InVision Tampa: Reshaping Your City For The Future

Take a few minutes to envision a better Tampa: A walkable, bikeable community with a public transit system and increased population in the downtown urban core; a city with strong, safe neighborhoods, more parks and connections to a riverfront with clean waterways.

Together, the City of Tampa, the Urban Land Institute (ULI) and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn are working with experts and scholars such as AECOM, a global provider of professional technical and management support, to make that vision a reality.

Using a federal grant of $1.2 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the InVision Tampa project is working toward creating a new master plan for downtown Tampa, the Nebraska Transit Corridor and surrounding neighborhoods.

Spanning from downtown Tampa to Ybor City on the east, Armenia Avenue on the west and north along Nebraska and Hillsborough Avenues, this area includes the University of Tampa (UT) area, North Hyde Park, West Tampa, Tampa Heights, Ybor City, V.M. Ybor, downtown Tampa and the Channel District.

"InVision Tampa is going to create a blueprint for downtown Tampa for the next 25 years. We are literally studying how people live in Tampa today and how they will tomorrow,'' Mayor Bob Buckhorn says. "InVision is looking at how we can improve Tampa's urban core through community participation and proposed ordinance changes.''

The Downtown Core

Beginning with a vision for the downtown Tampa area, InVision Tampa will work toward making the downtown core a more attractive and accessible place for people to live, work, play and visit.

City of Tampa Urban Planning Coordinator Randy Goers says, like most cities, Tampa, specifically, needs to take an in-depth look at its urban core because it hasn't been looked at as a whole in nearly 20 years. Smaller redevelopment areas such as the Channel District and Ybor City have recently undergone improvements, but downtown, as a bigger area, needs to be given a more comprehensive look.

"InVision Tampa will be our working document on how we want our city to develop, change and grow,'' Buckhorn says. "It's important to have a dialogue with everyone from residents to urban planning experts about how to move forward in the best possible way. We know that transportation is an issue and that we need to make our streets more pedestrian friendly.''

Public input suggests that downtown Tampa would benefit from more retail such as local grocery stores and shops; a better transportation system by doing away with one-way roads; more sidewalks, shade, lighting and public art; and more activities and destinations to promote events and the downtown lifestyle.

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

The Hillsborough River And Waterfront

Although the Tampa Riverwalk has made the Hillsborough River accessible lengthwise, the river has been and is currently still seen as the edge of the downtown area: With only a handful of destinations and activities, the amenity and economic value of the river presence is seen as limited in its extension upward into the surrounding downtown communities. 

Abbey Dohring, VP of brokerage for The Dohring Group, works in the heart of downtown and has attended several of the community input meetings hosted by the City of Tampa on the long-term goals of the InVision Tampa project.

"I expect the Hillsborough River to no longer be a dividing line, but actually a connection and path. It should be the center of city, not the western boundary,'' Dohring says. "The river is one of our greatest development tools and this program clearly emphasizes that point.''

Goers agrees and sees the Riverwalk as a positive point of connection for people.

"We need to be looking at both sides of the river, trying to create places for redevelopment and people to enjoy,'' Goers says. "Residents are looking at the river as a key asset of our community and want to get as much out of it as possible from civic, recreation and redevelopment standpoints.''

Through public input, it has been suggested that the Hillsborough River and waterfront be more accessible, comfortable and active, as well as cleaner and safer; currently, crossing the river on foot or bike is not a particularly pleasant experience. Additionally, the Riverwalk could benefit from more seating and shaded areas.

Liveable, Walkable Streets And Public Transit

Another goal of the InVision Tampa project is to provide residents with streets that are connected and calm, including encouraging neighborhood gathering spaces and lots of pedestrian activity. Improving key streets and connectors, such as Howard Avenue, Cass Street, Armenia Avenue, Kennedy Boulevard, Florida Avenue, Tampa Street and Ashley Drive, will be a priority.

"A lot of residents were looking for more connectivity: Easier access to places in Tampa's urban neighborhoods, downtown and the river,'' Goers says. "Connectivity to and throughout the downtown area is a big concern. Are these areas safe and secure? Can they grow in an orderly fashion?''

The streets of Tampa's urban core were designed nearly 50 years ago to serve a different purpose and type of community. Back then, downtown was seen only as the main center of employment with the streets designed to get people in and out quickly.

"Today, the streets don't carry as much traffic as they were designed for and a lot are wider than what they need to be in terms of the amount of traffic,'' Goers says. "AECOM sees a lot of opportunity to narrow these streets with a more multimodal system.''

One suggestion made by AECOM is to create an exclusive bike trail along Nick Nuccio Parkway in Ybor City. The trail would stretch from Ragan Park near Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to downtown, connecting to Armenia Avenue. This would provide residents river access through safe, reoriented streets.

The opportunity for a rubber tire trolley system also has been identified and should be fairly easy to put in place. This would allow for easier access to the river.

"I really think downtown Tampa could improve by linking the surrounding neighborhoods to the urban entertainment districts through multimodal transportation,'' Dohring says.

Pedestrian-friendly developments next to streets; an expanded water taxi service; increased access to the Hillsborough River and Garrison Channel; pedestrian access across the river; and more trees, shade, greenery, lighting and streetscapes are among the suggestions made by residents.

Downtown Tampa Neighborhoods

When it comes to investing in downtown and surrounding neighborhoods, residents are looking for more retail, cool spaces and places to live, work and play, and less crime.

"People are starting to look back to the urban core for options to live. Everything that we're hearing about demographics and shifts in the population and age preferences show that people want to live closer to work and have places to walk to for recreation,'' Goers says. "They're looking to urban areas because the options for activity, hospitals and other necessary services are a lot closer. The plan is to respond proactively to the shifts we know are occurring.''

An InVision Tampa design workshop concluded that center city neighborhoods should be vibrant, diverse, sustainable, complete, connected, distinctive and multigenerational.

InVision Tampa plans to meet these goals by improving safety, calming neighborhood traffic, welcoming local retail, opening up closed streets, adding bike lanes and skateboard areas, widening sidewalks and updating the city code to include appropriate zoning. Additionally, the goal is for every neighborhood to have a route to the Hillsborough River.

Specifically, Buckhorn has a vision for the West Bank of the Hillsborough River, including the lower-income neighborhoods north of the University of Tampa.

"The University is the anchor of that area, but it feels very disconnected from downtown -- separate and without access to the river,'' Buckhorn says. "I want to see that area redeveloped and become part of downtown. We need to add more density, more retail opportunities, better river access and really make the West Bank feel like its a part of the downtown core.''

What's To Come

A first draft of the InVision Tampa plan, including design ideas, concepts and structuring, is slated to be complete by the end of October 2012. Goers expects an open house when the initial draft is released, giving residents the opportunity to view the plan and give feedback.

Dohring is confident the project will make Tampa a better place for everyone.

"Tampa's time is now. Young professionals want to live here. We see Tampa's potential and expect our innovative ideas to identify the path and our visionary leadership to guide the way,'' she says. "This project will increase my options and change my mobility. Our mayor is a visionary and I have faith that Tampa will exceed everyone's expectations.''

In December 2012, InVision will begin work on the Nebraska Transit Corridor plan in more detail. Public meetings will be sheduled on this portion of the project.

"We are talking about how to create a systemic change in Tampa, and that will take some time,'' Buckhorn says. "Rome wasn't built in a day and neither will Tampa be.''

Alexis Quinn Chamberlain, a Florida native and freelance writer, can often be found barhopping on Tampa's South Howard Avenue, walking around her North Hyde Park neighborhood and daydreaming with her boyfriend and Chihuahua at Curtis Hixon Park. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.
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