Saturday, February 24, 2018
Business

Rays stadium seen as boost in Ybor City even with all the traffic concerns

TAMPA — Justin Jacobson walked away envious after seeing the Bruno Mars concert Oct. 19 at Amalie Arena downtown.

All these people flocking to the bars and restaurants nearby.

"I thought, ‘It’d be great if we had something like this in Ybor,’?" said Jacobson, owner of Ybor City’s King Corona Cigars Bar and Cafe.

In fact, he said, it’s a possibility now with the announcement Wednesday that Hillsborough County is offering a 14-acre parcel to the Tampa Bay Rays for a new stadium in the Channel District-Ybor City area.

Still, growth brings problems, said Jacobson and others interviewed Thursday in the Latin district.

"Parking and traffic," Jacobson said. "I do have questions. But let’s cross that bridge when the time comes."

The land is bordered by 15th Street and Channelside Drive to the east and west and Fourth Avenue and Adamo Drive to the north and south

On a typical night even today, traffic backs up on 21st and 22nd streets as cars pour into Ybor City off Interstate 4 and the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway.

What would happen if thousands of baseball fans are added to the mix, asked Patrick Manteiga, publisher of Ybor City’s La Gaceta newspaper.

"It will be hard to queue that traffic onto Adamo," Manteiga said.

One thing he isn’t concerned about is modern-day baseball wiping out the historical character of Ybor City. He’s confident the city of Tampa would protect the culture and that "RayBor City" — a term he takes credit for, now coming into wider use — would be the best of both worlds.

Cars cutting through historic, two-lane Seventh Avenue — Ybor City’s main thoroughfare — is a top concern of Ben Wax, whose family owns the vintage clothing store La France there.

Traffic along the street already slows to a crawl with the number of vehicles and the pedestrians crossing along the length of it.

"Will they close Seventh?" Wax asked, noting that vehicle traffic was prohibited on the avenue during weekends in the 1990s. "That may be the answer."

Linda Grambling, a student at Hillsborough County College’s Ybor campus, wondered how parking and traffic would affect class schedules.

"I’ll be gone by then, so it won’t hurt me," she said. "But if I have a night class and the Rays have a game the same night, how early will I have to leave to get to class on time? Where will we park? Will the Rays use the garage?"

HCC will do what it takes to ensure students have parking, said Ashley Carl, spokeswoman for the college.

"That is always an issue with an urban campus," Carl said.

Business owners interviewed agreed that the positives of a Rays stadium would outweigh the negatives.

"I will trust the concerns will be addressed," Michael Cincunegui, owner of Ybor City’s Long Ash Cigars, said. "This is good news for Ybor, Channelside and all of downtown."

George Zwierko, who runs the marketing and video production company Lot 1901 near Adamo Drive, said he may have to reschedule meetings and soundstage shoots around ball games to avoid traffic and noise. But Zwierko sees the stadium as a development catalyst for his side of Ybor City.

"There isn’t a lot going on here now, not many businesses and not many people walking around," Zwierko said. "Now, people and businesses will want to come here."

That’s an outlook shared by his neighbors.

Cephas Gilbert, who runs the Hot Shop Restaurant on Fourth Avenue, predicts the stadium will finally bring foot traffic past his eatery.

Nearby Tabernacle Tattoo operates mostly by appointment but inker Scott Fischer envisions a boom in walk-ins, too.

"Baseball logo tattoos," Fischer explained.

Three-decade Ybor resident Manny Alvarez foresees an Ybor City bustling with business, new parking garages an expanded streetcar line that emerges as the symbol of Tampa as it is showcased nationwide during the Rays’ next World Series run.

Said Alvarez, "We’re going to put the city back into Ybor City."

Contact Paul Guzzo at [email protected] Follow @PGuzzoTimes.

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