TAMPA — The West Tampa Chamber of Commerce unveiled an economic development plan Tuesday aimed at capitalizing on an improving economy and efforts by local government to transform the west bank of the Hillsborough River.
"The recession's coming to an end. Housing's going to be coming out. There's great opportunities facing us," said lawyer and West Tampa home builder Ed Turanchik, who chairs the chamber's economic redevelopment committee. "We wanted to step back, retool, recalibrate, load and fire."
The chamber's conceptual plan, approved unanimously by its board Oct. 2, has three main parts:
• Brand West Tampa with a new logo ("Savor the past. Embrace the future.") that could adorn welcome signs on main roads entering West Tampa — defined as from Kennedy Boulevard on the south to Hillsborough Avenue on the north and from the Hillsborough River to Dale Mabry Highway.
The chamber also wants to create an eating guide to West Tampa's many ethnic restaurants and a program to illuminate historic buildings such as the Y. Pendas & Alvarez Cigar Co. building with its looming clock tower.
• Aggressively pursue economic development opportunities: a Riverwalk on the western bank of the river; connections from neighborhoods to the riverfront; a program to facilitate the use of federal loans to rehabilitate foreclosed homes; a temporary suspension of impact and utility connection fees; and the creation of a community redevelopment district, which could use property tax revenue generated by growth to pay for West Tampa infrastructure improvements.
• Create a bus circulator that would use frequent service to tie West Tampa to downtown Tampa, West Shore and the Tampa International Airport. An early estimate puts the operating costs of the circulator at $6 million annually. Chamber advocates say the city could create a special taxing district to support it, while potentially letting people who live or work in West Tampa ride for free.
Chamber officials also say local officials should look at establishing a limited-stop bus rapid transit route and, eventually, a light rail corridor, from downtown to the airport via West Tampa.
The chamber's plan comes as the city of Tampa and the Tampa Housing Authority are seeking a private-sector partner to help plan the redevelopment of a 120-acre area in West Tampa.
That plan, welcomed by the chamber, envisions tearing down the North Boulevard Homes public housing complex and moving the residents to new but more widely dispersed affordable housing.
In the next 60 days, the chamber plans to present its plan to neighborhood associations, business groups and city and county officials.
It also will hold a town hall meeting at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 6 at the West Tampa library.
The chamber hopes local officials agree to implement elements of the plan in early 2013.