Q&A: Ashly Anderson and Shaun Drinkard, Tampa Downtown Partnership

Editor's note: Tampa Downtown Partnership President and CEO Christine Burdick plans to retire effective Jan. 1, 2018. While she focuses on special projects until then, Lynda Remund, COO, will run the day-to-day operations. Two of their team members, Shaun Drinkard and Ashly Anderson, talk here about the continued importance of placemaking and urban design.

The idea of working, living, playing and staying in Downtown Tampa at night and on weekends is increasingly common for most locals, especially with events like Yoga in Curtis Hixon Park, the Downtowner free on-demand shuttle service, and popular gathering places like Franklin Manor and Hotel Bar.

But did you know that a single entity is tasked with programming such events, and coordinating both the resources and needs of land owners, residents, small business operators, restauranteurs and public spaces?

Meet the Tampa Downtown Partnership (TDP), a 501C(6) private, nonprofit corporation funded by constituent landowners and contributors, with the sole purpose to act as steward of the city’s core. Through diverse initiatives and grant programs, it cultivates public-private partnerships and facilitates catalytic physical and economic development.

Almost every successful downtown has an organization like the TDP, to bridge the gap between private businesses, residents and city government, which often has the resources to construct, but not advocate or administer.

Two of TDP’s most prominent young leaders sat down recently with 83 Degrees to discuss past successes and what the future holds, now that more and more development is transforming the urban core of Tampa. Read what they had to say below.

83 Degrees: The Tampa Downtown Partnership has been around for over 30 years and you both have been involved for some time (Ashly Anderson since 2013; Shaun Drinkard since 2011). With some successes to toast, you also have new tasks ahead. What are those new efforts and how are they different from the past?

Ashly Anderson, Senior Design Manager: In the past, especially during the recession, we were reaction-driven, and the organization was leaner. We had to be scrappy, in a way, and wear many hats.

Now, we have the opportunity to be more strategic and finesse the finer points. Like, uniting every touchpoint of the Downtown Tampa brand (from the physical to digital and end-user experience) under a cohesive design excellency. That is, in addition to doing what we’ve always done — tackle issues, find innovative solutions, adapt to market changes, and be responsive.

Shaun Drinkard, Director of Placemaking: Part of our Strategic Plan is a focus on how we can assist gateway neighborhoods to Downtown, like Tampa Heights and Ybor City, which are receiving a similar level of investment and redevelopment, and are in the public’s eyes, a continuation of the urban core.

We are also inventorying all of the public spaces in our SSD (special service district). That will be followed by a hard look at how they can each be improved, better programmed and better connected on foot, using Coast bike share, or with relevant transportation infrastructure.

83D: With the (nearly total) completion of the Tampa Riverwalk and a successful campaign over the last decade to bring vibrancy to the urban core, including programming physical spaces like Curtis Hixon Park, what do you see as the next chapter in that story?

SD: Whereas before the emphasis was on key large spaces on the waterfront and the Riverwalk completion, now we have a menu of smaller spaces and places to connect that are on the interior of Downtown Tampa.

While large-scale events and spaces will always be a focus, we now have the opportunity to make targeted impacts on a neighborhood level. For example: Herman Massey Park, approximately the same size as Washington Street Park in the Channel District, but with almost no relevant activity, in what is now a mostly residential part of Downtown on North Franklin Street.

AA: Programming assists the permanent. Now more than ever, experience is as important as passive features (like shade, architectural features and gathering space). Without a plan for concerts, markets, boot camp classes, and pop-up cocktail bars, our downtown would be beautiful but not really fun.

83D: The most dramatic and transformative thing to happen to Downtown Tampa is now and will continue to be the SPP/Water Street development in the SE corner of the urban area (53 acres). How do you see the rest of Downtown benefitting from what goes on there? 

AA: To my earlier point, continued adaptability and responsiveness will be key. The Water Street district will be unto its own in many ways, but will also be integrated and connected to the rest of Downtown, so working with SPP to ensure connectivity and relevant programming will be mutually beneficial.

SD: With $3 billion worth of development heading our way, even in a phased approach over several years, we will see major changes in the way people move, live and think about Downtown Tampa. Our task now is to keep an eye on the other parts of the area that deserve attention, so that the entire area is vibrant, appealing and cohesive.

83D: Based on reading articles, watching closely the development of Water Street, and speaking to those involved, especially players SPP has tapped from outside the immediate market (like from D.C. and Phoenix), I sense a new emphasis on non-automotive transportation (which the TDP has already been experimenting with in the free Downtowner shuttle service). Could the forthcoming density of Water Street help finally push for a robust, multimodal transportation system?

AA: The Downtowner free shuttle is a last-mile solution that has been wildly successful, and made possible by a variety of funding sources. We think it found traction with the public because of other ride-requesting apps, which have become second nature. But the advantage of the Downtowner is, it’s free!

Market dynamics have changed drastically in recent years, to the point where urban professionals and residents prefer to walk, bike, catch the Streetcar, or have someone else drive on shorter trips than drive and pay to park themselves, and worry about getting home safely after a night out.

SD: Downtown Tampa is only one square mile, or approximately 700 blocks. It feels larger, but that could be because walking longer distances is unpleasant if there isn’t shade or sidewalk activity (commerce) and reasonable separation from traffic.

Ultimately, our goal is to have transportation options for getting into Downtown, through and within Downtown, and more harmony between the modes. 

The Streetcar is rapidly becoming more popular for regular riders, and has always been a tourism attraction. Studies are underway to consider expanding its footprint to connect all of Downtown with a loop, which would make it even more useful to residents and workers.

We are further integrating the Streetcar into our special events marketing, like with Fourth Friday free trips between Downtown and Ybor City. This holiday season, we will brand one of the vehicles as a “Winter Village Express” (a la Polar Express), with service between Ybor City and Downtown, where riders can shop at the Winter Village Shops in Curtis Hixon Park.

83D: What are both of your personal goals for placemaking in Downtown Tampa over the next 5 years?

AA: I am excited to create a heightened sense of identity for each of the sub-districts of our Downtown and its surrounding neighborhoods. I think a lot can be accomplished with unique programming and small-scale design improvements including wayfinding, sidewalk cafes, shade and public art. We have seen recent success by offering grant programs to encourage community members to spearhead their own projects, infusing public art as a way to enhance the character of these areas, and we hope to expand that effort and make it more cohesive over time.

SD: I’m looking forward to leading the efforts with 1 of 4 initiatives, as part of the TDP’s 2-year strategic plan.  Specifically, initiative 3: “maximize public space experience.” Once a yearlong conditions assessment and connectivity plan is finalized, we will have criteria in hand to determine the greatest needs throughout our downtown public spaces.  We will seek public-private partnerships to accomplish our goals with enhancements via capital projects and initiatives to increase public programming.

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Read more articles by Alex English.

Alex English is a Tampa native who has lived in Sarasota, Seattle, New York, Bordeaux and Milan. He is passionate about urban development, retail and style, and publishes Remarqed, a personal blog on those subjects.