West Tampa residents key to shaping future of neighborhood

As the City of Tampa prepares for the redevelopment of West Tampa, public community meetings are giving local residents the opportunity to contribute to the City’s strategic action plan for West Tampa.

The City hosted its first of three community meetings in October at the Bryan Glazer Family JCC that allowed over 100 West Tampa residents to express their thoughts, concerns, and ideas for the West Tampa Community Redevelopment Area (CRA) project.

Ideas from residents are key to the strategic action plan because a lot of West Tampa’s current growth “is happening because of the sweat and hard work that residents are doing,” says Keith Greminger, Sr. Planning & Urban Design Manager at Kimley-Horn & Associates, which is the prime consultant for the West Tampa CRA.

“This is your plan. This isn’t our plan,” says Greminger. “The information that you’re providing is going to give us direction on how to move forward. … We are sincere about using your ideas.”

Several attendees emphasized the need for the City of Tampa, its consultants and local residents to work together on building the future of West Tampa.

“There has to be the opportunity to sit down and talk about how to reorganize certain aspects of West Tampa, in terms of upgrading the streets, facilities and more. That has to happen to enhance West Tampa,” says Dr. Walter L. Smith, Founder/CEO of Dr. Walter Smith Library, Inc. “You’ve got to be sure that unification is a part of whatever is going to be redeveloped.”

Defining neighborhood priorities

Nearly every community member at the public meeting expressed the need for better infrastructure through more security cameras, widespread street lighting, improved parking, more transportation options, paved roads, and a more efficient storm water and sewage system.

West Tampa residents and business owners also discussed the idea of adding more greenspace areas with high walkability, homeownership programs accessible to current West Tampa residents, and business incubator programs located inside the redeveloped cigar factories.

Many stressed the need to create and maintain business opportunities for current West Tampa businesses to continue operating in the redeveloped West Tampa community, especially with the upcoming NFL Super Bowl LV in 2021.

“I’m interested to hear all the ideas that the City of Tampa comes up with to better West Tampa, especially for us who have a black-owned business,” says Liquisha Solomon of Ya Boy's BBQ, located at 1901 N. Howard Ave. “Once we see changes as far as the neighborhoods being brought up and them doing construction to rebuild the community, that’ll be a good sign.”

Local residents also want to make sure that the history, culture and diversity of West Tampa is embraced and maintained after the area is redeveloped.

“We have to hold onto West Tampa's cultural integrity, its foundation, and not forget it,” says West Tampa resident Dean Miller. “The thing is if we don't, West Tampa's history will be a footnote and everybody will look at West Tampa and not even know its history.”

“If we work together to build West Tampa, all the diversity, talent and love that we have here can stay in West Tampa,” says native West Tampa resident D Jackson of West Tampa Alliance. “Those who are in West Tampa now have the opportunity to do something that's quite significant for our youth to follow.”

Welcome to West Tampa

Among the solutions attendees discussed at the City of Tampa’s community meeting was to create a sense of local pride by launching a marketing campaign to highlight West Tampa’s culture and history. Others also suggested installing a “Welcome to West Tampa” sign in one of the area’s commercial corridors: North Howard Avenue, Main Street, Rome Avenue, Armenia or Kennedy Boulevard.

Several of the ideas West Tampa residents discussed during the public meeting are aligned with the priorities the City of Tampa and Kimley-Horn outlined and presented at the beginning of the community meeting. These priorities include economic development and creation of jobs, housing assistance, business assistance, improvements within the community through infrastructure, transportation and parking.

These community discussions are the first of many as the City of Tampa and West Tampa residents prepare for the area’s transformation and redevelopment. The next community meeting is expected to be held in December, during which the City of Tampa and its consultants will share a report on how to start introducing plans and ideas based on the community’s feedback.

“This has been a long process. This transformation has been going on for 40 to 50 years to try to get where we are,” says Joe Robinson, West Tampa Community Advisory Committee Chair. “Let’s get to work and let’s make West Tampa one of the best places you can be in Hillsborough County.”

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Read more articles by Zebrina Edgerton-Maloy.

Zebrina Edgerton-Maloy is a freelance multimedia journalist based in Tampa. She earned her BA in Journalism from Washington and Lee University in May 2016. Zebrina is also a social media specialist and content writer for startup companies and small businesses. She helps build their brand through social media management and creates their brand story through content writing. She is constantly motivated by Tampa Bay's entrepreneurial spirit. Zebrina is dedicated to share entrepreneurs' stories of grit, passion and innovation. Learn more at her website and follow her on Instagram or Twitter @zebrinaemaloy.