Platt Street paves way for what's next in South Tampa

In a small South Tampa neighborhood known as Courier City, an urban revitalization effort is in full swing. 

Paving the way? Platt Street, a busy connector road that runs parallel to Kennedy Boulevard and bridges the gap between popular SoHo, the up-and-coming North Hyde Park area, and Tampa’s growing downtown and Channelside Districts.

Mark Stephenson, a communications and social media volunteer with the Courier City neighborhood association, says that one of the group’s goals is to “change the image of Courier City from ‘just the bars and restaurants on South Howard’ to include all the great things we have going for us -- like being the most ‘walkable’ neighborhood in Tampa.”

Indeed, Courier City is where the lively South Howard Avenue is located. On any given night, one can frequent the bars, restaurants and clubs that draw a lively crowd of young professionals and students from USF or UT (MacDinton's Irish Pub, Yard of Ale SoHo, The DrYnk Bar & Lounge and World of Beer are a few that come to mind). 

Meanwhile, south of Morrison Ave along Howard, the district is establishing itself as a foodie destination, where Epicurean Hotel, Bern’s Steak House and Bella’s Italian Café are among upscale options that delight diners and draw a more sophisticated crowd.

But veer just a few blocks off of Howard or Kennedy into the Courier City neighborhood, and you’ll find new signs of life as the gap between downtown Tampa and SoHo shrinks.

Well-tended plants and palm trees surrounded by a small sandy “beach” indicate new life at the corner of Platt Street and Melville Avenue, where wheels decorate the windows and brightly painted boards hang in a refurbished 1926 bungalow.

Open Tuesday through Sunday, Austin’s Board Shop specializes in skateboards and sells custom designs as well as boards by popular brand manufacturers. 

Named for Austin Anderson and run by Anderson along with his mother, Owner Michelle Marcum, the space has been open since late 2014 at 301 S. Melville.

Austin’s Board Shop has partnered with local businesses like Seventh Avenue Apothecary in Ybor City, Tracy’s Handmade Soaps and Denebi Designs jewelry. Marcum hopes to partner with more local brands and even a food truck in coming months.

“We knew we had to be South Tampa,” says Marcum, whose father coached the Tampa Bay Storm for 15 years. “We love how it’s like a small town within a city.”

The mother-son team, who moved to Tampa from Texas to open the shop, plan to run a kid’s camp over the summer to help children ages 9-14 learn how to build, paint and ride boards.

Reinventing Courier City

Located between Cleveland and Platt streets at 211 S. Howard Ave., a new artisanal paper and craft store is only a short walk from SoHo’s long-time independent bookstore, Inkwood Books at 216 S. Armenia Ave.

The Paper Seahorse brings a maker sensibility to a street that could benefit from the diversity of more retail along with restaurant and bar establishments. Paper Seahorse owner Tona Bell joined forces with Tampa-based style consultant Alex English, who authors the Remarqed blog, to stage a “Maker’s Market” at the new store in Feb 2015, featuring local vendors like Ella Bing and Fortenberry.

The Paper Seahorse “has been a dream of Tona's for many years,” says English. “She is a lover of writing, of paper and wrapping -- pretty much all things related to snail mail and gift presentation.” 

Along with more pop-up events, the Paper Seahorse is also offering creative classes that include collage, lettering and card making, says Bell. “Later this year we will be having parties for wedding showers, baby showers and children’s birthdays.”
Before the summer crowds hit, Mr. Penguin opened doors to customers in a long-abandoned building opposite Austin’s Board Shop at 1920 W. Platt St. Owners Chris Oh and David Lee developed the space, which serves Italian ice, soft serve ice cream and gelato, a mixture of the two.

Plant High School senior Rachel Rogero has been serving up scoops and cones since Mr. Penguin opened its doors in early 2015.

“We wanted to open early so we could have a good rhythm going by the time summer comes and it picks up,” Rogero explains. She plans to work at Mr. Penguin until heading to Florida Gulf Coast University in the fall, where she has been accepted.

Even with fluctuating spring weather, Rogero says, the business has been steadily busy since opening. Outdoor patio seating is available, and Mr. Penguin is also pet-friendly.

The former Monstah Lobstah location at 1901 W. Platt St. is also being renovated into a pet-friendly causal dining destination.

“The entire Courier City Oscawana Neighborhood would like to see more businesses that contribute to walkability; good restaurants, retail and service businesses that make people want to make the SoHo area a real destination,” says Stephenson.

At the corner of Platt and Howard, Wicked ‘Wiches & Brew, derived from a popular Tampa food truck, opened in early 2015. 

Located at 223 S. Howard Ave., the new restaurant occupies the former Urban Cantina space. The Wicked ‘Wiches menu includes – you guessed it – a variety of sandwiches, along with plenty of craft beer options.

The Hyde Out, a new bar and restaurant with a nighttime club vibe, has opened in the former Rack Billiards location at 1809 W. Platt St. The space has been re-imagined into a modern wine and cocktail bar, with communal or intimate bar tables, a patio with bar access, and valet parking.

Owner Kip Bryne told the Courier City Neighborhood association that the term “Hyde” in the name refers not to the Hyde Park neighborhood, but to the famous story about Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: “The regular guy that lets his wilder side out at night.“

When USF grad and Tampa photographer Jaime Kile visited The Hyde Out for its first Sunday brunch in February, the restaurant was still working out some kinks in terms of timing. But Kile enjoyed the atmosphere, noting the murals and other artwork adoring the walls by local artist Josh Pearson. Try the sweet potato tots, Kile says.

Along with an extensive cocktail list with names like “Mexican Standoff” and “Gutsy Gardener,” the menu focuses on sushi and includes salads, sandwiches and small plates. Lunch is served seven days a week from noon-4pm, and brunch is served on Sunday from 11am-4pm.

“Having these new businesses in the area just continues to expand the walkability of the neighborhood,” says Stephenson. “My wife and I can walk just a few blocks and eat at some of the coolest spots in Tampa.”

Only three blocks away, Tijuana Flats reopened in a space at 1617 W. Platt St. that was formerly Stacked Burgers, and before that, was also a Tijuana Flats. 

Toward Bayshore Boulevard on Platt Street, you’ll find farm to table dining mainstay Boca, Squeeze Juice Works, Yogani Studios and long-time establishments like Zudar’s Deli mixing in with new high-rises such as the 8-story, multibuilding Crescent Bayshore condominiums at 319 Bayshore Blvd.

All along Kennedy Boulevard, two blocks north of Platt, local businesses compete with traffic and big brands for retail or restaurant space. Mainstays include Edison food & drink lab, Buddy Brew Coffee and Oxford Exchange, which fall at the edge of the Courier City neighborhood.

Building a Courier City community

Cyclists and motorists in South Tampa can breath a little more easily now that the City of Tampa’s extensive renovations to Platt Street, including free on-street parking spaces and the implementation of a separate bike lane along the length of the street from Armenia Avenue to the corner of Bayshore Boulevard, are mostly complete.

The new changes to Platt Street make the blocks feel more like a pedestrian neighborhood “that you want to stop in,” Stephenson says. “It's slowing traffic, providing more parking and I've seen a few bicyclists taking advantage too.”

Marcum says Austin’s Board Shop has seen a noticeable bump in foot traffic and bike traffic since the Platt Street bike lanes opened.

The bike lane will be painted green at major intersections, the first design of this nature in Tampa. The project is set to be completed by Friday, March 27. 

See a rendering of the street redesign at the City of Tampa website.

“Our streets and roadways need to serve all their users, including cyclists and pedestrians,” Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn says in a news release. “The new buffered, green bike lane is the first of its kind in Tampa. My hope is that the new cycling infrastructure can become a model for how we redesign our streets.” 

The Platt Street renovation cost $1.4 million and was completed by Asphalt Paving Systems Inc. A similar renovation -- including bike lanes, new street lighting, onstreet parking and repairs to drainage utilities -- is currently underway along Cleveland Street.

Broadstone Hyde Park, a monolith complex that is set to open in March 2015, is now leasing luxury apartment rentals from studio through to three-bedroom floor plans. Amenities include 9-feet ceilings, a multilevel parking garage and a pool.

The pet-friendly property, located at 1702 W. Cleveland St. and managed by Alliance Residential, contains 259 units renting for $1,200-$2,600 a month.
The modern, stone-and-glass front building is the biggest symbol of Platt Street’s burgeoning growth -- it has been underway for close to two years and is slated to be completed at a time when there is much activity on nearby blocks.

Set a block back from Platt, the nearby Fremont Townes consists of a dozen 3-bedroom, 3-bath units in three buildings. The David Weekley townhomes each have a two-car garage and will be available for purchase starting in the $400,000s.

With all of this new activity, residents can find time for relaxation at two new spa and salon businesses in Courier City: Sassin Salon, located between Platt and Cleveland Streets at 212 S. Armenia Ave., and Raydiance Spa, at 120 and 122 Howard Avenue.

“I'd love to look back on 2015 as the year Courier City is recognized as one of the best places to live, work and play in Tampa,” Stephenson says. 

Read more articles by Justine Benstead.

Justine Benstead is a feature writer for 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.
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