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As urban core grows in Tampa, challenges begin to match ambitions

Spend a few years away from Tampa, especially as a native, and you'll better appreciate the great strides made in improving the urban quality of life in Downtown and its peripheral neighborhoods -- and the new/growing challenges that have yet to be fully addressed.

At a recent event organized by New Town Connections, guest speaker Randy Goers (the City of Tampa’s Urban Planning Coordinator) reminded the 30 or so attendees of all the public investments made since 2012 to accommodate young, educated, and non-native urban residents and workers that now live in approximately 13,000 new dwellings in and around Downtown.

Back then, the 2012 InVision Plan called for things that are now a reality, like a complete and continuous Riverwalk, several urban parks, public art, traffic calming and streetscape improvements, and more bicycle/pedestrian paths.

The wider context has changed drastically in that time too. Just think, in 2012 UBER and Lyft were in their infancy. The partnership that makes the free Downtowner shuttle service possible wasn’t yet hatched, and Jeff Vinik hadn’t announced that he would be enabling a $3 billion investment project we now know as Water Street Tampa, which will change the city in ways we can’t fathom. (So yay for big things to come!)

And yet, for all the ways we are better off now, we face more complicated issues. New housing and density is great for a sense of vibrancy and adding to the urban landscape, but how affordable is it? The median income in the region remains, well, more than a little sad.

Worsening congestion was also top of mind among those in attendance last week at local coffee roaster The Blind Tiger’s newest location on South Howard Avenue, which is just one neighborhood now flush with new infill density and no room to expand roads.

By making small tweaks with bike-ped infrastructure, leisure is easier, but we still aren’t quite a transit, bike, or on-foot city. We have too many broad swaths of pavement designed to move automotive traffic, and are largely still a car-centric urban area thanks to anemic investment in more robust transportation options and service.

Increasing parking woes at Oxford Exchange and Mise en Place near the University of Tampa are a good example of what we may face more of in the coming years if we remain in our cars. The city will inevitably begin to charge for street parking in busy areas like Tampa Heights and Hyde Park.

As one gentleman originally from Chicago pointed out: “Tampa’s parking is cheap!” Very true, and our valet stands usually only charge $5, if anything. Perhaps they should be charging more?

This group of intelligent, engaged urbanites sounded oddly rehearsed: Give us more options. Jane Jacobs, a famous urban activist and author, once said, “the point of cities is a multiplicity of choice.”

Those choices could be: where to live, how to get around, and where to buy take-out dinner. From a livability perspective, things will further improve with the addition of a Publix grocery store to The Channel District and another massive urban park, Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park, across from The Straz Center.

Nonprofit buys former restaurant for new Wimauma Opportunity Center

A former restaurant, tucked away behind trees near Walmart at State Road 674 and U.S. Highway 301, is poised to become a hub for entrepreneurs in the growing Wimauma community of Hillsborough County’s South Shore.

Enterprising Latinas Inc., a nonprofit working to empower low-income Hispanic women in Tampa Bay, acquired the building and 2.25 acres of land from Roy and Rachel Loken for $735,000, says Liz Gutierrez, ELI Founder and CEO.

The property, formerly a breakfast-and-lunch restaurant called Rachel’s Country Kitchen, will be the site of ELI’s Wimauma Opportunity Center, a place where the community can meet and train for new jobs or entrepreneurial endeavors.

The purchase was made possible by a $250,000 grant from Alleghany Franciscan Ministries, which is investing in the community through its Common Good Initiative. Alleghany is providing another $250,000 to help create an economic development infrastructure, advance economic development and provide training.

ELI also secured a $520,000 loan from the nonprofit Raza Development Fund, the largest Latino Community Development Financial Institution, Gutierrez says.

The project will involve renovating the building’s interior for community learning and shared office use, and adding outdoor signage and lighting. Later on, a complete redesign of the front is anticipated.

“It’s really going to be a hub for all things related to community economic opportunity," explains Gutierrez. “We’re very excited to have a physical place where we can bring people together to expand the work that we already started.”

ELI, which has been leasing at Beth-El Farmworker Ministry on U.S. 301, will also be housed at the facility. It began moving in last week after the Jan. 8 sale.

“All of the customers are coming in looking for Rachel,” Gutierrez says. “They lost their little place. Hopefully we will convert it into a new place they can come back to.”

Located at 5128 State Road 674, the Wimauma Opportunity Center is expected to draw students to the commercial kitchen for culinary training -- including food service management -- starting in February.

“That’s an industry that’s booming all around us,” Gutierrez explains. “When it’s not being used for training, other people can use it be able to get licensed to sell tacos or sandwiches though food trucks. ... Hopefully, it will also be a catalyst of the food micro entrepreneurs that are here in Wimauma and also the surrounding area.”

As development in Hillsborough pushes south, the community with an average income of less than $26,000 a year between 2011-15 is transitioning from farmlands into new subdivisions that look much like homes in neighboring Sun City Center. With help from the Alleghany Franciscan Ministries’ Common Good Initiative, the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay and other concerned citizens, Wimauma residents have been working to direct their own path.

The decision to purchase a facility was made because ELI couldn’t find available rental space, Gutierrez says.

ELI, which has been training childcare workers, expects to again offer that training in February. It is in the process of developing an area transportation system in cooperation with the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority.

“We’re having conversations with a number of different funders that have expressed general commitment to provide startup capital,” she says.

ELI has hired Chamain Moss-Torres, Ph.D., formerly program director at the Children’s Home Network, as its director of economic opportunity initiatives. It also is leasing space to the Wimauma CDC, which is interviewing for an executive director to further the CDC’s mission and manage its staff and programs. The executive director also will serve as its primary fundraiser and spokesperson. Applicants for the position, expected to pay between $75,000-$90,000 annually with benefits, should submit cover letters and resumes to Connectivity Community Consulting at info@connectformore.com.

Adds Gutierrez: “We’re going to be very busy. Our goal over the next year is to touch 100 women and their families,” she says.

Learn more about how the Wimauma community is transitioning for growth though Alleghany Franciscan Ministries-funded On the Ground coverage in 83 Degrees.


Market to anchor Downtown Clearwater Gateway revitalization

As plans to revitalize Clearwater’s waterfront and downtown move forward, focus has also turned toward the city’s Downtown Gateway.

In September, the Clearwater City Council approved conceptual plans for Mercado, a public market that will be developed on a triangular swath of land where Cleveland Street meets Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard. The plaza will include space where small businesses and other vendors can take root and an open area for community events, says Chuck Lane, Assistant Director, Economic Development & Housing.

“It’s going to be a space where people can interact with each other,” he says. This ranges from serving as a venue for farmer’s markets, art fairs and other public events to a space where individuals “can just sit down and read a newspaper.”

Mercado will also cater to the largely Hispanic population of the neighborhood, Lane adds. Around one-third of those living in the area are foreign born, “largely Hispanic,” he says. “Mercado is intended to embrace these individuals and be a space where people can feel comfortable in that environment.”

Gabe Parra, community redevelopment manager, says the conversation surrounding this project and property is seven-years in the making.

“We want to create a gathering space where the neighborhood can convene and feel like they belong,” he says.

The project will also build off a streetscape project designed to enhance Cleveland Street between Missouri Avenue and Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard. These improvements will transform Cleveland Street into a more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly thoroughfare as development and interest in downtown Clearwater grows.

Over the past year, the city has worked with the Project for Public Spaces to determine the best look for Mercado, Lane says. The company, which led a feasibility study on the project, created a conceptual rendering of what the plaza might look like.

In “a good faith” move, AIT Consulting, the company behind the streetscape project, took these designs a step further, he adds. The company saw the need for improvements in the Downtown Gateway and added elements to the PPS design, including structures built utilizing storage containers. AIT has not been hired by the city for the project, Lane says.

Lane is working with “key players” in the area, including a number of local businesses, to create the final design for Mercado. He expects these conversations will match much of what was said in the initial public hearings.

The streetscape project will begin by March, he says. After that, construction can move forward on Mercado and he anticipates that this time next year, the community can expect to see the first events organized in the area.

11 people, projects in Downtown Tampa recognized for urban excellence

What is the value of a new dog park to the surrounding neighborhood? 

For residents on the northern half of the Channel District in downtown Tampa, it’s immense, if only measured based on dogs-per-acre.

The Deputy Kotfila Memorial Dog Park is built underneath the Selmon Expressway, directly across from Bell Channelside and within walking distance of Grand Central and Ventana. It’s excellent thanks to a thoughtful design and dual use of space (dogs below, cars above), and the acknowledgement of a public hero: 

Hillsborough County Deputy John Robert Kotfila, Jr. lost his life to a wrong-way driver on the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway in March of last year. The Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority wanted to do something to honor his legacy. After learning about the strong bond between Kotfila and his German Shepard, Dexter, it was decided to  dedicate the Selmon Greenway dog park in his honor.

“The neighborhood loves it and is grateful to have a shaded space to use year-round, as well as separate space for small dogs,'' says Sarah McKinley, a downtown resident and worker. "They [the dogs] all seem very pleased.”

And as any dog owner knows, dog parks have a way of becoming the main gathering spot for the neighborhood. If anything will force you away from solitary Netflix binging, it’s to take Rufus for a walk.

The Downtown Partnership also recognized other projects for improving the quality of life in Tampa. Winners include The Downtowner free shuttle service (transportation), The Art of the Brick (private sector project), Second Screen Cult Cinema (arts and culture), and the I AM PRICELESS mural (social impact).

The full list of winners is available on the Tampa Downtown Partnership's website. Look for winners in categories like historic preservation, experience, collaboration, and people’s choice.

Taken in aggregate, these actors and their impacts build upon the momentum that continues to push Tampa’s urban center in more dynamic directions each year.

A special acknowledgement was also made to Christine Burdick, Tampa Downtown Partnership’s CEO for the past 15 years. She led the Partnership through what many consider Downtown Tampa’s most transformative change in modern times, but will soon retire from her work with the organization.

Burdick is credited as the driver of many successful initiatives, such as programming activities in Curtis Hixon Park, completion and management of The Tampa Riverwalk, relocation of the Tampa Museum of Art, and initiating the Coast Bike Share program.

Saving lives on Hillsborough streets: How you can get involved with Vision Zero

Following a year-long public engagement process centered on data mapping, crash analysis and public workshops to conceptualize solutions to the Tampa Bay region's alarming pedestrian and cyclist fatality stats, the Vision Zero Hillsborough coalition is busy pursuing an Action Plan designed to encourage you to get engaged to make a difference.

Striking throughout the Action Plan are the victims of traffic violence. Several shared their stories at an August 22 workshop at Tampa Theatre.
 
But most striking is the diversity of the faces who prompted by tragedy have become advocates for Vision Zero. Faces like that of Valerie Jones, whose 17-year-old daughter, Alexis, was killed crossing Busch Boulevard on her way to Chamberlain High School in 2015. Faces like Michael Schwaid, who nearly lost his life to a drunk driver while biking to work last year, and his wife, Barbara, who cannot erase the memory of her husband's screams echoing outside the hospital room where she found him a few hours after he failed to check in from his morning commute.

As Vision Zero moves forward, it does so with a stark reminder: The victims of traffic violence are children and their parents who survive them; they are our neighbors, friends and grandparents. When the lives of loved ones are on the line, every citizen is a stakeholder in the mission to achieve zero traffic deaths in Hillsborough County.

Here are ways you can get involved today with Vision Zero, broken into each of the coalition's four Action Tracks.

Paint Saves Lives

Implementing low-cost treatments to improve the safety of the roadway, particularly for vulnerable users.
  • Organize a neighborhood event: Know of a spot in your neighborhood where a splash of color and creativity would encourage drivers to slow down and look twice for kids and pedestrians? South Seminole Heights became the first neighborhood in Tampa to participate in the city's Paint the Intersection pilot program this summer. Team up with your neighbors, and contact the Transportation and Stormwater Services Department at 813-274-8333 to paint an intersection in your neighborhood.
  • Look for opportunities for low-cost, high impact improvements: Ken Sides, senior engineer with Sam Schwartz Tampa and leader in the PSL committee, notes that PSL solutions often rely on creativity and community brainstorming -- no traffic engineering expertise required. Have an idea? Join the Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee and share your ideas with the Hillsborough MPO.
One Message, Many Voices

Increase awareness of Vision Zero to influence safer behaviors on roadways.
 
  • Talk to your family: In-person outreach is central to the Vision Zero mission. Talk to your family about traffic violence and how they can change their behavior -- both behind the wheel and on foot and bike -- to reach every destination safely. Visit Families for Safe Streets to learn how families who have lost loved ones to traffic violence channel their grief into advocacy as part of the Vision Zero NYC movement. 
  • Get engaged on social media: Like and follow Vision Zero Hillsborough on Facebook and use the #VisionZero813 hashtag to track the coalition and spread the word.
  • Take the Vision Zero Pledge online and share your own story.
  • Join the Speakers Bureau: Central to the One Message, Many Voices Action Plan is a newly developed Speakers Bureau, a platform for victims of traffic violence and roadway safety advocates. Email MPO Executive Planner Gena Torres for more info.
  • Attend the Walk of Silence: Join Vision Zero's Oct. 6 Walk of Silence on Busch Blvd in remembrance of lives lost.
Consistent and Fair

Leverage capabilities and existing resources for equitable, "consistent and fair" enforcement for all road users.
 
  • Provide comments about safety issues along high-crash corridors: Scroll to find a map on the Vision Zero webpage where you can pinpoint safety concerns and provide your comments.
  • Spread the word about why traffic enforcement is critical to Vision Zero: Be vocal about the dangers of texting and driving (responsible for at least 19 percent of fatal crashes nationwide), speeding (reported in Vision Zero data as the fundamental factor in severe crashes), and impaired driving (responsible for 23 percent of traffic fatalities in Hillsborough County).
  • Start a Walking School Bus in your neighborhood: Influencing good driving behavior begins long before teens take the wheel. Get a head start by organizing a Walking School Bus in your neighborhood to keep kids safe on their way to school and encourage mindful traffic behavior.
The Future Will Not Be Like the Past

Integrate context-sensitive design practices for safe communities and roadways.
 
  • Check out the new FDOT Design Manual: In 2014 the FDOT adopted a Complete Streets Policy for improved multimodal design strategies on state roadways. The draft for the FDOT Design Manual (2018) will influence practice in designing more context-sensitive state highways, and is a valuable resource to comprehending Complete Streets design principles as they apply to all roadways.
  • Join the Hillsborough MPO Livable Roadways Committee: Want to stay informed and have a voice in Hillsborough County road design, transportation policy, pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, and land use? Join the Livable Roadways Committee to be involved in influencing context-sensitive design practices in your community. 
View the full Vision Zero Action Plan here.

CDC of Tampa plans townhomes in the Fish Bowl

Housing shouldn’t cost half of your household income. But for some 47,387 households in Hillsborough County, it costs more than that, a needs assessment shows. Nearly 1,500 single-family households lack full plumbing and a kitchen. More than 3,000 live in overcrowded conditions.

In an attempt to help provide affordable housing, the CDC of Tampa is planning a $5 million rental community on E. Diana Street near N. 43rd Street in an area known as the Fish Bowl. Called Gardens at Diana Point, the two-story, four-building complex features 24 three-bedroom, two bathroom units with an attached garage. One unit in each building will be handicapped accessible, and span only one floor.

Designed for low- to moderate-income families, rents are expected to range from $567 to $1,232 after utility allowances.

47,387 households in the county are what are considered rent burdened or cost burdened,” says Frank Cornier, VP of Real Estate Development for CDC of Tampa.

Their goal is to reduce housing costs to 30 percent of income, he says.

See the 5-year consolidated plan for 2016-2020 here.    

A ceremonial groundbreaking for Gardens at Diana Point was held at the property August 31, although bids are still out on the project designed by BDG of Tampa. Construction is expected to begin in October, with leasing applications accepted in spring 2018 and move-in anticipated in June.

The homes will have a little porch on the front, which a lot of people are not even building anymore. It’s a good way of having conversations,” Cornier says.

All units face an interior courtyard featuring a children’s play area. The county, which owns an adjacent retention pond, will be investing $1 million to improve the area east of the property with a boardwalk and fishing pier for the neighborhood.

The development is located next door to Robles Elementary. “I’m sure we’ll get families that have children that go to that school, or want to go to that school, that will apply,” Cornier adds.

To be eligible, a family of four cannot make more than $48,000, he says.

Lower rents are made possible by a $3.5 million investment by the county for development. Some of the funding is derived from a state housing initiative earmarked for rentals.

Rents vary based upon household incomes, with two units set aside for very-low-income residents.

Beacon Homes

Meanwhile an open house is scheduled at 10 a.m. September 28 at the $2.5- to $2.8-million Beacon Homes, a 13-unit housing development at North 34th Street and East 28th Avenue. The three-bedroom, two-bath homes are expected to sell for at least $165,000. Two closings already have taken place and two more are planned in September. An additional three homes are under construction.

“It’s been a catalyst. Other people are also building around Beacon Homes and improving their property,” Cornier says.

The homes include attached garages, plenty of closet and storage space, and energy-efficient appliances. Assistance is available with closing costs for eligible parties. Seven of the homes have income restrictions of $47,850 per family of four, which allows them to buy with $3,000 out of pocket. Those with higher incomes are able to purchase one of the six other homes.

The CDC also is planning four more affordable homes on available lots in the E. Columbus Drive area between 22nd and 34th streets. The three-bedroom, two-bath homes with attached garages are expected to sell for an estimated $165,000 to $180,000. Construction on two is slated to begin next quarter, with the other two following.

Wrecking crews already have begun tearing down the city’s oldest public housing complex, North Boulevard Homes, which will be replaced by a 150-acre redevelopment project called West River. That project, to include some 840 affordable apartments, is intended to help transform the downtown area into an urban hub that may include 2,200 residential units, 90,000 square feet of retail and 70,000 square feet of office.

Construction on the first two buildings is anticipated in a year, but the full build-out may take a decade to complete.


Enterprising Latinas to graduate first class of childcare workers

Little Angels Wimauma, an early learning family childcare home that will accommodate 10 children in a South Shore community with few childcare options, is expected to open its doors August 30.

The home is the first of at least seven new childcare facilities in the area “that will create a critical mass of opportunity for children in the community to access quality early childhood education in the community where they live,” says Liz Gutierrez, Founder and CEO of Enterprising Latinas, a nonprofit organization working to empower low-income Hispanic woman in the Tampa Bay Area.

“We’re going to change the landscape of the community. We’re going to create opportunities for women,” she asserts. “We’re going to address a major challenge in the community, which is the lack of school readiness among children.”

Little Angels Wimauma’s owner, Jackie Brown, was part of a childcare class offered by Enterprising Latinas, which through its Opportunity Center is working to help the community by activating women. Brown’s staff will include a couple of part-time substitutes from her training class.

“I am doing my part as best I can to help families to realize dreams and goals,” says Brown, a Wimauma CDC member who grew up in the community. “It means everything to me because I live here. I work here. I’m advocating on the part of Wimauma every day.”

A ribbon cutting ceremony, which is open to the public, is slated for 4 p.m. on August 29th, at 5803 North St., Wimauma. It is followed by a 5 p.m. graduation and reception for the class of 30 that completed the Wimauma Cares training program. The graduation and reception will be at the Opportunity Center at 18240 U.S. Highway 301 S., Wimauma. Space is limited, so interested parties are asked to RSVP by emailing Sara Arias or calling 813-699-5811.

The celebration culminates a year-long endeavor enabled by financial support from Allegany Franciscan Ministries, the Children’s Board of Hillsborough County and Hillsborough County.

“They took a chance,” she says. “We are very grateful. Without this, we couldn’t have done this.”

While the class may appear to be a simple task to English-speaking individuals, it seemed to be an insurmountable challenge to some of the women who endured. “If English is not your first language, passing this course is no easy feat,” Gutierrez explains.

“They’ve been able to prove to themselves that they could do this,” she says.

Plans already are underway to open more childcare facilities, one of them at Peniel Baptist Church near Wimauma Elementary School. “We are working with them right now, so they can get the work done on the property,” Gutierrez says.

Development in the South Shore area of Hillsborough County is expected to increase the need for community-based childcare.

A waiting list of 70 for the next childcare class in South Shore is a testimony of the popularity of the class. Another 12 are waiting for a Tampa class. “They [the people from Tampa] heard about this and they’re working in lousy jobs and they want the training. They want us to do a Saturday course,” Gutierrez explains. “There’s a lot of interest. We’re going to do it.”


Vision Zero: How to make local streets safer for everyone? Join the conversation August 22

Are you passionate about making streets throughout the Tampa Bay region safer for drivers, passengers and vulnerable road users like cyclists and pedestrians?

Team up with the Hillsborough MPO's Vision Zero coalition at the Tampa Theatre on August 22 for the fourth in a series of public workshops geared toward creating a more bike-friendly culture and improved safety measures for all users of the streets of Hillsborough County -- which is currently recognized as one of the most deadly places in the United States to be a pedestrian. 

Following 10 months of research and data collection, brainstorming, outlining plans, gathering community input, revising plans and hammering out details: the four Vision Zero "Action Tracks'' will present their one-, two- and five-year action plans to make Hillsborough County streets safer for all users at the August workshop.

The four Vision Zero Action Tracks are as follows: 
  • Paint Saves Lives: low-cost, high-impact engineering strategies for safer streets
  • One Message, Many Voices: public education and awareness strategies
  • Consistent and Fair: community-oriented law enforcement
  • The Future Will Not Be Like the Past: context-sensitive design for walkable communities

Like previous Vision Zero community workshops held in 2017, the workshop at Tampa Theatre will focus thematically on one of the campaign's four core Action Tracks -- in this instance, ''One Message, Many Voices.''

Vision Zero Hillsborough aims to put a human face on the impact of traffic violence through the power of storytelling, with a series of short films and speakers from the Tampa Bay area whose lives have been affected directly by tragedy.

The message is a sobering one: Too many lives are lost on Tampa area streets to tragic and preventable traffic accidents. 

Speakers at the upcoming workshop will include Valerie Jones, whose daughter, Alexis Miranda, a 17-year-old Chamberlain High School student, was killed attempting to cross Busch Boulevard on her way to school in 2015. 

"We are encouraging people to attend that have been victims of some sort, and who could give a testimonial on their experience," says Hillsborough MPO Executive Planner Gena Torres. ??"We also welcome anyone in the audience [to speak]. You'd be surprised by how many people have someone they love who was hurt or killed in traffic accidents," Torres adds. 

The "Vision Zero" resolution of reducing traffic fatalities and injuries to zero was adopted in 2017 by the Hillsborough County Commission, the Tampa City Council, Temple Terrace City Council, Plant City Commission and the School Board of Hillsborough County. 

Join the Vision Zero coalition for its fourth workshop of 2017 on August 22 from 9 to 11 a.m. at the Tampa Theatre, 7111 N. Franklin St.

Learn more about Vision Zero and join the movement at the Plan Hillsborough website.

Read more stories about Vision Zero in 83 Degrees.

New James Museum transforms 100 block of Central Ave., Downtown St. Pete

A 105-ton stone mesa will frame the entrance to the Tom & Mary James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art Museum, St. Petersburg’s newest addition to its growing collection of arts and cultural organizations.  

Located at the corner of 100 Central Avenue and First Avenue South in the heart of downtown, the James Museum represents the vision of Tom James, chairman emeritus of Raymond James Financial, and his wife Mary.

The James’ have donated $50 million to build the museum, which is expected to be completed by the end of 2017 with a grand opening in early 2018.

The museum will display a portion of the James’ vast collection of more than 3,000 pieces of western and wildlife art and sculpture, as well as Native American jewelry.  The couple began collecting western and wildlife art in the late 1950s and now have one of the largest private collections in Florida.

“When my wife Mary and I decided to share the best of our collection through the establishment of a museum, it made perfect sense to build that museum in the city that has been our home for over 50 years and so much a part of our family’s success,” says James. 

“Anchored by the Dali Museum, St. Petersburg already has such a strong arts presence in downtown,” says James. “We wanted to augment the array of cultural attractions and further establish the city as a cultural destination, while providing educational and entertainment opportunities for the community.” 

The final steel beam that will support the 219-foot foot tall stone mesa was lowered into place at the end of June during a “topping off” ceremony.  The event marked slightly more than the halfway point for construction of the 84,000-square foot museum, which when completed will be larger than The Dali Museum.

From parking garage to museum

The  location of the new James Museum will be a first for the city. Rather than taking shape as a free-standing entity,  the museum is being built within the bottom two floors of the SouthCore Parking Garage, a distinctive pink landmark in the 100 block of Central Avenue.  The new ONE 41-story luxury condo tower is under construction across the street. 

Last year, St. Petersburg City Council approved a 50-year lease between the city and the museum. Parking for the museum and the public will continue to be available in the remainder of the eight-story public parking garage.

In a prepared statement, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman says he is enthusiastic about the city’s partnership with the museum, which will bring another significant landmark to the downtown core.

The Beck Group is overseeing construction of the museum, which will include a 30,000-square-feet gallery space, 6,000-square feet event space, 120-seat theater, indoor sculpture court, commercial catering kitchen, café and museum store.

St. Pete Design Group, a joint venture between Harvard Jolly Architecture, Architect Yann Weymouth and Wanemacher Jensen Architects, are designing the exterior and interior.  

Weymouth designed The Dali Museum, now a major draw for visitors internationally to the city. The design for the new James Museum is expected to be just as distinctive architecturally. In addition to the 105-ton stone mesa on the front of the building, interior features include a two-story stone arroyo and waterfall.

Driving economic development

The museum’s construction presents significant development opportunities for the 100 block of Central Avenue.  

Besides transforming a 30-year-old city parking garage into a museum, the team will be creating 35,000-square-feet of retail space on the east and west side of the garage -- prime street level property that is expected to transform this corner of downtown.  

The Sembler Company is leasing ground floor retail units and Echelon Real Estate Services is leasing the Class A Office space located on the second floor.

“When we selected the museum’s location, we had in mind that we should help build and beautify that part of downtown, encourage development of hotels and other amenities for residents and visitors and make the area more attractive and pedestrian friendly,”  Tom James said at an event last year announcing the launch of the new museum. “We could have given our collection to other museums or have sold it, but we thought what better opportunity to continue the development of our city.”

Venture House moves forward on affordable housing

In South St. Petersburg, Venture House is taking the first steps toward creating affordable housing for artists, entrepreneurs, social innovators and small business owners.

In May, the nonprofit community development organization finalized architectural plans and began interior demolition on a home in the Lake Maggiore Shores neighborhood.  In June, three more properties in the Bartlett Park neighborhood were added to the list.

“It is really exciting to see us move from a great idea into taking action,” says Frank Wells, President and CEO of Venture House. “Three years ago we began just as a seed of an idea -- a winning pitch at a social enterprise contest. It’s amazing to see how much has grown out of this little seed.”

As reported in the July 2014 article in 83 Degrees Media, Venture House is working in partnership with Bright Community Trust, a Clearwater-based community land trust with a goal of “creating healthy and sustainable communities across Florida.”

Both Bright Community Trust, formerly known as the Pinellas Community Housing Foundation, and Venture House are focused on buying run-down, boarded-up homes in “blighted” neighborhoods and turning them into attractive, affordable housing.  

The goal is not only to create quality housing but also in a much bigger sense to revitalize struggling communities plagued by poverty. “Social enterprise is a big part of our mission -- how to use housing as a tool to improve and build community,” says Wells.

It’s also about giving a boost to local residents by helping increase their property values and offering a helping hand to entrepreneurs who can then create local jobs.

Southside CRA designation

Lake Maggiore Shores and Bartlett Park are neighborhoods located within the city’s Southside CRA or Community Redevelopment Area. Some 4,700 acres in South St. Petersburg and more than 20 neighborhood and business associations are included in this designation.  

It’s all part of a long-term plan to bring economic development and revitalization to South St. Petersburg through several initiatives, including improving and rehabbing the housing market to “expand opportunities for entrepreneurs, minority, women and disadvantaged business enterprises and small businesses.” 

The City of St. Petersburg is working with Venture House to identify suitable housing to rehab. The Bartlett Park homes will be new construction built on three vacant lots -- lots that the City of St. Petersburg agreed to give Venture House to fulfill the organization’s community land trust mission.

“It matches the city’s goal of in-filling new construction to make the whole block nicer for local residents,” he says.

Wells expects a bid to go out in the near future to identify a local builder to work with Venture House on the construction. Funding is coming from a combination of private donation and both federal and local funds. 

Showcase demonstration home 

The Lake Maggiore Shores’ home has a slightly different vision.  It will become a showcase demonstration home for Venture House, says Wells.

A “call” has gone out for artists to submit ideas for a proposed art project that will become a permanent fixture in the home.  

“We hope to have an event in the fall where we’ll present all the different artist ideas and have the audience vote on them. Then we’ll crowd-fund those projects that are the favorites,” says Wells.

So far, FunktionHouse, a St. Petersburg artisan furniture  maker who uses locally sourced recycled local trees, will be donating a recycled wood bar top, and the Morean Arts Center, will be creating a glass wall piece, says Wells.

In addition, community volunteers and groups like the Home Builders Institute, a career training organization for the construction industry, have been helping begun demolishing the current structure to get ready for renovation.

The Maggiore Shores showcase home is expected to be finished by early next year.  But the other three homes in the Bartlett Park neighborhood are expected to be ready for occupancy much sooner.

“Our goal is to get those houses built and people moved into them,” says Wells.

Individuals eligible to live in a Venture House-sponsored property aren’t limited to just artists and entrepreneurs in the traditional sense. 

“We’re looking at the arts in a very broad sense. Not just painters and sculptors, but also opera singers, hip hop DJ’s, spoken word artists and poets,” says Wells.

The same scenario applies to entrepreneurs. “It’s not just the next new graduate writing a phone App, but someone launching a catering or restaurant business, landscaping, braiding hair, or even an activist doing great community work,” says Wells.  

“It was Watson Haynes (president and CEO of the Pinellas County Urban League) who opened up my eyes to this idea,” says Wells. “Entrepreneurship can be a path to developing wealth that changes the outcome for the homeowner and the community, especially for people who find there aren’t a lot of job opportunities open to them. Entrepreneurship can be a transformative tool for South St. Petersburg and many other communities.”

University Area CDC seeks resident input on community needs

If you are at least 18 years old and live in the 33612 or 33613 zip codes in Tampa, the University Area CDC wants to hear from you. It’s doing a survey to help pinpoint needs in the community surrounding the University of South Florida.

“This is what we are going to use to build our strategic plan,” explains Sarah Combs, the CDC’s Executive Director and CEO.

The CDC is working on improving the University Area and the lifestyles of its residents by focusing on housing, health education programs, transportation, youth programs, community safety and workforce/employment issues.

The 2017 University Area Community Survey is confidential and does not require names, emails or phone numbers. However, those who complete the survey and supply their names and contact information can participate in a drawing for prizes, including a TV, park tickets, movie passes, bicycles, a $100 gift card, and more. Additional prizes are available when the survey is turned in personally.

It takes about 20 to 25 minutes to answer the 54 questions, which involve the types of programs their children prefer, challenges to home ownership, personal safety and the effectiveness of law enforcement.

The survey is available here. Completed forms should be returned to the individual or organization who provided them, or to 14013 North 22nd St., Tampa.

The last time the survey was done was in 2015, when results were used in the creation of sports and fitness classes and a community garden to increase access to healthy foods as well as to improve Workforce Training through a Free IT Certification Course.

Combs expects the survey to reveal a small decline in the “transient nature” of the community, she says.

“This information allows us to figure out who’s our community. When we started we were primarily African-American. Now we’re primarily Hispanic,” she adds.

Originally set to close out in June, the survey will remain open through July 28 to involve more respondents.

In June the nonprofit closed on its sixth parcel near its 7-acre Harvest Hope Park. The parcels will be used to develop affordable, single-family housing. “We’re hoping that funding is going to come very soon, within the next three months,” she says.

The residences will allow owners to be “urban pioneers,” and have a place they can call home rather than a place where they stay, she says.

“What’s going to be really cool about these houses, they’re modular houses,” Combs adds.

Meanwhile the concrete has been poured on an 8-foot tall statue of a family depicting diversity and respect in the community. It will be placed in Hope Park, bordered by 19th and 20th streets and 137th and 138th avenues,

It’s created from the residents,” she says, adding it might take a month to complete. “I’m really excited to see that.”


What's next for downtown Clearwater? Craft breweries, winery, beer fest

As the City of Clearwater anticipates a waterfront revival thanks to the recent City Council approval of the Imagine Clearwater redevelopment project, Jay Polglaze, executive director of the Clearwater Downtown Partnership and former city councilor, says the downtown area could get an additional boost from an unexpected source: local craft brewers.

Over the past 15 years, the Tampa Bay Area has enjoyed the economic benefits of “the microbrewery craze,” he says. This movement has largely bypassed Clearwater, however, because of laws on the books that prohibited the manufacture and distribution of craft beer downtown. These laws were finally modified last year, when Polglaze was still on council, to pave the way for breweries to operate downtown.

Though he lost his re-election bid in March 2016, he immediately began working for the Clearwater Downtown Partnership, where he focuses on the economic vibrancy of the city’s downtown area. One of the major missing components that would help create a thriving downtown is craft beer, he says.

“My best advisors are my 27-year-old son and my 24-year-old daughter,” Polglaze says. “When I ask them what’s missing, they’re pretty specific: 'craft beer'.”

He recently attended an “inspiring” presentation on “craft urbanism” that featured Tampa Bay-area brewers, including Joey Redner, founder of Tampa’s Cigar City Brewing, and Mike Harding, founder of 3 Daughters Brewing in St. Petersburg.

“You can get this urban core reignited by creating this community of microbreweries,” Polglaze says.

He adds, “It works. Look at Dunedin, St. Petersburg, Tampa, all across the country. It’s a huge movement right now.”

This is why the Clearwater Downtown Partnership has partnered with the city of Clearwater’s Community Redevelopment Agency to launch the first annual Downtown Clearwater Craft Beer and Music Fest Saturday, May 20, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., on Cleveland Street between Fort Harrison and East Avenues.

The free event will feature more than 50 brewers from throughout the state, including 3 Daughters, Cigar City, Cycle Brewing, Big Storm Brewing Co., Hidden Springs Aleworks, MIA Brewing Company, and House of Beer Brewing, which is one of the co-producers of the event.

Eight musical acts will perform on two stages throughout the day. There will also be a variety of arts and crafts vendors, food trucks, and an activity area for children.

Polglaze says he expects the event to draw between 8,000 and 10,000 people. He also hopes that it will show visiting brewers the potential of downtown Clearwater. The city is actively “courting” local brewers, including the Dunedin-based House of Beer.
 
“We’re really close to being able to announce our first couple of breweries,” he says. He anticipates having contracts signed with local brewers and also a local winery by the end of June.

Looking north, Dunedin already has nine breweries within city limits, he says. “So the next logical expansion is Clearwater.”
He hopes to have an anchor brewery open on Cleveland Street with other brewers setting up shop on side streets.

The impending downtown renaissance, especially if it features local brewers, will build on what is already a popular tourist destination, he adds.

Polglaze says, “We want to create a great companion downtown to America’s number one beach. There’s a lot of great things going on in Clearwater. We’re getting a lot of movement right now. I really believe the beverage and food industry will be the spark plug that gets this thing going.”

CDC, lenders team up to open new affordable homes in East Tampa

The first three of 13 homes being constructed by the Corporation to Develop Communities of Tampa with affordable housing opportunities in mind are just weeks away from completion.

Frank Cornier, the CDC’s VP of real estate development, says the Beacon Homes project falls in line with his organization’s goal of supporting communities throughout Hillsborough County and improving quality of life for residents in East Tampa.

“Being able to create those affordable homeownership opportunities is key to what we do,” he says.

So far, CDC has seen no shortage of interest in the homes. One home is currently under contract while about six potential buyers are hoping to qualify for the other two, which are expected to be complete in the next two weeks.

Cornier says seven of the 13 homes, which are located along North 34th Street at East 28th Avenue, are for families who take home $47,350 or below annually – 80 percent of the area median income for a family of four. The next six will be for families who earn 120 percent of the area median income with $71,040 annual pay for the same-size family.

The first group of homes will sell for $165,000 but the cost of the second group might see an increase. Eligible buyers can receive up to just under $30,000 in down payment and closing cost assistance.

“That enables someone to be able to purchase a home with about $3,000 out of their pocket,” says Cornier, noting how important that assistance is in furthering this project’s goal.

The total budget for the project, which is a joint effort with the city of Tampa and the Tampa Housing Authority, is between $2.5 and $2.8 million. Financing comes from the city and the Florida Minority Impact Housing Fund, designed to revitalize marginalized communities across the state.

For more information or if you are interested in purchasing a home, visit CDC online.


University Area CDC buys land for future affordable housing

The University Area Community Development Corporation is in the process of acquiring land for development of affordable housing.

The nonprofit organization has purchased five parcels of land surrounding its 7-acre Harvest Hope Park, which is bordered by 19th and 20th streets and 137th and 138th avenues, and is negotiations for three more.

UACDC Executive director and CEO Sarah Combs says the empty lots will be used for affordable housing to help further her organization’s goal of improving the university area community. Plans for housing include single family homes, multi-family and mixed use. In combination with the park, Combs says the development will be a catalyst for change in the community.

“It’s creating something where you can start to grow from,” she says.

In the past eight months, UACDC has purchased three parcels on 138th Avenue and two on 137th Avenue and spent about $150,000 of its $500,000 budget for land acquisition. It is currently in talks to purchase two additional lots on 138th Avenue and a third on 20th street.

Combs says the type of housing developed depends on what land UACDC can obtain and the needs of the community.
 
“Before determining that, we have to ask the community,” she says.

If the nonprofit is successful in its land acquisition, there is potential for at least seven single-family homes and a 120-unit multi-family complex.

“We’re aggressive,” Combs says. “We’re going after it as fast as we can because there is a lot changing with this community and I want to make sure our residents get to stay residents.”

The residences would be offered to those who earn below the area median income and rents will likely fall between $600 and $800 a month. For the single-family homes, UACDC has the goal of a $700 monthly mortgage to encourage community members to purchase the homes. Combs says the individuals buying the homes would be people who are already involved in UACDC’s other programs and are dedicated to improving the area.

“If they join arms and walk together, we can really start to push change in a positive direction,” she says.

Developer proposes micro apartments in downtown Tampa

A Tampa-based development firm is looking to bring an innovative type of living space to downtown Tampa.

Urban Core Holdings, LLC is currently under contract to purchase a 12-story downtown office facility with plans to create micro apartments – 300 to 400-square-foot living quarters that are designed to appeal to those who live and work in the area.

Starting at $850 a month and maxing out at $1,100 the apartments, located at 220 E. Madison St., will provide an alternative that is far cheaper than other downtown Tampa complexes, says Omar Garcia of Urban Core Holdings.

Among people under age 35, especially young professionals, Garcia notes there is substantial appeal for this type of living space, which facilitates proximity to high-paying jobs in the downtown area.

“We think there’s a solid six- to seven-thousand people who would be interested in this project,” he says.

One of the proposed complex’s main advantages is the opportunity for younger occupants to be able to acquire wealth in light of the lower rents and reduced living costs.

“It’s a wealth creation idea” Garcia says, noting that the residents would ideally be living near their workplace and would bypass the expense of owning a car as a result.

According to a news release from Urban Core Holdings, a study from AAA Shows that owning a car can cost upwards of $725 per month when all costs are factored.

And the 120 potential residents at 220 Madison will likely be required to not own a car.

Urban Core is currently negotiating with the city of Tampa to avoid a $3 million fee for not adding additional parking once the space is converted from mixed-use to multi-family residential.

Garcia says having to pay the fee would translate to higher rents, which doesn’t fall in line with the goal of the building.

“We’re willing to require our residents not to own a vehicle and therefore there is no parking impact,” he says.
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