fees, the sediment removal phase is already underway and is expected to be complete by early December 2012. The second phase including pond expansion and wetland plantings will begin in early 2013. Phase two is slated to take about six months, with completion planned for July 2013.

Writer: Alexis Quinn Chamberlain
Source: Sarah Josuns, City of Clearwater

New Park, Improvements Planned For St. Pete

St. Petersburg residents and outdoors lovers are in for a treat: The City is planning a new park for the area.

In the early stages of the planning process, the new $1.6 million park is being developed for the vacated Rio Vista Elementary School site at 6th Street and 83rd Avenue N.E. in St. Pete; a public meeting was held on July 25th, discussing conceptual plans for the proposed Rio Vista Park.

“It has long been recognized that northeast St. Petersburg is lacking in recreational opportunities,” says City Parks and Field Operations Superintendent Phil Whitehouse. “The Parks and Recreation Department tries to look at service levels in all areas of the City to provide equal opportunities for recreation. This park will provide an avenue for recreation where one does not currently exist.”

Funded by Weeki-Wachee funds that were set aside for recreational projects, Whitehouse says a large portion of the budget wil go toward the demolition of the school that currently sites on the park site.

The City is currently also working on an approximately $700,000 master/management plan addressing concerns at Maximo Park at 34th Street South and Pinellas Point Drive. Funded by Penny for Pinellas and the Florida Boating Improvement Program, Maximo is expected to include renovated boat ramps, restrooms, new educational signage and native plantings upon completion.

Writer: Alexis Quinn Chamberlain
Source: Phil Whitehouse, City of St. Pete

Secrets Of The Sea Marine Exploration Center, Aquarium Opens In 2013, John's Pass Village

Come Spring 2013, some of the sea's greatest secrets will be revealed.

Rebranding the current 2,000-square-foot St. Petersburg Pier Aquarium concept into Secrets of the Sea Marine Exploration Center and Aquarium -- a broader, more technology-focused marine exploration concept -- John's Pass Village in Madeira Beach will welcome the approximately $4 million facility.

“Secrets of the Sea will be a premier venue designed to bring the public together with state-of-the-art marine research, innovation and technology interactive experiences,” says Pier Aquarium President and CEO Howard Rutherford. “The Pier Aquarium has been bursting at the seams for a long time while the public's interest in the ocean environment, cutting-edge technology and marine science continues to grow. The unknown future of The Pier created an extraordinary opportunity for a bold, new approach to the Aquarium's mission.”

Mystery Stations will be located throughout the new 12,500-square-foot center, allowing for interactive experiences in which  visitors will explore the sea's secrets, discovering how scientists ("Sea Sleuths'') are working to reveal some of the sea's greatest mysteries. The stations will also showcase how several sea habitats and lifeforms are benefiting from these unsolved mysteries.

Additionally, various marine-related activities, aquariums, galleries and exhibits developed by the St. Petersburg Ocean Team will focus on research concepts in a fun, explanatory fashion; exhibits include Essential Estuaries, Touch Tampa Bay, Fish at Risk, Corals on Acid, Crustacean Station and Moon Jellyfish.

According to Rutherford, the new aquarium space is expected to generate nearly $8 million into the local economy, reaching more than 40,000 students from six different countries while anchoring one of Tampa Bay's top attractions by expanding visitation in Pinellas County.

“We hope to create a new generation of environmental stewards,” Rutherford says.

Key contributors to the design and rebranding of the aquarium include Aqua Marketing Communications and design firms Hands On! and MAM Exhibit Design. Several facility spaces, exhibits and Mystery Stations have already been gifted by Bay News 9, Hubbard’s Properties, Odyssey Marine Exploration, the Margaret E. Dickins Foundation and USF College of Marine Science.

Writer: Alexis Quinn Chamberlain
Source: Howard Rutherford, Pier Aquarium/Secrets of the Sea

Warner's Bayou To Renovate Boat Launch, Manatee County

Manatee County residents, boaters, fishing enthusiasts and environmental supports are in for a treat: A new proposal is in the works for improvements to Warner's Bayou.

Proposed improvements for Warner's Bayou's boat ramp include an extended guardrail, a foot bridge leading to the beach area, two shallow swales for storm water treatment, a restroom on the north side of the ramp and a fish cleaning station.

Originally, the project was expected to cost approximately $728,000 and included repaving of the parking lot, but has been scaled back to meet the community's request: The parking lot will remain shell with the exception of two paved/concrete handicap spaces.

A public workshop to discuss new plans was held on July 11th.

“I believe the new plan was very well-received,” says Nicholas Azzara, Manatee County information outreach coordinator. “People seemed pleased to know that the county had scaled back the original plan -- appreciative that the county listened to their concerns.”

According to Azzara, costs for any improvements will be split evenly between the West Coast Inland Navigation District (WCIND) and Florida Boater Improvement Program; no Manatee County property tax dollars will be spent on the improvements.

“The end result will be an impressive and constructive collaboration among the county, Warner's Bayou residents, boaters and environmental interests,” says Azzara of the project, which is expected to have finalized plans by the Manatee County Commission by late Fall 2012.

The county will host a similar open house workshop for proposed improvements to the Fort Hamer boat ramp at Fort Hamer Park on August 1st at 6:30 p.m. at Williams Elementary School on Fort Hamer Road in Parrish.

Several projects are currently in the works for Manatee County including the county's first Green Street and a new cafe at the Green Bridge Fishing Pier.

Writer: Alexis Quinn Chamberlain
Source: Nicholas Azzara, Manatee County

Washington Street Park Gets Design Award, Tampa

Washington Street Park in Tampa is on a roll: The Channel District park recently received yet another award praising its design.

Last month, the public green space was among three parks in Tampa to receive excellence awards for design and public participation at the Hillsborough County Planning Commission's 30th Anniversary Community Design Awards. Now, the park is being honored by a Landscape Architecture Award from the Florida Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects (FLASLA).

Recognizing the transformation of an empty urban space into a now useable public green space, Washington Street Park, designed by Lea Del Tosto of WilsonMiller/Stantec, is the first public open air space in the Channel District, providing recreation opportunities for the more than 2,000 residents living in the neighborhood.

“It's a green oasis in what is becoming a densely developed and populated neighborhood,” says Bob McDonaugh, manager of the Channel District and Downtown Community Redevelopment Areas (CRA)

According to McDonaugh, the park's design came about after a series of meetings with neighborhood residents, encouraging public participation during the design process of the approximately $815,000 nautical-themed park.

Including a lawn area, large canvas shade structure and non-traditional play area, the half-acre space was designed to allow for flexible use of its plaza and lawn areas, which can accommodate gatherings of various sizes. The park also includes a fenced dog area complete with artificial turf designed specifically for pet areas, pet water fixtures and seating for dog owners.

Writer: Alexis Quinn Chamberlain
Source: Bob McDonaugh, City of Tampa

Riverwalk Gets $10.9M Federal Grant, Tampa

The City of Tampa is making significant progress on making downtown Tampa a place for residents to live, work and play.

In addition to the new 20-story Southgate Tower office building planned for 2016 near the Tampa Bay Times Forum off of the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway -- the first new office building in downtown Tampa in 20 years -- significant progress will soon be made in an attempt to complete Tampa's 2.6-mile riverfront walkway along the Hillsborough River.

Thanks to a $10.9 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant, the City will be able to make way on filling in two major gaps in the Tampa Riverwalk: one segment going south of Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park under the Kennedy Boulevard Bridge and a second going north from the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts to Water Works Park.

The total construction cost for both segments is $13.7 million with the portion under Kennedy Bridge costing approximately $10 million alone.

“The Kennedy Boulevard Plaza segment is the key link,” says Lee Hoffman, development manager for the Riverwalk. “Everything has been designed and permitted, we were just waiting on funding.”

Construction on these portions will create approximately 200 temporary construction jobs, in addition to becoming a catalyst for investment along the Hillsborough River. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn calls the TIGER grant a “game-changer for downtown Tampa,” emphasizing the Riverwalk as a key element in the effort to revitalize the downtown urban core.

Construction on the newly funded segments is expected to start by the end of 2013.

Recently, Mayor Buckhorn cut the ribbon to two new sections of the Riverwalk: the Brorein Street Underpass and the Brownstone Segment, which extended the southern part of the existing walkway an additional 550 feet. These sections brought the length of contiguous Riverwalk walkway just shy of one mile. Currently, 1.5 miles of the Riverwalk are in place for the public to enjoy.

According to Bob McDonaugh, administrator of economic opportunity for the City of Tampa, the City has also been successful in getting grant funding from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to put in docks behind the Tampa Bay History Center as part of the Riverwalk project. The docks will service the History Center, Forum and Channelside area and is expected to see completion by early August.

Writer: Alexis Quinn Chamberlain
Source: Lee Hoffman & Bob McDonaugh, City of Tampa

Construction Continues On Green Street, Palmetto

Manatee County's City of Palmetto is jumping on the green train.

Redeveloping Fifth Street West in downtown Palmetto to integrate environmentally friendly right-of-way landscaping, the first Green Street in Manatee County will cut down on pollution flowing into the Manatee River by filtrating storm water.

“Essentially, we're trying to take away all of the existing flow of water off of the asphalt and pavement to try to reintroduce nature's own way of using the ground as a sponge as it naturally absorbs storm water,” says Green Street architect Charlie Ugarte.

Palmetto's Green Street, a term coined by Portland, OR's sustainability efforts, will use a number of techniques -- everything from porous pavers to rain gardens to retention areas -- to reintroduce the storm water directly intro the ground at the source, versus using pipes and other manmade means. Native Florida plants and trees will be utilized because their roots serve to filter street runoff.

“This project is really something that had to be done to the street as it was in an atrocious condition,” Ugarte says. “We couldn't just repair things. We needed to create a prototype for how urban design could be done in Palmetto and couldn't afford the traditional rain water systems in our compact, dense environment.”

Currently under construction, the $1.4 million Green Street project is slated to see completion in August 2012. Funds for the project by Bradenton's NRC Construction Co. are being provided by the Palmetto Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) with the help of a $582,000 grant from Southwest Florida Water Management (SFMD).

According to Ugarte, this project is just the start of Palmetto's plan to re-urbanize the downtown neighborhoods into a compact community as a similar approach is in the works for Riverside Park.

Writer: Alexis Quinn Chamberlain
Source: Charlie Ugarte, Ugarte and Associates

Tampa Port Authority To Build Oil Recycling Facility

The Tampa Port Authority and NexLube Tampa recently joined forces, signing a long-term lease to develop and construct an oil recycling facility at the Port of Tampa.

Marking a $75 million to $80 million investment, the new facility will have the capacity to process up to 24 million gallons of used oil per year at the Port and is said to be be the first of its kind in Florida. Ultimately, the recycled oil will be used to produce lubricants, diesel and asphalt while oil from automobile oil changes will be reprocessed for use.

“[This project has] been in the works for over two years,” says Andrew Fobes, director of public relations at the Port. “All of the legwork has been completed and NexLube is ready to move ahead.”

The new facility will be located on 12 acres at Pendola Point in Tampa and is expected to create hundreds of jobs during a two-year construction phase. Once fully operational, the facility is expected to generate approximately $10 million in Hillsborough County property tax revenues to the Port Authority over the term of the 20-year lease agreement.

“We are extremely pleased to partner with NexLube Tampa on this amazing project. As a major petroleum port, Tampa is a logical center for significant oil recycling,” says Port Director and CEO Richard Wainio, who is retiring in September. “We are eager to see NexLube's business succeed and thank the many partners who helped make this day possible.”

Upon completion of construction, a total of 75 full-time positions with average salaries and wages ranging between $60,000 and $65,000 is expected at the new facility.

Writer: Alexis Quinn Chamberlain
Source: Andrew Fobes & Richard Wainio, Tampa Port Authority

3 Tampa Parks Win Community Design Awards

The designs of three Tampa parks were recently honored at the Hillsborough County Planning Commission’s 30th Anniversary Community Design Awards.

Honoring the very best in planning and community design, the awards were given to Washington Street Park in the Channel District, Bern's Park in South Tampa and Sulphur Springs' new Springhill Community Center.

“In addition to recreational opportunities, quality parks enhance a community by adding value to the neighborhood, provide a place to gather for friendship and improve the environment's air and water quality,” says Greg Bayor, director of City of Tampa Parks and Recreation Department.

Located on half an acre, the Channel District's Washington Street Park won an Award of Excellence for an Institutional, Public or Quasi-Public Space. Designed by WilsonMiller/Stantec, the $815,000 nautical-themed park opened in December 2011 and incorporates numerous elements suggested by neighborhood residents, including oversized sea grass sculptures, an open lawn area, a plaza with a large canvas shade structure, a dog run and non-traditional play area. Washington Street Park's design allows for flexible use, accommodating gatherings of various sizes.

Bern's Park in South Tampa along South Howard Avenue won an Award of Merit for Public Participation, honoring Bern Laxer's contribution to the quality of life in Tampa. Located just around the corner from Bern's Steakhouse, Bern's Park features a two-tiered fountain with bronze sculptures donated by the Laxer family and is surrounded by benches donated by neighborhood residents. Designed by residents, for residents, Laurie Potier-Brown, project manager and landscape architect for the City's Parks and Recreation Department, says the park encourages neighborhood strolling through the lush landscaping installed by more than 75 community volunteers.

Opened in May 2012, the $2.5 million Springhill Community Center in Sulphur Springs won an Award of Excellence for Public Participation. Located between Eskimo and Okaloosa avenues, the 16,000-square-foot community center is the location of the middle school component of the Tampa Metropolitan Area YMCA's Neighborhood of Promise Initiative. Designed by members of the community, Sulphur Springs Elementary students and Tom Hester with the City, the community center includes a gymnasium, warming kitchen, computer classroom, multipurpose room, splash pad, playground and sports field. The center replaced a once rundown block previously devoted to a baseball field.

Writer: Alexis Quinn Chamberlain
Source: Greg Bayor, City of Tampa Parks and Recreation Department

InVision Tampa Works Toward Creating New Downtown Tampa Master Plan

InVision Tampa is working to create a new master plan for downtown and surrounding neighorhoods for the next 20 years.

The project received a $1.2 million grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in 2010 to develop a new plan for downtown, the Nebraska Transit Corridor and surrounding neighborhoods. After years of organization, the project kicked off in the spring with the hiring of AECOM as consultant on the project.

“For the next year or so, we'll be engaged in the downtown planning effort,” says City of Tampa Urban Planning Coordinator Randy Goers. “It's a good time for us to look to the future, establish a solid plan and prepare for the next wave of growth during this current slowdown in the economy.”

InVision Tampa's goal is to connect with community residents and business owners, collecting suggestions on how to improve the city and incorporating that feedback into a master plan.

Suggestions already made: Add grocery stores to the downtown area, Channel District and Ybor City; connect Tampa neighborhoods through open spaces, parks and pedestrian pathways; adopt a comprehensive transit system; create more activities along the riverfront; encourage mixed-use and housing developments; and offer free WiFi throughout downtown Tampa.

“The plan should help address and make downtown Tampa the people's downtown for the next 20 years, responding to the ideas and needs of the community,” Goers says. “It really depends on the priorities of the community and what they think the role of downtown should be whether that be the center of the community, activity area or place to live.”

Tampa was one of more than 100 U.S. communities to receive a grant to engage in a variety of different types of urban planning to update regulations and implement plans. InVision Tampa expects a preliminary draft of the new master plan within the next three months while the final version of the plan is slated for October 2012.

Writer: Alexis Quinn Chamberlain
Source: Randy Goers, City of Tampa

FDOT Plans Improvements For S.R. 583, Tampa

In an attempt to reduce pedestrian fatalities, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) is planning a repavement and sidewalk project for S.R. 583 in Tampa.

Located at 50th and 56th Streets (also known as S.R. 583) between 23rd Avenue and north of Fowler, the FDOT's contractor, APAC Southeast Inc., will make improvements to the neighborhood, including new pavement, new sidewalks and new traffic signals and poles.

Paid by state funds, the $7.1 million project's goal is to make the roadway smoother for motorists while adding and repairing sidewalks for pedestrians. According to FDOT Public Information Officer Kris Carson, the Tampa Bay region currently has a  high number of pedestrian fatalities.

“Our goal is to reduce pedestrian fatalities by 20 percent by 2015,” she says. “We have a multidisciplined approach to accomplish this with the help of law enforcement, media, education and engineering improvements -- one of them being additional sidewalks.”

According to Carson, traffic will be monitored for congestion as the project requires lane closures. The project is expected to see completion by Spring 2013.

Writer: Alexis Quinn Chamberlain
Source: Kris Carson, FDOT
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