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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.

Florida CDC gives local nonprofits a chance to make funding pitches

The CDC of Tampa will make a pitch for funding for an economic opportunity center to provide services to at-risk individuals. The University Area CDC will attempt to garner support for a fee-based visual and performing arts/interactive learning/social engagement project for underserved youth and families. And the nonprofit Enterprising Latinas will seek money for an innovative transportation system to serve the Wimauma community in Hillsborough County’s SouthShore.

These are among the 11 creative nonprofit organizations that will seek help from potential investors Oct. 30 through Nov. 1 in an event patterned after the popular TV show Shark Tank.

“The whole concept behind this Expo was to put nonprofit projects in front of people that might be interested in funding them,” says Terry Chelikowsky, Executive Director of the Florida Alliance of Community Development Corporations, a Jacksonville group working to help communities in Florida prosper.

“We’ve tried to invite people that might really be interested in learning about these projects,” she adds, “but there are no guarantees.”

The Expo is expected to attract a diverse group from around the state that includes representatives from financial institutions, local businesses, community development finance institutions, and community and family foundations -- as well as social venture capitalists, local government officials, and the general public.

In addition to pitches by creators, the Expo will include a training track to educate people about communities and economic development by nonprofits. Training will include information on why communities are inequitable and how to make them more equitable, the economic benefits of the nonprofit sector, and community development and the arts.

The event has been in the works for three years after the idea was sparked by a similar event held in Jacksonville. “We are hoping to be able to repeat this every couple of years,” she says.

Creator presentations kick off at 11 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 31. While 10-minute pitches will be made to a room full of people, they’ll be graded on a 50-point system by two or three volunteers. A question-and-answer session will include comments from professionals on the viability of the projects.

First place winners will be recognized in each of three categories: economic development, housing development, and programs that empower people. The real prize is receiving a followup call from one or more investors – and ultimately, funding for their projects.

The Expo will be held at Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay at 2900 Bayport Dr., Tampa. It costs $199 for the first alliance member and $149 for additional members. Non-members pay $269, with additional individuals from an organization paying $219.

Online registration is available through the organization’s website by clicking on 2017 Expo Hub. Walk-ins are welcome. The event starts at noon on October 30 and includes lunch, a general session on equitable communities, a creators’ exhibit display and reception. The event concludes with Best Project Awards at 11:30 a.m. Nov. 1.


Public transit moves toward more on-demand services

Some public transit riders in Hillsborough County will need to find alternative transportation starting Sunday, Oct. 8, when 14 routes are eliminated to save some $6 million annually.

Other Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART) bus riders will have better and more frequent service in the route redesign.

“There are winners and there frankly, unfortunately, are losers,” says Steve Feigenbaum, HART’s Director of Service Development. “There are going to be people who aren’t going to be positively affected. We’re trying to keep it to a minimum.”

HART attempts to streamline services making them more efficient, relying upon more innovative on-demand services to replace lower ridership circular routes. Its goals are in line with a survey revealing the public favors more frequent service, even if it takes longer to reach the bus stop.

“We’re trying to do this whole thing, based on the data, where we can get the best bang for our buck,” he explains. “The budget is not adequate to really serve the full needs.”

HART is beefing up transportation to Tampa International Airport, increasing it from one to three routes. It also is increasing the frequency of Route 34 to every 20 minutes on weekdays. Bus frequency also is increasing on Routes 1, 14 and Metro Rapid.

New routes make it easier to commute from Tampa International Airport to Brandon Mall, or from Downtown Tampa to MacDill Air Force Base.

Buses 2,4, 10, 18, 21LX, 22X, 27LX, 28X, 41, 47LX, 53LX, 57, 61LX and 200X are being cut.

HART will be relying on and expanding where possible its Hyperlink services, the country’s first transit-operated rideshare service providing door-to-door service, connecting riders with existing bus lines on demand. HARTPlus will continue to serve the handicapped within three quarters of a mile from the old routes.

The transit authority is in the midst of a massive public awareness campaign to reach riders along all affected routes. Orange bags were being placed at affected stops, notices were being posted in bus shelters, and HARTline personnel were riding the buses to inform riders about alternatives.

In general, public transit riders may want to consider vanpools, carpools, Hyperlink /(in the University, Temple Terrace and/or Brandon areas), HARTFlex, private on-demand services like Uber or Lyft, taxis or private rides to get to a bus route or their destination. Hillsborough County’s Sunshine Line offers door-to-door service and bus passes to elderly, low-income and disabled individuals without transportation, and is especially useful for medical appointments, aging services and food programs.

“A lot of people that have been on express routes have shifted to vanpool,” he says.

Additionally, some shelters will be moved to replace outmoded shelters in other locations.

The route changes can be found at HART’s website under the label Mission MAX, short for Modernizing and Aligning for Excellence. An interactive tool is provided through Google Maps.

On September 25, HART approved its long-range plan which maps out its efforts to improve services in the next decade. It includes expansion of the Hyperlink service to the SouthShore in 2020, to Palmetto Beach in 2021, to Riverview in 2023, to West Park and Big Bend in 2025, in Town ’n County and South Tampa in 2026, and to East Brandon, Citrus Park and Seffner/Mango in 2027.  

“It’s a higher frequency grid in the core area and more of the on-demand type service for lower densities on the perimeter,” Feigenbaum explains.

It combines both funded improvements where monies are expected through property taxes with a sort of wish list of enhancements that may be implemented if funds become available.

Feigenbaum says HART may possibly implement ridesharing services similar to an Uber or Lyft service to help get riders to the existing routes. It may begin with a pilot program that has not yet been developed. He’s hoping it will be available in 2018.

In Pinellas County

A similar program already is under use by the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority. Its Direct Connect program uses Uber, United Taxi and apps to connect riders to its service grid. Handicapped riders can use Wheelchair Transportation Service (WTS).

Modern technology and innovative technology led PSTA to form what was the “first public-private partnership” to get people to the bus stop, PSTA officials say. Other transit systems have since taken a greater interest in emerging technology and alternative services.

Direct Connect began in two zones in 2016, then expanded in January to the current eight zones countywide. Plans call for expanding it further potentially in February of 2018, says PSTA Transit Planner Bonnie Epstein.

“The purpose of the program is to provide convenient first and last mile service to our core and frequent local routes,” explains Heather Sobush, PSTA Planning Manager. 

Another goal is to increase ridership on its 41 routes. “We just don’t have the funding to keep it at the frequency level that we’d like,” Epstein says. “So they run once an hour.”

Direct Connect can transport riders to the core system, where more frequent service is available, cutting transit time. Because of a $5 PSTA subsidy, riders pay no more than $1.

“Right now the county is divided into eight zones. Within your zone you can only travel to and from the Direct Connect in your zone,” Epstein says.

In February, they hope to remove the zones and allow more flexibility. “We expect a lot more growth,” Sobush says.

“We still want to provide that shared ride service,” she says. “We’re looking at ways to also have these innovative projects to be shared ride services as well.”


Sea Drift Ales & Lagers joins local brew scene

Five years after opening Largo’s Barley Mow Brewing Company, founders Jay and Colleen Dingman have launched a new beer brand -- Sea Drift Ales & Lagers.

“We are looking at a fresh start on the distribution end of things,” Jay Dingman says.

While Barley Mow and the company’s restaurant, The Raven, which also features a brewery, will continue to exist, Sea Drift is “basically a complete rebrand,” he adds.

The intention of Sea Drift is to distribute to a bigger market, he says. Though Barley Mow beers have been well-received, “the darker theme didn’t always translate well in the market.”

Sea Drift embodies the “Florida nautical lifestyle,” Dingman says. “They’re more water focused, beachy, and kind of light.” Initially it will offer three beers: Sea Drift Pills, All Hands IPA and Dark Harbor Mocha Stout.

“It’s much lower alcohol content, more approachable stuff than we’ve done in the past,” he says.

Dingman says they consider Sea Drift “kind of a do-over.” 

Barley Mow beers sold well throughout the county, but “the further away from home, the harder it is to sell beer.” He hopes Sea Drift will have a greater draw throughout Pinellas County, and eventually, beyond.

Since before Sea Drift Ales & Lagers launched, the companies have ceased brewing Barley Mow beers for distribution. But Barley Mow can still be purchased on draft at The Raven and the brewery in Largo. Because a developer bought that property last year, however, the brewery will be moving from its current location in April 2018, Dingman says. That’s when Barley Mow’s lease ends with no possibility for renewal.

Though, he’s uncertain where Barley Mow might go, the lease ending is a blessing in disguise. “We outgrew that property on West Bay three years ago,” he says. “A lot of people are worried that we might close. But that’s not the case. We’re definitely going to go somewhere else. Where we’re going? We don’t know.”

In the meantime, the focus is on Sea Drift. Dingman says the company will open a tasting room for its newest beers at its Largo production facility by the fourth quarter of this year.

“This is a new chapter for us,” he says. “It’s definitely been an adventure the last couple of years.”

Work begins on USF building to anchor Water Street Tampa

Construction has begun on the University of South Florida’s $152.6 million Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute at Water Street in downtown Tampa. The facility, which will anchor the $3 billion Strategic Property Partners' development, will bring students to live, work and study closer to their primary teaching school, Tampa General Hospital.

Though the building isn’t expected to open until late 2019, USF is already experiencing a number of positive benefits.

Since the move from the university’s main campus in North Tampa was announced in 2014, applications to the USF medical school have risen 40 percent, meaning more than 30 applicants are competing for every seat. USF has become the most selective medical school in the state, with MCAT scores in the top 20 percent of medical schools in 2016.

“We’re full in a lot of ways and have to hold off recruiting," says Dr. Edmund Funai, Chief Operating Officer for USF Health and Senior Vice President for Strategic Development for the USF System. "It’s exceeded our wildest expectations,”

The 11-story building is expected to bring more than 2,200 students, faculty and staff to the 53-acre Water Street Tampa. Its close proximity to its primary teaching hospital -- just a short water taxi ride away -- is expected to boost federal funding for research to fight heart disease.

The economic impact to Tampa Bay is considerable: the Heart Institute alone is expected to have an impact of $75 million annually.

USF leaders, friends and supporters gathered September 20 for a Dig This! event, viewing the development site from the upper floors of Amalie Arena. The group included USF System President Judy Genshaft, Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, Florida Senator Dana Young, R-Tampa, and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

Funai says being on the waterfront downtown enables USF to better showcase Tampa Bay area. “It’s a little harder to do from the main campus,” he points out. “It does a lot for people’s attitudes to to see the water and the sun and to be part of something that’s going to be a game changer for the city of Tampa and the Tampa Bay region.”

Funded by $112 million state university dollars, as well as private donations, the building’s modern design facilitates collaboration with more open spaces instead of the traditional classrooms of 20 years ago.

“It’s being designed to be as open as possible, to be adaptive to changes in curriculum,” he says.

The building will feature “next generation library service” through a donation from the insurance provider Florida Blue, he says. “It’s going to be on the cutting edge of information technology,” he asserts, “moving beyond the old book.”

Funai expects the facility, which is near USF’s Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation (CAMLS), to be at the forefront of research through its high-resolution magnetic resonance imaging and state-of-art clinical trial unit.

The SPP development is meant to compliment what already is in the vicinity, highlighting the waterfront and incorporating lots of greenery.

“We’re building the safest building that we possible can,” he adds. “It’s built to deal with what Mother Nature may throw at you over 100 years.”

Vinik is a part owner in SPP, which is developing Water Street Tampa over a 10-year period. He and his wife Penny were recognized by USF September 26 when the university named its dual-degree Sports and Entertainment Management program after them. The Viniks helped launch, and provided more than $5 million of support, for the program run by USF’s Muma College of Business.

The program features business fundamentals MBA management, finance, marketing, information systems and accounting classes. Other courses involve the sport and entertainment industry.


Better cafe, new rooftop experiences coming to Clearwater Main Library

A feasibility study is underway to determine the future of Clearwater Main Library’s first-floor café and rooftop terrace.

Library Director Jennifer Obermaier says the upgrades will be part of Phase I of Imagine Clearwater, a $55 million revitalization project the city hopes will reactivate its downtown waterfront and bluff, and spur economic development. The Clearwater City Council approved the study, which will cost just under $100,000, at its July 31 meeting.

The Main Library, the largest of the city’s five branches at 90,000 square feet, was built 15 years ago. “Back then, libraries were very different. They were very traditional,” Obermaier says. “The trend is, right now, and that’s the national trend, is to make things more interactive and move things around.”

For a little over a year, the library has focused on its four-floor Maker Studios. A different studio is featured on each floor -- Creation Studio for Arts & Design, Discovery Studio of Creative Learning, Innovation Studio of Technology & Business, and Heritage Studio of Community Memory. The purpose of the maker spaces is to provide library patrons with opportunities for hands-on learning and the use of advanced technology, including 3-D printers, green screens and video cameras, sewing machines, a laser engraver, scanners and more. The fourth-floor Heritage Studio is still under construction.

Now the café and rooftop terrace are the next areas “ready to be reactivated,” Obermaier says. Last November, city residents passed a referendum to permit modifications to the library. “Everything on the bluff or certain parts of the bluff has to go to referendum,” she adds. “Now we have the opportunity to rethink different areas of the library that aren’t well established.”

When the library was initially built, the rooftop served as a special events space for not only library events, but wedding receptions, banquets, fundraisers for various organizations and outside groups. There was even an event coordinator position designed for booking and managing that rooftop space. “But during the recession, that was one of the positions that was eliminated,” Obermaier says.

Since then, the rooftop terrace has been locked off from the public and only occasionally used for library programming, from Sunset on the Roof to various astronomy events.

“We’re using the space, but we’d like to use it in different ways and more often,” she says.

As for the café space downstairs, there are difficulties surrounding “restraints because they can only open when [the library is] open and there’s no external entrance,” Obermaier says.

She adds, “We had four vendors open in that space and they just couldn’t make a profit.”

For the past five years, the space has been utilized through a partnership with Pinellas County Schools. The school district uses the café as part of its on-the-job-training program for special needs students. “They’re very successful and they’re here during the school day as part of their school work,” she says.

Clearwater Library staff is working with architects Williamson Dacar Associates, Inc. on the study, which should be completed by December. 

The city council will ultimately decide on which option is best for these spaces, once the study is completed and the library presents possibilities to them.

“We’re hoping the architects will look at these spaces and say here’s one possibility, or another, or they’ll just suggest modifying a space for more programmatic activities or a lounging area to sit and read,” Obermaier says. “There are so many possibilities. I’m excited to see what they propose.”

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.”

7 potential routes identified for Tampa's streetcar expansion

After looking to the public for input at a series of open meetings, city officials have determined seven potential routes for addition to the Tampa Historic Streetcar System.

The study has identified the following potential expansions:

  • North/South Franklin – Eight stations along 2.67 miles of new track running north up Franklin Street to Palm Avenue in Tampa Heights, where it circles around Water Works Park and heads back down Franklin.
  • North/South Tampa-Florida Couplet – 2.6 miles of new track with eight stations turning Florida Avenue and Tampa Street into a north-south extension.
  • East/West River-Ybor – 4.66 miles and 13 stations extending west from Ybor City along the north part of downtown, crossing the Cass Street bridge and running north to Blake High School.
  • East/West North Hyde Park-Channel District – 4.93 miles of new track with 13 stations running through the middle of downtown, across the Cass Street Bridge and into Hyde Park.
  • East/West North Hyde Park-Convention Center Couplet – Nine stations along 3.27 miles of new track that brings the streetcar across the Brorein Street Bridge from the convention center to Hyde Park.
  • Loop Downtown-Channel District – 2.46 miles and eight station running north on Franklin Street then east on Zack and Twiggs streets to the Channel District, creating a downtown loop.
  • Loop Downtown-Ybor – 4.12 miles with 12 stations creates a loop going north on Franklin Street then east on Seventh Avenue to Ybor City.

According to a poll of attendees at the May 2 meeting, the most popular routes are North/South Franklin, North/South Tampa-Florida Couplet and Loop Downtown-Ybor.

The planning effort has a budget of $1.6 million and is funded largely by $1 million contribution from the Florida Department of Transportation. The city has dedicated $677,390 to the effort. Lead consultant on the project is HDR Engineering.

Consultants for the city are continuing to figure out costs over the next month and are still interested in public comment. To learn more about the streetcar extension and provide feedback visit the project’s website.


Tampa Bay Lightning Owner Jeff Vinik partners with Dreamit to promote urban tech in Tampa

Tampa could be poised to attract urban technology firms from around the globe as a result of a recent partnership between Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and the New York-based startup accelerator Dreamit.

The partnership will take advantage of the ongoing development efforts by Vinik's Strategic Property Partners to attract and incubate companies with technology solutions in the areas of real estate, infrastructure and urban living.

With SPP’s plans to invest $3 billion into the development of nine to 10 million square feet across nearly 55 acres in the next 10 years, the Tampa Bay area has a head start when it comes to becoming an urban tech magnet, Dreamit CEO and Managing Partner Avi Savar says.

 “That natural resource becomes kind of the chum in the water to attract startups from around the world that are investing their time, energy and attention to solving the challenges that are facing cities across the world,” he says.

According to a news release from Dreamit, record growth is occurring across the state and in the Tampa Bay area. Just last year, over 60,000 residents moved to the region -- emphasizing the need for urban technology when creating modern cities.

"As our city develops and prepares for a bright future, I am pleased to partner with Dreamit in this UrbanTech initiative," said Jeff Vinik in a news release. "I am confident we will identify and create avenues of success for startups dedicated to building and enriching cities."

As a business accelerator, Dreamit looks for companies with ideas that have already begun to be proven and are ready to progress beyond the startup phase. For its Tampa endeavor, Dreamit will be searching for businesses offering “anything that will help accelerate and innovate the city tomorrow,” Savar says.

The partnership with Vinik in Tampa creates a rare opportunity to build a totally new city with an emphasis on the latest technology in urban development.

“There are very few places in the world where you get to come in on the ground floor and help build a city,” Savar says.


Tampa Downtowner shows success in first 6 months

After celebrating the first six months of a partnership with Downtowner in April, the Tampa Downtown Partnership is confident in the ride service’s continued success.

“It has certainly met and exceeded what our performance expectations were,” says TDP spokeswoman Kelsy Van Camp. “Getting it started we knew it was going to fill a need, but we didn’t know quite how large that need was.”

The free ride service was launched toward the end of 2016 with the goal of enhancing first-mile/last-mile transportation for residents, workers and tourists in the downtown area. TDP entered into a two-year agreement with Downtowner to bring the idea to market and show off its potential in hopes of prompting further investment down the line.

According to TDP, by mid-April the Downtowner had served 86,146 passengers with 101,192 miles logged. The vehicles in Downtowner’s fleet are also 100 percent electric, meaning that the thousands of miles driven equates to 41 tons of carbon dioxide kept out of Tampa’s air.  

Van Camp says the two most popular pick-up and drop-off locations are the University of Tampa and the Marion Transit Center. The activity at UT goes to show that college-aged individuals are quick to take advantage of the convenience of these types of “on-demand” services,” she says.

Aside from TDP, key partners in the public-private funding of the service include Downtown Community Redevelopment Area, Channel District Community Redevelopment Area and the Florida Department of Transportation.

With the initial success witnessed in the first six months of service, Van Camp says she is confident the Downtowner will be able to attract additional funding in the future and continue to help meet first-mile/last-mile transportation needs.

“We’re hoping we can potentially expand the fleet first and then start looking to grow the service area,” she says.

For more information or to learn how to request a ride, visit Downtowner online.


ULI Summit slated for end of May in Tampa

At the 2017 Urban Land Institute Florida Summit, individuals connected to the state’s real estate and development fields will gather to discuss trends, network and learn from the experiences of colleagues.

The event, which runs from May 25 to 26 at the Tampa Marriot Waterside Hotel, is expected to bring together over 700 ULI members and non-members ranging from attorneys and architects to land use planners and public officials.

“All of whom come together to share thoughts, ideas and research with respect to creating better land use in the future,” says Jim Cloar, chair of ULI’s Tampa Bay District Council.

The summit begins with open registration and a networking reception on the evening of May 24 and will continue with a diverse range of programing throughout the day on May 25 and 26. Programming includes four general sessions, ten simultaneous sessions and optional offsite mobile tours.

Cloar says the sessions primarily cover topics that can be applied across the state, but one of the general sessions will specifically focus on the rapidly changing landscape of Tampa Bay through several key projects. Speakers on that panel, which takes place at 1:30 p.m. on May 25, include CEO of Strategic Property Partners James Nozar, CEO of Lakewood Ranch Rex Jensen and CEO of Wiregrass Ranch J.D. Porter.

“We try to make sure we have a variety of speakers,” Cloar says.

With no shortage of material to cover, the summit offers those in the real estate industry a way learn more about the latest trends and opportunities in one jam-packed weekend. One of the main advantages attendees have is the opportunity to learn from the completed projects of their associates.

“One of the things ULI has always emphasized is sharing your experiences with projects,” Cloar says. “ULI members have always been very good about sharing those lessons learned with their colleagues.”

It is also a great chance to meet new acquaintances and reconnect with old ones – maybe even do some business.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if there are some deals done,” Cloar says.

For more information on the event or to register, visit ULI online.


Paint Bullard Parkway bridge with Vision Zero leaders in Temple Terrace

Do you like to spray paint?

You can join the Hillsborough MPO's Vision Zero coalition in Temple Terrace on Tuesday, April 25th, to paint a pop-up green lane for cyclists along the Bullard Parkway Bridge in the first of a series of actionable efforts in the ''Paint Saves Lives'' action track that is central to the Vision Zero initiative.

The April 25 workshop is the third in a series of public workshops being held by the Hillsborough MPO Policy Committee as part of the Vision Zero initiative to reduce traffic injuries and fatalities on Tampa area streets to zero. By design, Vision Zero focuses on a framework of data-driven efforts to educate motorists, cyclists and pedestrians about sharing roadways safely; encourage community engagement with local policy-makers to create connected and walkable neighborhoods; enforce equitable laws for safe motorist and pedestrian behavior, and implement multimodal design policies for pedestrian and bicycle-friendly roadways. 

The first two Vision Zero workshops brought together team strategizers for each ''Action Track'' outlined by the program.

Action Track teams are comprised of county commissioners, city council members, law enforcement officials, traffic engineers, members of the MPO Policy Committee, and bicycle and pedestrian safety advocates who address concerns and brainstorm possible solutions for Hillsborough area streets -- currently ranked the 7th deadliest in the nation for pedestrians. 

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

On Tuesday morning starting at 8:30 a.m. the Vision Zero team will meet at The Temple Terrace Presbyterian Church at 420 Bullard Parkway to unpack a series of outlines that include specific actions and initiatives, timeline estimates, implementation resources and accountability for Vision Zero solutions for each Action Track. 

The Vision Zero task force will demonstrate its first actionable effort at the Bullard Parkway Bridge, where volunteers will paint 4½-foot-wide green bicycle lanes to demonstrate how such low-cost, 'pop-up' engineering efforts can improve motorist awareness and safety for cyclists -- a directly applicable example of the 'Paint Saves Lives' action track. 

Hillsborough MPO Executive Planner, Gena Torres, notes that the Bullard Parkway bridge is currently a "choke point" for traffic that leaves unbuffered cyclists vulnerable to injury. "The city manager of Temple Terrace is interested in making it safer for cyclists, pedestrians and people traveling on the road to go over bridge. ... At a city council meeting, the idea of painting a bike lane was suggested for this purpose. We thought it would be a great idea to combine the effort with the latest Vision Zero workshop," Torres says.

Torres says Vision Zero welcomes appropriately dressed volunteers to join the (water-soluble) painting efforts on Tuesday morning (paint will be provided, just show up), as well as the workshop to follow, during which Vision Zero Action Tracks will outline their program plans for 2017.

"It's a short bridge when you're driving it, but pretty long when you're painting it. We'd love to spread the work among volunteers," Torres says. 

The Vision Zero team will meet at the Temple Terrace Presbyterian Church at 8:30 a.m. for a coffee social and will begin the painting project at 9 a.m., followed by Action Track reviews and feedback during the workshop session from 10 to 11 a.m.

To RSVP, email Gena Torres.

Beyond sustainability: Tiny homes, electric cars and more at HCC expo

As sustainable and environmentally conscious lifestyles become increasingly popular, new, creative and sometimes tiny trends are taking hold.

Tiny houses, along with other unconventional domiciles, are the theme at this year’s Beyond Sustainability Expo sponsored by Hillsborough Community College’s Sustainability Council.

At the expo, attendees can check out tiny houses, buses converted into homes and gypsy wagons while learning how downsizing their living space can have a positive impact on quality of life, communities and the environment.

HCC spokeswoman Angela Walters says the trend has really emerged nationally in the last couple of years with popular TV shows about “alternative living structures” and “living tiny.” Recently, the idea has started to catch on in the Tampa Bay area and offers several unique benefits.

“As opposed to acquiring tangible things and materials, if you scale down you’re experiencing life and you’re creating more experiences,” says Walters.

Tiny homes are usually mobile, giving owners the opportunity to travel and experience multiple communities. They also may help heighten environmental awareness.

“If you have a tiny structure, you’re being more cognizant of the waste you produce,” says Walters. “You’re not buying as many material things because you don’t have as much space to store them.”

The United Tiny House Association will join HCC at the event to display tiny houses and help demonstrate the perks of downsizing. Electric cars, a maggot composting system, interactive exhibits, panel discussions and more will also be featured.

To the students at HCC, the environmental awareness promoted by the Beyond Sustainability Expo is an important part of protecting their future.

“We see directly that this is something they are passionate about and that they adamantly want these activities within the college,” says Walters.

The expo will take place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on April 8 at HCC’s Dale Mabry Campus near Raymond James Stadium. There is no charge for attendance but donations will be accepted.

For more information visit HCC’s website.

If you attend:

What: Hillsborough Community College’s 2017 Beyond Sustainability Expo - Sustainable Lifestyles: Living Tiny and Leaving a Tiny Footprint 
When: April 8 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Where: 4001 W. Tampa Bay Blvd., Tampa, Florida 33614

UNION72 opens in Wesley Chapel, plans second location a month later

Just four weeks after opening their barbecue restaurant, UNION72 in Wesley Chapel, owners Jeff Martin and Bharat Chhabria are already planning their second location.
 
"We are fortunate and blessed in that our business is already exceeding our expectations," Chhabria says. "We thank our loyal customers for that. We've had customers travel up to see us from as far south as Sarasota, so the thought of a second location came up rather quickly."
 
Martin, who also founded The Brass Tap, and Chhabria, a fellow restauranteur, opened UNION72 in mid-November at The Shops at Wiregrass in a 2,000-square-foot space located at 2000 Piazza Avenue, Suite 150. It's between Cantina Laredo and The Brass Tap.
 
The idea behind the restaurant is to create "an elevated barbecue experience," combining traditional barbecue techniques with modern culinary innovations. The menu emphasizes unique ingredients and fusions.
 
"The response has been extremely encouraging, and we have been very well received," Chhabria says. "A quick look at our Facebook reviews and Yelp reviews will show that 5-star reviews are the most common. Great feedback on both the food quality and service levels. Couldn't ask for more."
 
Yelp reviewer Sarah D., for example, says customers who try the restaurant won't be disappointed.
 
"If there is one thing that is hard to find in Tampa, it's great barbecue," she writes. "This new spot in wiregrass mall is just what the area needed. I love their long table with the site of their open kitchen. I think it's always great to see the staff of restaurants interact in the kitchen. While there we ordered the chopped brisket and pork and it was delish!!"
 
Prior to opening, Chhabria says the owners used social media -- Facebook and Instagram  -- to spread awareness of the restaurant. Now, word of mouth seems to be the strongest marketing tool.
 
"We've even spoken to customers at dinner that said they are here because their friends came in earlier in the day for lunch and loved the place. The same day," Chhabria says.
 
Although Chhabria says the pair can't disclose the exact locations they're looking at for their second restaurant because of ongoing negotiations, he explains that they've narrowed their sites to a couple of places in the greater Tampa Bay area.
 
" … we can say that these locations are based in strong communities like Wesley Chapel, which will allow us to participate as a local neighbor," he says, adding they'd like to be up and running with the second restaurant in 4-6 months and that it will be similar to the first location.
 
"We have something here that works, and our customers love it," he says. "We would like to keep our operating model the same -- high quality but different/innovative barbecue with superlative standards of service. We may learn a couple of things in the next few months that we can incorporate in the next location, but largely speaking, why fix something that's not broken?"

Could parklets be coming to Tampa in 2017?

If you happened to be in the Channel District earlier this month, you might have seen something unusual on the street that could soon become more popular.
 
Seven parklets, or extensions of the sidewalk built on street parking spaces, were displayed on 12th Street for four hours on Nov. 5 during a pop-up festival for the annual Tampa Bay Design Week.
 
"We had a really great turnout," says Rachel Radawec, executive administrative assistant with the Tampa Downtown Partnership and parklet enthusiast. "People came down, they loved it, they sat down and talked and ate and everything you're supposed to do in a parklet."
 
Parklets are a trend gaining popularity across the country. San Francisco, Seattle and Charlotte, NC, are a few cities that have them.
 
During the third year of Tampa Bay Design Week, an event meant to expose the public to the design world, "we decided it was time for Tampa to have one," Radawec explains.
 
Parklets aren't art installations. They provide space for people to sit, relax and enjoy the city on streets that would otherwise be used simply for traffic, according to the National Association of City Transportation Officials. They often combine seating, trees, flowers or shrubs, but they don't necessarily have to be green spaces.
 
"You essentially take an on-street parking spot and take it away from the car and give it back to the people," Radawec says.
 
As a Tampa resident, Radawec says she's a fan of anything that enhances the downtown area, which she considers her backyard.
 
"I'm really just interested in anything that makes Tampa an interesting place," she says.
 
So, she helped facilitate the Nov. 5 showcase, and she's helping to facilitate discussions about the future of parklets in Tampa.
 
Gensler, a Tampa design firm who created one of the seven parklets during the showcase, was so taken with concept that they set up their parklet for an extra week in front of Regions Bank at 100 N. Tampa St.
 
Now, they're one of the entities talking with Radawec about launching a parklet program in Tampa next year. TECO has provided $12,000 to cover the cost of two commercial-grade steel bases that parklets sit on. But details, including who will host the program, where the parklets will be located and for how long, and what they'll look like, are still up in the air.
 
"My hope right now is to launch a program next fall," Radawec says, adding that October is the time when the weather cools and people want to sit outside.
 
Radawec invites anyone interested in knowing more about parklets or joining the effort to email her by following this link.
 
"We're really excited about it," she says.
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