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A class act: new St. Pete Pier expected to be drawing card

Piers that jut hundreds of feet above water are costly to build. Keeping them current, so they attract and entertain visitors year after year, requires a redo every so often. So what people are witnessing in downtown St. Petersburg, the reconstruction of its pier spanning some 3,400 feet above Tampa Bay, hasn’t happened for about 45 years.

“It’s transformative,” says Chris Ballestra, managing director in charge of development for St. Petersburg’s downtown.

Since the first pier was built in 1889 as a railroad trestle, the city has had several piers that served as a major community gathering space. This redo is actually the city’s eighth. It replaces the Inverted Pyramid Pier completed in 1973, which was torn down in 2013.

“The old pier was very nice, but all the action was way out into the bay and there was nothing in between,” Ballestra explains. “We’re activating the whole site.”

The $76 million project features a Lawn Bowl capable of handling crowds of more than 3,000 for special events, plus a Splash Pad, an interactive water play area; Spa Beach, offering a naturalized shoreline for beach enthusiasts; a Marina Lawn for outdoor recreation such as shuffleboard and swings; and a Coastal Thicket, which turns parts of the stroll out to the pier head into a nature walk.

Because it is so expensive, there are very few cities that have these long piers. Which means this new pier can be “a calling card” for St. Pete, he says, along the lines of the Navy Pier in Chicago, Pier 39 in San Francisco or Santa Monica Pier in California.

“We want to compete on a very large stage around the world,” Ballestra says.

Despite its complexity, the project has been going smoothly. “It’s a very challenging construction market right now, a very competitive environment,” he says. “We’re locked in on the numbers. We don’t have any surprises, which is how we need it to be.”

Construction began on the new St. Pete Pier last June, with the activity centering around the pilings and deck above the water. “Building the pier itself is an extremely complex project,” he says. “By example, the old pier had 1500 pilings. ... For everyone one of our pilings, there three of our old pilings around it.”

Construction will go vertical in late spring or early summer, he says. Updates are available through the city’s website; click on “The New Pier” under City Initiatives.

“We wanted to preserve the community’s expectation,” he says. “We are building for a 75- to a 100-year lifespan.”

An estimated 1,000 are being employed during construction, and some 400 are expected to have ongoing jobs when the pier is completed. The main contractor is Skanska, a major project development and construction company with U.S. operations based in New York City.

While approval is still pending, the city has identified two potential pier occupants: Doc Ford’s Rum Bar and Grille, themed on novels by New York Times best-selling author Randy Wayne White, and Tampa Bay Watch, a Tierra Verde nonprofit which would run an environmental learning center open to the public.

When work is completed, the pier district will be connected with the rest of downtown. “Within the district, there’s shuttles that link directly to downtown that are free,” Ballestra explains. “We worked very hard to make sure we had an integrated process.”

A grand opening is slated for April, 2019, so there’s still a lot of work remaining. “You’re going to see a lot of construction activity,” he adds.

The project comes at a time of uncertainty -- and promise -- as the city grapples with what to do with the 86-acre Tropicana Field property following the Tampa Bay Rays’ announcement Feb. 9 that it would be moving to Ybor City. “We’re very excited to get that site redeveloped, period,” he says.

Ballestra calls the pier and Tropicana Field “bookends to a downtown.”

“What we’re doing with the pier is a full rebuild, creating its own district,” he says. “Tropicana is ultimately a bigger project, with clearly long-term implications to the city.”

He expects the results to be positive. “It’s exciting,” he says. “I feel ... very happy for our community given what’s in store in the next 50 years.”


Headed to Clearwater Beach for spring break? Check out free bus rides

Clearwater Beach has long been one of the premiere spring break destinations in the country, routinely topping media lists for best beaches. It took TripAdvisor’s top beach title in 2018 and in 2016, and was number 4 in 2017. (It was also the only beach in the United States to make TripAdvisor’s 2016 list of top 25 beaches globally.)

Because of its popularity, the area also has long been plagued by traffic congestion and parking woes. So, with the start of the 2018 spring break season, city officials are continuing a partnership with the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) to help alleviate these issues.

For the second consecutive year, the city of Clearwater and the PSTA will offer a free Park & Ride service to beachgoers.

City residents and out-of-town visitors will be able to park for free in designated lots and a trolley will pick up them up from two locations -- the Harborview Center Park & Ride lot and in front of Clearwater City Hall, between Cleveland and Court Streets, says Councilmember Bill Jonson, who is also a PSTA board member. 

Through April 29, the trolleys will run every 15 minutes, and will operate Monday to Thursday, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Friday and Saturday, 9 a.m. to midnight.

“[Traffic is] always a problem at spring break,” Jonson says “For the citizens and our guests, we’d like to mitigate is as much as we can.”

In the past, the city created additional parking areas or offered discounted trolley rides. About a year ago, the public/private North Beach Parking Plaza with 702 spaces opened, he adds. “I still think it’s the best-kept secret on Clearwater Beach.”

Last year, the city and PSTA thought they might be able to increase trolley ridership to the beach if they offered free rides rather than discounting fares. 

“We figured let’s just make it free and see if people will ride it,” Jonson says. Though they saw a slight increase in ridership last spring break, he hopes those numbers increase again this year.

“It’s a really good alternative for someone who doesn’t want to pay the parking rates and who’s willing to sit back and read a magazine or something [on the trolley] as they head to the beach,” he says. “We’re going to offer it to people, and if they ride it, we’ll continue to offer it each year.”

It will be needed even more, he adds, as Clearwater Beach’s tourism appeal continues to grow. 

“We have a fantastic beach. We have fantastic amenities out there and during spring break, there are a lot of people who choose to enjoy them,” he says. “When they choose to enjoy them, all we ask for is some patience. We’re trying to make it as easy as possible for people to visit.”

For more information, visit the City of Clearwater's website.

Once abandoned airport area logistic space gets major upgrade

A Naples company is breathing new life into a 45-year-old complex on the north side of Tampa International Airport, which had been vacant for about a decade. The $11 million Westshore Logistics Center is expected to create -- or bring -- 50 to 100 jobs to the neighborhood.

“Because of my risk taking, and the county’s support, we are creating new jobs and a significant tax base,” says Gerard Keating, owner and CEO of Keating Resources, the project developer.

The property had become a hazard -- and work involved major demolition and rehabilitation to four buildings totaling about 167,000 square feet.

Keating Resources, owned by Keating, secured a $403,648 grant from Hillsborough County as part of its Redevelopment Incentives for Pilot Project Areas program, which targeted four redevelopment areas. These include the North Airport Redevelopment Area, the 56th Street Redevelopment Area, the University Redevelopment Area and the Palm River Redevelopment Area.

In addition to bringing jobs to the neighborhood and creating an estimated $126,981 annual ad valorem tax stream, the grant program helps the county by removing blight, promoting private capital investment, and enhancing small business.

“The [more suburban] county is new at this game,” explains Eric Lindstrom, Competitive Sites and Redevelopment Manager for Hillsborough County’s Economic Development Department. “Tampa has done it for a number of years.”

XPO Logistics moved into about 21,900 square feet of leased space about two months ago. The other three buildings were completed last week; Cushman and Wakefield is handling leasing for the remaining 144,780 square feet.

The Westshore Logistics Center at 5400 Southern Comfort Blvd. sits at West Hillsborough Avenue and the Veterans Expressway in a five-mile area with some 216,087 people. The property, which originally contained smaller units, now is slated for eight office/warehouse units of approximately 20,000 square feet each. It was completely remodeled into a professional space with new roofs, new LED lighting, new doors, new storefronts and windows, interior and exterior paint, a new fire sprinkler system and more.

Its flexible space accommodates both office and warehouse, and features two glass front office entrances per building.

The upgrade comes at a time when TIA is bustling. The airport had a record number of travelers in 2017, when it logged more than 19.6 million passengers. The airport has been upgrading, adding 69 new shops, restaurants and services. A new 1.5-mile SkyConnect train connecting passengers to a state-of-the-art rental car center is now open, along with a second phase of construction to include expanded Main Terminal curbsides, offices, a hotel and more.

Hillsborough County, which set aside about $2 million for the grant program, has committed $819,735 to six projects so far. Its first was The Danger Zone, a 3,000-foot office project in the North Airport Redevelopment Area, to which it committed $38,698.

It took awhile for the companies to develop plans and submit their applications. “We’re getting going now,” Lindstrom says. “It’s really starting to heat up.”


CRED: Tampa program teaches community redevelopment skills

Looking to make a difference? If you have an interest in real estate or community redevelopment, an upcoming training program can help.

The class attracts people from varying backgrounds, from affordable housing developers to policy makers, community development staff and board members and students in business, urban studies, and architecture.

“We’d love to have non-traditional individuals that may have a passion for community development, but don’t really know how to get started,” says Angela Crist, director of the Florida Institute of Government at the University of South Florida in Tampa.

Members of the class, expected to include up to 25, put together recommended projects based on real-world problems, with the goal of actually implementing them. That might be a plan to utilize open space left by a former neighborhood grocery. Or an artist-themed community or even a townhouse project as in-fill in a developed area.

“It is a grassroots program. They have to work on a viable project,” Crist says.

The Community Real Estate Development program, known as CRED, is a certification program held annually to help people gain a better understanding about community real estate development, the financial aspects of property development and real estate development management.

“Our ultimate goal is that we are changing people’s behavior,” explains Crist. “At the end, they are looking at it [community real estate development] through a different lens, so they can go out and improve their community.

The class, which costs $150, meets on Friday afternoons and Saturdays from March 2 through April 14. It is being held from noon to 4:30 p.m. Fridays and from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays at Tampa Housing Authority, 5301 Cypress St., Tampa.

The deadline to register is February 16. Apply online here.

The program presents diverse segments of the commercial redevelopment field, utilizing USF professors and community talent to teach and mentor. “Every class they have is like a lunch and learn or various speakers," Crist says.

CRED is sponsored by the Housing Finance Authority of Hillsborough County, the Housing Finance Authority of Pinellas County, Tampa Housing Authority, and Sun Trust Foundation.

Participants can earn a certificate from USF.  The class can be used for continuing education units for professionals or academic credit for college students though an independent study course at USF.  

Certification maintenance credits are required for a number of professionals including planners, and development and planning education staff.

College students find the program to be very hands-on, Crist adds, helping them to understand the process from “soup to nuts.”

Class members also benefit from the course’s networking potential because it draws together developers, lenders, and government officials/staffers in a non-threatening environment.

Although the class has been held in North and South Florida, it is only available in Tampa Bay this year because of scheduling and capacity issues, Crist says.


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.

U.S. 301 widening project begins; FDOT holds open house

Work has begun on a $49 million project to widen a 3.8-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 301 between State Road 674 and Balm Road in Hillsborough County’s South Shore.

The road will be widened to six lanes, with a raised median and paved shoulders, and a new bridge built over Big Bullfrog Creek. A sidewalk will be added on the west side and a multi-use path will be added on the east.

“The really great news for this project is road closures are not anticipated during construction – we will be working east of the existing road, building the new northbound roadway (Phase 1), then shifting traffic to it and building the southbound roadway (Phase 2),” says David Botello, Public Information Officer for the Florida Department of Transportation’s District 7. “Traffic disruptions (if any) will be minimal and at night.”

Phase 3 will involve applying the last layer of asphalt and thermoplastic striping. The project includes a new drainage system that relies upon ponds.

This widening project in south Hillsborough County will help ease congestion and accommodate the growth along the U.S. 301 corridor, as well as enhance bicycle and pedestrian safety,” Botello says.

Lower land costs have made southern Hillsborough more attractive to developers. Plans for housing developments in the U.S. 301 corridor date back to at least the 1970s and 1980s, when landowners agreed to pay for roadway improvements.

The Davie-based contractor, Astaldi Construction Corp., is expected to complete the job in late 2020.

An Open House is scheduled Tuesday, Nov. 14, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the SouthShore Regional Library, 15816 Beth Shields Way, Ruskin.

“FDOT staff will be on hand to answer any project-related questions, and project design display boards and construction plans will also be available for viewing,”
Botello adds. “We anticipate the residents of the nearby communities as well as commuters who utilize the U.S 301 corridor to be most interested in this project.”

Special accommodations are available through the Americans with Disabilities Act. Those who require assistance, or who need free translation services, should email Maricelle Venegas, Community Outreach Specialist, or call (813) 975-6204, before the event.

Information also is available from FDOT online.


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.”


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.


Vision Zero Hillsborough Walk of Silence will honor Tampa teen killed crossing Busch Boulevard

When the first Vision Zero Hillsborough workshop convened last November, the emotional impact of 17-year-old Alexis Miranda's death, just one year prior on Busch Boulevard in Tampa, was palpable. The Chamberlain High School student -- remembered for her vibrant personality and commitment to her future -- was struck by a vehicle while crossing the roadway on her way to school on the morning of Oct. 6, 2015. Here is a link to a story about her death that appeared in the Tampa Bay Times.

At the core of the Vision Zero mission -- which envisions and demands a future with zero traffic fatalities on Hillsborough County streets -- is the conviction that every pedestrian traffic death is wholly preventable. The coalition focuses on improving design practices, strengthening awareness and education, and promoting mindful traffic behaviors so that all road users will have the chance that Miranda never got: to make it to their destination alive.

On the two-year anniversary of Miranda's death, Vision Zero Hillsborough will honor her memory with A Walk of Silence, the first organized event since the completion of the coalition's multi-track Action Plan this summer. A Walk of Silence attendees will gather on October 6 at 7 a.m. for welcoming comments at 822 W. Linebaugh Ave., in the parking lot of the Tampa First Seventh Day Adventist church. The walk will commence at 7:30 a.m., passing Chamberlain High School in a one-mile total loop along North Boulevard and Busch Boulevard.

No speaking is permitted during the walk, but posters will be provided for participants. If possible, attendees are encouraged to wear white shoes. 

Alexis Miranda is one among far too many pedestrian lives lost on Hillsborough County's busiest arterials. Two high school students who have not been forgotten, Shenika Davis and Norma Velasquez-Cabrera -- both 15 years old and attending Middleton High School -- were killed crossing Hillsborough Avenue in 2011 and 2014. Currently, Hillsborough County ranks #7 on Smart Growth America's Dangerous by Design report of the nation's most deadly roadways for pedestrians.

You can join the Vision Zero coalition and the Hillsborough MPO in memorializing Alexis Miranda and others lost to traffic violence on Oct. 6 as Hillsborough County takes its first actionable steps toward a future of fatality-free roadways. 

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.


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.”

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.
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