Yellow Brick Row leads to new business association

Yellow brick buildings and a Wizard of Oz mural on North Franklin Street inspired a name for Tampa Heights’ first business district -- Yellow Brick Row.

But, creating the Yellow Brick Row Business Association is no over-the-rainbow fantasy. Business owners along North Franklin and surrounding streets are coming together as one voice to create a vision plan for their community.

On a recent night, about 50 business owners, residents, and civic leaders gathered at Hidden Springs Ale Works for an Urbanism on Tap workshop. The brainstorming session sparked conversation on what comes next for the Yellow Brick Row, the business association, and the Tampa Heights neighborhood.

Sponsors included the Urban charrette, CNU (Congress of New Urbanism) Tampa Bay, and Sun Coast APA (American Planning Association).

A moderator leads the discussion at Urbanism on Tap on Yellow Brick Row.In an open mic format, residents and business owners laid out the challenges of nurturing the hipness and eclectic energy that has brought North Franklin back to life. The mission is historic preservation, better transit, affordability, and more small-scale, locally owned startups.

A major concern is the fate of several parking lots in an area that currently doesn’t have design guidelines and a vision plan to control what can and can’t be developed.

Potential solutions ranged from form-based codes and overlay districts to incentives to developers who work with the community. 

“We’re on the cusp of a lot of development and change,” says Hope Donnelly, owner of The Rialto. “We’re the only business district in Tampa Heights and we’re also historic so we have to begin voicing our feelings.”

Last summer more than 50 people from Tampa Heights, Yellow Brick Row, and the Tampa Heights Civic Association met to define their priorities. They include preserving the area’s historical charm; multi-modal transportation that favors pedestrians, bicycles, and transit; nurturing small businesses and startups; and, promoting arts, culture, and craft that welcomes diversity.

Ideas about North Franklin Street’s future began bubbling up more than five years ago. But, in the past year, forming a business association became reality, spurred on by some of Franklin Street’s earliest entrepreneurs, and encouragement from the Tampa Downtown Partnership.

“When we all started coming in (to North Franklin Street), we could see a need to have a collective voice,” says Carl Johnson, who owns Franklin Street Fine Woodworking. “We were the impetus to start talking.”

Advocating for Tampa Heights neighborhood

City blocks slowly filled up, one business at a time and year by year, as owners rehabilitated and repurposed abandoned and historic buildings into destinations for commerce, culture, and the arts.

Café Hey, CAVU, Junto Design Studio, The Rialto Theatre, The Hall on Franklin, Robertson Billiards, The Hip Room, Whole Better Life, Foundation Coffee, and Tampa Muay Thai are among nearly two dozen locally owned businesses on the Yellow Brick Row. Most are on North Franklin; some are on Florida Avenue and Tampa Street.

About 50 people gather at Hidden Springs Ale Works for an Urbanism on Tap workshop on the future of the Yellow Brick Row Business Association.The business association will be an advocate for the district. And, it can open dialogue with city officials whose help will be needed in guiding future development.

Echoing Johnson’s call, Donnelly says, “We want to unify our voice.”
Keeping ahead of a rapidly evolving development curve that is taking hold across Tampa Heights is crucial, she says.
The Tampa Heights Civic Association is a business association booster. The two associations have shared goals.

“When businesses get together like this, they help drive a lot of initiatives, and property development,” says Justin Ricke, the civic association’s president. “They add momentum to an area overlooked for a long time. This (business association) is something that really helps connect all the different communities that haven’t been able to connect before.”
The Yellow Brick Row is on a segment of North Franklin between Kay Street and Palm Avenue. But the business district is broader and deeper than two city blocks.

Within walking distance, there is Ulele Restaurant and the Armature Works. The PEARL Apartments are nearby. The Heights, a mixed-use master-planned development, is coming soon.

Long-standing businesses, including Oceanic Supermarket, populate Tampa Street.

In October 2018, the city and the Tampa Downtown Partnership took a significant step in recognizing the Yellow Brick Row and the new growth immediately north of downtown.

For the first time since the 1990s, the Special Services District expanded its boundaries to include Tampa Heights. The new borders generally sweep in Tampa Heights’ street grids between Interstate 275 and Central Avenue, and Scott Street to Palm Avenue.

Taking Yellow Brick Row to the next level

The designation gives the district access to special programs to maintain street cleanliness, aide in marketing strategies, access to public transit into downtown, grants, and the partnership’s Downtown Guides who give friendly help to tourists.

Hands shoot up during an Urbanism on Tap workshop as people share their ideas and hopes for future development in Tampa Heights and the Yellow Brick Row business district.Alana Brasier compared Yellow Brick Row with the Edge district on Central Avenue in St. Petersburg, which is seeing new restaurants and shops open.

“I see what older districts can do when taking it to the next level,” says Brasier, who is an urban planner and operations and public space manager at the Partnership. Business associations can “energize districts,” she says.

What’s been lacking in the past, according to many in the area, is outreach from the city. City officials, working with area stakeholders, could make a positive difference in how the district develops, Johnson says.
It’s to everyone’s benefit to open dialogues on what comes next, he says.

That will be easier with the Yellow Brick Row Business Association as an active partner, says Brasier.

“We know who to go to now,” says Brasier. “We have a strong voice to go to.”

Read more articles by Kathy Steele.

Kathy Steele is a freelance writer who lives in the Seminole Heights neighborhood of Tampa. She previously covered Tampa neighborhoods for more than 15 years as a reporter for The Tampa Tribune. She grew up in Georgia but headed north to earn a BA degree from Adelphi University in Garden City, NY. She backpacked through Europe before attending the University of Iowa's Creative Writers' Workshop for two years. She has a journalism degree from Georgia College. She likes writing, history, and movies.