What do Tampa downtown dwellers want? Latest survey results are in

The Tampa Downtown Partnership's latest snapshot of downtown shows a growing urban core with a bustling waterfront and a demand for more shopping options.

The survey of downtown workers and residents, which Tampa firm HCP Associates conducts for the business group every other year, shows a significant 32 percent jump in the number of residential units downtown -- from 5,709 to 7,546 -- in a span of two years. The increase in occupied residences is more pronounced -- a 39 percent jump from 4,908 to 6,818.

The survey shows more people setting up roots downtown. Forty-five percent of the residents surveyed say they have lived downtown less than four years. That’s a decrease from 50 percent in 2016 and matches 2008 for the lowest percentage of the last decade. On the other hand, 36 percent of residents say they have lived downtown at least five years. That’s the highest percentage of the last decade and a sign that the city’s central business district is growing more residential. As new amenities such as parks and dog parks cater to residents, satisfaction with living downtown is growing. Ninety-six percent say they would recommend living there.

A demographic breakdown shows the residential base is predominantly middle class and upper middle class. Ninety-two percent of the residents living downtown make $50,000 or more and 39 percent make at least $150,000. Only eight percent make less than $50,000. The cost of living downtown is also a concern. While the quality of housing receives high marks, the largest percentage decrease in satisfaction with the downtown experience from 2016 to 2018 is the affordability of housing, with a nine percent drop.

Downtown dwellers are fairly diverse by age and education. Thirty-three percent of residents are 55 or older, 41 percent are 35 to 54, and only 26 percent are 34 or younger. Eighty-percent have at least a college degree. The vast majority -- 90 percent -- say they moved downtown primarily for the urban lifestyle.

The nearly 1,200 residents and workers surveyed say the Riverwalk is the area’s greatest asset and attraction, followed by waterfront access in general and parks. The Riverwalk was also the greatest asset two years ago, but it scored even higher this year.

Rating their downtown experience, residents, and workers gave high marks for walkability, a feeling of safety and the variety of things to do after work or school. The growing range of restaurant and drinking options also got high marks.

The survey also shows an unmet demand for more retail options, including grocery stores, among both residents and workers. Sixty-one percent say grocery options were insufficient.

Signage on new Publix being built in Channel District.“The survey really revealed that workers are looking for retail,” says Tampa Downtown Partnership President and CEO Lynda Remund. “You have that captive audience of about 70,000 workers downtown. We need to start looking at capitalizing on that for retail. I know rooftops are very important and often drive retail. But the survey also revealed that workers are looking for that in downtown.”

A Publix grocery store is slated to open at the base of the new Channel Club apartments in August 2019. The new store is designed to cater to urban dwellers accustomed to living in a walkable neighborhood not far from Water Street Tampa. 

On transportation, the vast majority of respondents say they get around by foot (88 percent) or their personal vehicle (85 percent). Among workers, transit, congestion, and affordable, accessible parking are areas needing improvement.

Remund says the expansion of the TECO Streetcar should improve transit service for workers as the system grows to have more commuters. As for traffic, while some respondents desire increased multi-modal options for biking, walking, or transit, others say bike lanes are underused and aggravate congestion and parking issues by removing travel lanes or parking spaces.

Earlier this year, the Partnership released a one-year study that concludes downtown has a parking management problem, not a parking inventory problem.

“Our parking models have not kept up with the changing needs of our downtown and we need to be better at managing our parking,” says Karen Kress, the director of transportation and planning at the nonprofit group of business leaders. “We have to act now. Right now, we’re still able to pull it off, but if we don’t manage our parking, it is really going to be a hindrance.''

Three counts conducted during the course of the study showed that, even during peak weekday parking times, 6,000 of the 24,000 spaces in the downtown business core were empty.

Still, the worker and resident survey describes parking as a “tense” issue.

“Workers feel that they pay too much, they believe that the parking lots are owned by a monopoly, and they express concern about the parking situation worsening as lots are purchased for further high-rise development,” the report says.

TECO Line Streetcar connects Ybor City to the Tampa Convention Center.This is the sixth Downtown Worker and Resident Study that HCP Associates has conducted for the Tampa Downtown Partnership. Remund says the survey measures the pulse of workers and residents on their experiences downtown to see areas for improvement.

Past surveys have helped bring about improved access to the Hillsborough River, waterfront dining, more public events in parks, new museums and attractions, and extended operating hours for transit.

Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by Christopher Curry.

Chris Curry has been a writer for the 83 Degrees Media team since 2017. Chris also served as the development editor for a time before assuming the role of managing editor in May 2022. Chris lives in Clearwater. His professional career includes more than 15 years as a newspaper reporter, primarily in Ocala and Gainesville, before moving back home to the Tampa Bay Area. He enjoys the local music scene, the warm winters and Tampa Bay's abundance of outdoor festivals and events. When he's not working or spending time with family, he can frequently be found hoofing the trails at one of Pinellas County's nature parks.

Related Company