Make us your home page


$38 million will boost Central Avenue's appeal


It's where north meets south and it's the conduit from downtown to the beaches. Now there is a $38 million plan under way to revitalize Central Avenue and attract more businesses, residents and tourists to the 8-mile street that was once the city's main artery.

While the diverse stores, businesses and homes give Central Avenue an eclectic character that attracts people, it also lacks continuity. The east side has downtown, the popular 600 Arts Block, shops, restaurants and hip apartments in the Grand Central and Edge districts. It has energy, it's pedestrian friendly, it makes for a nice afternoon out.

The west side, not so much. There are pockets, of course, of cool stores and yummy restaurants. But the overall look isn't nearly as inviting to pedestrians or new businesses.

The city wants to change that and already has $5.8 million in its coffers to do so. The rest of the money will come from impact fees, county funding, transit funding and other sources. A Bus Rapid Transit system carries the biggest price tag of any part of the plan: $25 million.

"We are at the beginning of the boom," said council member Karl Nurse at a recent community meeting about the Central Avenue plan. He pointed to more than a dozen residential projects in or near downtown in some state of development. "If you are going to catch a wave, this is the time," he said.

Council member Leslie Curran, who owns a frame and art gallery on Central, suggested a plan to revitalize the whole street about three years ago.

Then the city started Conversations on Central, a series of meetings in different areas where residents, activists and business owners could talk about what they would like to see in their geographic area.

The Central Avenue Revitalization Plan, CARP for short, was approved by the council in September. It calls for more medians to narrow wide sections of the street, landscaping, overhead canopies, bike racks, wider sidewalks, benches, brick crosswalks, new traffic lights and street lights. Investors and developers will be attracted by increased allowable density, reduced setbacks, allowances for taller building heights and more mixed-use options. There are about 135 city blocks of available land between First Avenue N and First Avenue S along the Central Avenue corridor.

So could the west side ever look like the east side?

"It could evolve into that over time," said Dave Goodwin, the city's planning and economic development coordinator. "It's not going to mirror it but it's going to be more attractive. You've got to create an environment for investment."

The plan isn't just about boosting the west side. The overall street will get a new look. Common signs and flags from one end of the street to the other will tie it all together. One possible slogan is "Central Ave. Connects."

CARP stresses each area should maintain its own character while the entire street is sewn together a little more.

Monica Abbott, a community activist from the Park Central area at the west end of the avenue, has concerns and hopes. She worries some of the transit routes won't extend all the way to her end of Central Avenue and hates that the long empty Parkview Hotel at 7401 Central is a distracting eyesore.

But she is hopeful.

"Just adding some landscaping, old fashioned acorn lighting (and) public art would improve this westernmost portion of Central," she said. Abbott pointed to several new businesses such as Griffin Bookbinding and the Gypsy Queen furniture and antique store that have already boosted the area's look.

Lea Ann Barlas has owned property and a spa in the swath of Central between Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street and 16th Street known as the Edge. As president of the district's business association she's glad CARP will create more signs and visual road blocks that slow motorists and draw pedestrians.

"Once the district gets its identity then you'll have the people coming regularly. The 600 block has its identity, Grand Central has its identity, each section can be better identified. Although we're a mixed area we're cohesive," Barlas said.

Kevin McBride, owner of McB's Men's Clothing Broker at 1045 Central, is also pleased the city is investing time and money to boost the street's image. But the plan doesn't address one of his major concerns: the homeless people who hang around and drive business away.

"With all the health services, the Greyhound bus station, halfway houses (nearby) it's a tough, tough issue," said McBride, who moved from California and started his business four years ago. Solving the homeless problem is a much bigger issue, he acknowledged, but he thinks more could be done to deter people from loitering on Central.

Goodwin said the city's police officers work steadily with the homeless, but the revitalization will draw more people and businesses and that will help indirectly.

"You feel more comfortable when there's life and activity," he said. "You increase the density and that draws more people."

Katherine Snow Smith can be contacted at or (727) 893-8785.

Changes on Central

Phase 1: Mast arm traffic signals and textured crosswalks at 13 intersections along Central Avenue, First Avenues north and south

• Eight to 12 artistically designed bus shelters

Total cost: $5.8 million

Time frame: More than half the intersections are completed. The others and the shelters should be done by year's end.

Phase 2: Mast arm traffic signals at eight intersections.

• Streetscape improvements such as medians, landscaping and sidewalk repair

Total cost: $5.7 million

Time frame: undetermined

Phase 3: More streetscape improvements

Cost: $2.2 million

• Bus Rapid Transit system

Cost: $25 million

Time frame: undetermined

$38 million will boost Central Avenue's appeal 04/20/13 [Last modified: Friday, April 19, 2013 4:44pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Federal agencies demand records from SeaWorld theme park


    ORLANDO — Two federal agencies are reportedly demanding financial records from SeaWorld.

    Killer whales Ikaika and Corky participate in behaviors commonly done in the wild during SeaWorld's Killer Whale educational presentation in this photo from Jan. 9. SeaWorld has been subpoenaed by two federal agencies for comments that executives and the company made in August 2014 about the impact from the "Blackfish" documentary. 
[Nelvin C. Cepeda/San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS]
  2. Legalized medical marijuana signed into law by Rick Scott

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott on Friday signed into law a broader medical marijuana system for the state, following through on a promise he made earlier this month.

    Gov. Rick Scott signed legislation on Friday that legalizes medical marijuana in Florida.
  3. Line of moms welcome Once Upon A Child to Carrollwood


    CARROLLWOOD — Strollers of all shapes and sizes are lined up in front of the store, and inside, there are racks of children's clothing in every color of the rainbow.

    At Once Upon A Child, you often as many baby strollers outside as you find baby furniture and accessories. It recently opened this location in Carrollwood. Photo by Danielle Hauser
  4. Pastries N Chaat brings North India cuisine to North Tampa


    TAMPA — Pastries N Chaat, a new restaurant offering Indian street food, opened this week near the University of South Florida.

    The menu at Pastries N Chaat includes a large variety of Biriyani, an entree owners say is beloved by millions. Photo courtesy of Pastries N Chaat.
  5. 'Garbage juice' seen as threat to drinking water in Florida Panhandle county


    To Waste Management, the nation's largest handler of garbage, the liquid that winds up at the bottom of a landfill is called "leachate," and it can safely be disposed of in a well that's 4,200 feet deep.

    Three samples that were displayed by Jackson County NAACP President Ronstance Pittman at a public meeting on Waste Management's deep well injection proposal. The sample on the left is full of leachate from the Jackson County landfill, the stuff that would be injected into the well. The sample on the right shows leachate after it's been treated at a wastewater treatment plant. The one in the middle is tap water.