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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

Carmel: New Cafe, Wine Bar Opens In South Tampa

With locations in Clearwater, Carrollwood and Sarasota, Carmel Café & Wine Bar has made its way to South Tampa.

Offering a modern interpretation of Mediterranean cuisine, a convenient and innovative MenuPad app and, of course, wine, Carmel Cafe's newest location on Swann Avenue at Henderson Boulevard in South Tampa celebrated its opening on August 14th. The 4,000-square-foot restaurant is Carmel Cafe's first free-standing location, designed by Alfonso Architects and constructed by TWT Restaurant Design and Construction.

“We are extremely excited to introduce the Carmel Cafe & Wine Bar experience to South Tampa. Opening in the area has always been one of our goals and we are very pleased to be here,” says Chris Sullivan, a founding partner of Carmel Cafe. “This is the first location we have been able to design and build from the ground up which marks a milestone for us."

The new location will initially be open for dining guests to enjoy nightly dinners with hours expanding to include weekday lunches beginning on September 17th and weekend brunches on September 22nd. Featuring flavors introduced by Mediterranean countries such as Italy, Spain, France, Greece and Morocco, the Carmel Café Mod Med menu offers both small and large plates to pair with the a global selection of old and new world wines.

Setting itself apart from traditional restaurants, Carmel Cafe's innovative MenuPad app ordering system allows guests to completely customize their dining experience by using tableside iPads. Featuring crisp, colorful photos and detailed descriptions of each dish, guests are allowed the ability to control the preparation, presentation and pacing of their dining experience; the app also identifies wines to pair with dishes.

“This is a very different dining experience that encourages our guests to leisurely share several small plates, casually meet for a glass of wine or cocktail or just relax and enjoy their favorite menu items,” says Terry Ryan, a founding partner of Carmel Cafe. “Using the MenuPad app, our guests are able to get exactly what they want, the way they want it, when they want it.”

In addition, the thrifty-minded can enjoy the South Tampa location's “Five After 5 @ Carmel” menu every Wednesday, featuring a selection of wines and flatbreads for $5 each.

Writer: Alexis Quinn Chamberlain
Sources: Chris Sullivan and Terry Ryan, Carmel Cafe

City-Developed Website Brings Development, Investors To St. Pete

The number of building permits issued in St. Petersburg is up about 10 percent during the last year, rising from 12,701 in 2011 to 13,869 in 2012. The construction value associated with building permit activity also increased.

With approximately $232 million now in construction values permitted for 2012, the fiscal year is in the running for being the highest building permit activity since 2007. City officials attribute some of the activity to more accessible information provided by Blue Chip, an online map service developed by the City of St. Pete.

“Blue Chip helps promote future development efforts in the community through the pre-selection process of prime sites, which must meet a 5-point criteria for inclusion on the Google Map application service,” says Kimberly Bailey, the the city's economic development analyst and Blue Chip developer. "Blue Chip is then promoted to Real Estate business journals and publications for investor attraction from around the world.''

Designed to identify prime real estate properties available for development and investor interest, the site launched in November 2011 and has seen eight of the initial Blue Chip properties sold with two additional sites under contract for purchase.

Blue Chip information is categorized by land acreage or zoning designation, providing contact information for the listing's real estate broker. The site also provides a link to the city's six major business clusters: medical technology and life sciences; information technology; marine and environmental sciences; financial services; manufacturing; and arts, culture, events and tourism.

“Residents can benefit from the site to determine if any prime Blue Chip parcels have been identified within their nearby business activity corridor, which brings investor awareness to their section of the community for the development and redevelopment of currently underutilized land,” Bailey says.

According to Bailey, Blue Chip has had more than 620 unique website visits, giving St. Pete international exposure to the United Kingdom, Canada, France, India, Kenya, The Philippines, Portugal and Siberia.

Writer: Alexis Quinn Chamberlain
Source: Kimberly Bailey, City of St. Pete

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

HART Breaks Ground On First Public Bus Rapid Transit, Hillsborough

MetroRapid North-South, the first public transit system of its kind in Hillbsborough County, aims to speed up travel between  downtown Tampa and the University of South Florida.

Local business and community leaders gathered with HART staff on Monday, August 6th, to celebrate the historic groundbreaking, which marks the beginning construction phase of the project. About $31 million from the Hillsborough County Community Investment Tax (CIT) will pay for the design and construction phases of the project. As of June 2012, costs of the MetroRapid N-S project are estimated to be under budget by $5.7 million.

"Ridership continues (to increase) for HART, and has been for the past several years, and with this form of rapid transit being introduced, we're on track to meet transportation needs for residents of the county," says HART Public Information Officer Marcia Mejia. "Several studies were done before MetroRapid was planned and we found that the North-South corridor is one of the busiest with ridership activity."

Featuring elements of bus rapid transit, MetroRapid N-S will run 17.5 miles along Nebraska and Fletcher Avenues in Tampa, from the HART Marion Transit Center in downtown Tampa to Telecom Park/Hidden River Corporate Park, west of Interstate 75. The new system is expected to improve travel-time savings by approximately 15 percent, using GPS-based Transit Signal Priority (TSP) technology at selected intersections to shorten red lights and lengthen green lights.

“MetroRapid N-S will connect downtown Tampa to USF -- two major employment centers,” Mejia says. “In addition, the corridor overlays what are currently the busiest routes, allowing a large portion of our ridership to benefit from faster, more frequent service.”

According to Mejia, several routes feed into the MetroRapid N-S corridor. Fewer stops along the corridor supply added convenience; local bus routes have bus stops every 750 to 1,250 feet while MetroRapid's 59 stops are spaced out about every 2,600 to 4,000 feet.

"Added features like the ticket vending machines will provide additional travel time savings because you don't have to wait for folks to pay on board," Mejia says.

A new park and ride facility is planned in Hidden River Corporate Park, serving the northeast end of the line. MetroRapid N-S construction is slated to be complete and open to Tampa Bay area residents and visitors by 2013.

In July, HART ridership was up by six percent with 60,998 more bus trips taken compared to July 2011. HART is expected to operate extra bus and streetcar service during August's Republican National Convention, providing public transportation options between Ybor City and Channelside.

Writer: Alexis Quinn Chamberlain
Source: Marcia Mejia, HART

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

Sense Of Place: Tampa Riverwalk Historic Monument Trail

The Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) recently approved a $120,000 grant for the Riverwalk Historical Monument Trail, matching private funds raised for the project.

Part of the county's Historic Preservation Challenge Grant Program, the grant was unanimously approved by the BOCC, allowing the county to continue with its project honoring significant events and noteworthy people that have helped shaped the history of Tampa and Hillsborough County. The trail will wind around the  Tampa Riverwalk, serving as an educational tool to residents and visitors walking along the Hillsborough River.

“Tampa has a really rich history and, unfortunately, for many decades, we have not done a great job at preserving that history and honoring the people who have made it happen,” says Steve Anderson, chair of the Historical Monument Trail Committee. “We really want to help people understand and develop a sense of pride for where they live.”

Six people are slated to be honored each year, with current honorees including Clara Frye, humanitarian and founder of Tampa's first hospital for African Americans; cigar manufacturer and Ybor City namesake Vicente Martinez-Ybor; the first Floridians (moundbuilding Indians); businessman and railroad magnet Henry Bradley Plant; James McKay, businessman and early maritime developer; and suffragist Eleanor McWilliams Chamberlain. Friends of the Riverwalk will work in conjunction with the Tampa History Center to honor more than 30 along the trail.

“These monuments are going to placed along the Riverwalk so when guests from out of city and state walk along our beautiful Riverwalk, they will be able to stop periodically and see ... these historically significant people,” Anderson says. “Visitors will be able to read a little bit about how these people contributed to where this community is today.”

Completion and installation of the first six monuments is expected by Fall 2012; the first six clay busts by local artist and sculptor Steve Dickey of Dickey Studios are complete, ready for firing. According to Anderson, the public can submit significant events and historic persons they wish to see featured along the trail.

In June 2012, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn announced that the 2.6-mile Riverwalk received a $10.9 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant to make way on filling two major gaps in the 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

According to Anderson, the Historical Monument Trail is the first of many projects planned to bring art, history, education and entertainment to the Tampa Riverwalk.

Writer: Alexis Quinn Chamberlain
Source: Steve Anderson, Tampa Riverwalk Historical Monument Trail

FDOT: Elevating Safety For Pedestrians On Florida Streets

Walkability and bikeability are key factors when it comes to choosing where to live. That's why a new safety awareness campaign aimed at reducing fatalities among pedestrians matters not only for individuals but also for the greater Tampa Bay region's local economy.

The four-week campaign, which kicked off in Hillsborough County and Miami-Dade County, is part of the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT)'s ongoing initiative to reduce bicycle and pedestrian injuries and fatalities. “Alert Today, Alive Tomorrow ... Safety Doesn't Happen By Accident” will be presented to the public through media outlets, local education and enforcement activities.

“We recognize the importance of educating drivers and pedestrians with respect to the rights and responsibilities of pedestrians and safe walking practices,” says FDOT Public Information Officer Kris Carson.

According to Carson, the FDOT is always working to improve the roadways for pedestrians by providing adequate pedestrian signal timings, improved signage and lighting for enhanced visibility, raised medians and refuge islands.

In the Tampa Bay region, the FDOT has spent more than $2 million high-intensity pavement markings, more and better sidewalks, additional countdown pedestrian signals, and new sidewalk and boardwalk along Dale Mabry Highway.

Pedestrian deaths in Florida are almost double the national average; if the Tampa Bay region were a state, it would rank number 16 in the nation for pedestrian fatalities.

Carson says 22.7 percent of all traffic crashes, fatalities and injuries involve pedestrians and bicyclists with 48 percent of pedestrians being killed when crossing the road at non-intersections; 43 percent of pedestrian traffic fatalities occur at night, on illuminated streets, and alcohol is a factor in just more than 40 percent of all pedestrian fatalities.

Writer: Alexis Quinn Chamberlain
Source: Kris Carson, FDOT

Newland Builds New Community In Apollo Beach

A new-home, master-planned community by Newland Communities is coming to Apollo Beach.

Located on approximately 1,300 acres 15 miles south of Tampa off of Big Bend Road in Apollo Beach, the new Waterset community (think: FishHawk Ranch and Westchase) is estimated to become a 3,800-home community upon completion. Homes start at $170,000.

First-phase amenities include The Landing with a community pool, fitness center, pier overlooking a lake and a clubhouse with an Information Center and cafe offering coffee, tea, smoothies and snacks.

“We're very excited about the grand opening of Waterset. We have teamed up with some of the area's best builders to offer a variety of home styles and designs to appeal to all kinds of families,” says Newland Communities Marketing Director Pam Parisi. “Our consumer research told us that buyers today need to see the community amenities from day one and we're committed to having The Landing open on grand opening day in the fall.”

Currently, amenities at The Landing are under construction, as well as nine model homes, offering a variety of architectural styles to choose from including Craftsman, Classical and Mediterranean. The first phase of Waterset will include work by home builders Ashton Woods Homes, Cardel Homes, David Weekley Homes and Homes by WestBay. In addition, the Montessori Preschool at Waterset is under construction and is expected to open by winter.

“Now, more than ever, there is a higher value placed on real connections among families, neighbors and community,” says Parisi. “Our hope is that Waterset will make it easy for people to actively connect, establish roots and live life in their own ways.”

Builder plans and pricing for Waterset homes will be released during an exclusive preview event on August 1st with plans and pricing being released to the public on the community website on August 2nd.

Newland Communities is currently working on developing additional new-home, master-planned communities including Circa FishHawk and MiraBay.

Writer: Alexis Quinn Chamberlain
Source: Pam Parisi, Newland Communities

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

New College Of Florida Begins Library Plaza Renovation, Bell Tower Project

New College of Florida students will see changes on campus when they return in the fall.

Implementing various parts of its 2006 Campus Master Plan, New College recently began a $300,000 renovation on the plaza in front of the Jane Bancroft Cook Library. Sharing the facility with the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee, a key component of the project is the construction of a new $400,000 bell tower. The timing of the library plaza renovation is tied to the Fall 2011 opening of the new campus Academic Center and Plaza, located adjacent of the library.

"Over the last few years, New College has been implementing various parts of its Master Plan, which includes urban design components to foster a greater sense of community to enhance the educational and environmental experience for students, faculty and staff,'' says Linda Joffe, New College associate director of public affairs.

According to Joffe, the plan marked an important step in the college's transition back to an independent campus on its historical property, which encompass the former estates of Charles Ringling and Ralph Caples; in 2001, New College separated itself from USF, becoming Florida's independent honors college.

Located between Ringling Plaza and College Drive -- just north of the Ringling Museum and Asolo Repertory Theatre -- the entire plaza in front of the Jane Bancroft Cook Library will be "scraped,'' making way for designs by Graham-Booth Landscape Architecture of St. Petersburg: new pavers, landscaping, lighting, grass, raised planters and tables with attached seating.

In addition, a 64-foot bell tower, designed by Renker-Eich-Parks Architects of St. Petersburg, will evoke New College's historic Four Winds seal and the "building on learning'' concept. The obelisk-style tower will feature four twisting, precast concrete pilasters held together by two rings. Mounted between the rings will be four bells built by French company Paccard, the "Stradivarius of bell makers.'' Currently, more than 120,000 Paccard bells are located in cities and villages throughout the world.

"The modernist bell tower is a welcomed addition to campus architecture. On many college campuses, a bell tower is a landmark and New College wanted to give its students a similar experience,'' Joffe says. "The project is expected to further transform the heart of the campus, creating a seamless, communal outdoor space -- the perfect transition between the historic Ringling-era campus and residential campus.''

According to Joffe, the four bells can be programmed to produce a wide range of melodies. The college hopes that students in the music program will embrace an opportunity to create original music to be played by the new bells.

Funds for the $700,000 project are provided by a $400,000 donation by philanthropists and community leader Beverly Koski with the remaining $300,000 designated by state of Florida infrastructure funding. Project manager and New College Senior Architect Jack Whelan expects the project to be complete by October 2012.

Writer: Alexis Quinn Chamberlain
Source: Linda Joffe, New College of Florida

Burger 21 Expands In Tampa Bay, New Jersey

Satisfying burger-loving palettes, Tampa-based Burger 21 continues to expand.

With plans to open two new Tampa Bay area locations in Lakeside Village in Lakeland and Trout Creek Commons in Tampa by the end of Summer 2012, the fast-casual burger concept recently announced its fourth franchise agreement to open a restaurant in New Jersey. Upon opening, the first Northeast location will mark the 10th location for Burger 21, including locations in Westchase and Carrollwood.

"America has a love affair with burgers. Couple that with the explosive growth of the fast-casual segment of the food industry and the result is a strong consumer demand for premium, better burger products served in an inviting fast-casual atmosphere,'' says Alisha dos Santos, communications manager for Front Burner Brands, the concepts’ management company.

Wanting to go "beyond the better burger,'' Burger 21 features 21 chef-inspired burger creations ranging from hand-crafted, freshly ground Angus beef to turkey, chicken, shrimp, tuna and veggie burgers. Toss in made-to-order salads; Hebrew National all-beef hot dogs; hand-breaded chicken tenders and an extensive shake bar including hand-dipped floats, shakes and sundaes and you have the key to fast-casual success. Burger 21 also recently launched a brand new gluten-free menu.

"In developing the concept, the owners of The Melting Pot fondue franchise -- the Johnston family -- saw an opportunity to fill a void in the burger business,'' dos Santos says. "The concept defines its own category, beyond the better burger, offering quality, premium ingredients, innovative recipes and a gourmet experience without the gourmet price.''

In September 2011, Burger 21 launched an aggressive growth strategy to bring hand-crafted burger creations and hand-dipped signature shakes to more cities across the United States, seeking single and multi-unit operators with restaurant experience to join the upscale fast-casual dining concept. With the newest franchise locations in Atlanta, Georgia and Voorhees, N.J., Burger 21 plans to expand its efforts into the Midwest and along the West Coast.

Writer: Alexis Quinn Chamberlain
Source: Alisha dos Santos, Front Burner Brands

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

HART Upgrades Bus Routes, Stops In Westshore, East Tampa

In an attempt to make services more accessible and convenient to customers, HART Route 15 at Columbus Drive in Tampa recently received a facelift thanks to the Bus Stop Improvement Program.

Running along Columbus Drive from the Westshore Plaza Transfer Center to the NetPark Transfer Center, 28 bus stops were improved with landing pads (concrete pads that provide a stable surface for persons with a mobility device) with approximately 1,100 feet of sidewalk installed along the 16-mile route.

An additional 28 bus stops will be improved with 6,600 feet of sidewalk installed along Route 15 as part of the Broadway Sidewalk Project which focuses on the Broadway Avenue portion of Route 15 between 50th and 66th Streets in East Tampa; work started the week of July 9th on the $200,000 project funded by the New Freedom Grant, a federal program that supports transit projects improving accessibility for persons with disabilities.

“No project is too small to drastically improve connectivity,” says HART Public Information Officer Marcia Mejia. “The Broadway Sidewalk Project is an example of this, providing connections from bus stops to the adjacent industrial development.”

Route 39 at Busch Boulevard and Route 36 at Dale Mabry Highway and Himes Avenue are the next HART routes slated for improvements as part of the Bus Stop Improvement program, a route-by-route assessment of bus stops to ensure ADA accessibility, convenience and safety aiming to improve the overall efficiency of HART services.

“This program is critical because our customers, drivers and buses are the essential parts of our system,” Mejia says. “Our 3,300 bus stops throughout Hillsborough County serve as the access points to our system.”

HART aims to make all stops ADA compliant eventually. In 2010, 113 shelters were installed with 79 bus stops upgraded  while in 2011, 50 shelters were installed and 218 bus stops upgraded. So far, in 2012, 38 shelters have been installed with 287 bus stops improved. Currently, one of every six HART bus stops has a shelter.

Writer: Alexis Quinn Chamberlain
Source: Marcia Mejia, HART

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
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