Saturday, December 16, 2017
Business

West Shore area could get a makeover

TAMPA — The West Shore area has major shopping malls, restaurants, hotels and more office space than any other business district in Florida.

What it doesn't have are tree-lined streets, wide sidewalks, bike lanes and public spaces.

A new plan could change that. The Westshore Alliance business group has completed its first master plan to make the area more attractive, livable and accessible to mass transit.

Westshore Alliance executive director Ron Rotella said the area has design rules for private development but nothing that improves the public space.

"We have dealt with what has happened on private property, but we haven't dealt with the public realm,'' he said. "If there is no master plan, it won't happen.''

The Public Realm Master Plan calls for landscaped medians, shaded sidewalks, screens to hide parking lots and shared bus and bicycle lanes along West Shore Boulevard, between International Plaza and Kennedy Boulevard. It would narrow traffic lanes and reduce speed limits on West Shore and Boy Scout boulevards and Lois Avenue. Pedestrian bridges would connect restaurants and offices along Boy Scout with a new public park and International Plaza.

Bob McDonaugh, the city's administrator for economic opportunity, said the plan underscores "West Shore's coming of age.'' Several residential projects and restaurants have opened or are in development stages.

"The master plan reflects some of the changes we're seeing in the West Shore district,'' he said. "It was solely a 9-to-5 operation. Now we have more residential coming in. It's important to enhance the area's walkability because not all of these people want to use cars.''

The plan would improve pedestrian access without taking away vehicle lanes or adding traffic congestion, Rotella said. Rather than drive a few blocks to grab lunch or run an errand, West Shore's nearly 100,000 workers could walk or hop on a bus. Guests in the 8,000 hotel rooms could get safely to a store or restaurant without dodging speeding vehicles.

"We don't want cars going 40 and 50 mph down West Shore,'' he said.

The upgrades would complement plans for a major transportation hub known as the West­shore Multimodal Center accessible to Interstate 275. A light rail/bus station and parking garage would be built nearby, most likely along Cypress Street near Jefferson High School or Charley's Steakhouse.

Rotella said the improvements are needed to accommodate the growing number of people who use the district. About 10,000 residents, including those in the Carver City/Lincoln Gardens neighborhood near Lois, already live there. Another 1,700 residential units are planned, most of them high-end apartments with residents eager to walk to shopping and dining.

The Westshore Alliance hired the University of South Florida's School of Architecture & Commission Design to create the plan, developed by graduate students and faculty member Trent Green. Rotella and Green will present the plan to Hillsborough County commissioners on Wednesday and the Tampa City Council on Thursday. Support, not approval, is needed. West Shore Boulevard is a county road within the city limits.

Implementing the plan would cost millions and could require buying public right of way. The "only practical source,'' Rotella said, would be the creation of a tax increment financing district through the county. The TIF district would earmark a certain amount of future county property tax revenue to finance the debt issued to pay for the improvements. County Commission Chairman Ken Hagan has said he supports it.

The city of Tampa recently approved an $80,000 engineering feasibility study on moving utilities and obtaining right of way needed for the West Shore plan. It also collects impact fees for district improvements.

Rotella is hopeful $10 million to $15 million in upgrades to West Shore Boulevard could start in a year and a half, but no schedule has been set.

The plan is one of many on the books and coincides with Tampa's comprehensive plan identifying the West Shore, downtown and USF areas as key places for growth. The InVision plan for downtown Tampa and surrounding neighborhoods aims to improve pedestrian and cyclist safety and could involve building a multipurpose trail between Ybor City and West Tampa.

Susan Thurston can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 225-3110.

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