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USF plan for Indian Rocks Beach envisions revitalized business district

INDIAN ROCKS BEACH — A proposed plan for redevelopment of the city over the next 25 years focuses primarily on a triangular area encompassing the main business district south of Walsingham Road.

The plan is the result of more than a year's study by a team from the University of South Florida's Florida Center for Community Design & Research, the research division of the USF School of Architecture and Community Design.

The group, led by professor Theodore Trent Green, was hired in January 2008 to prepare a visioning plan for the city. The joint project between the city and the civic group, Action 2000, cost $55,000 to complete.

The 51-page plan identifies three areas of the city most amenable to redevelopment — the Narrows, a 40-acre triangular area on the east side of Gulf Boulevard extending from Walsingham Road to the city's southern boundary; the midtown commercial area along Gulf Boulevard from Ninth to 16th avenues; and the northern commercial area on Gulf Boulevard from 23rd to 28th avenues.

Among the issues identified by Green's group were concerns over excessive condominium development along Gulf Boulevard; a declining business environment; lack of parking in commercial areas; barriers to pedestrian access; outdated zoning regulations that are "insurmountable hurdles" to private investment in commercial development; and the city's lack of a cohesive visual image and identity.

"A number of physical enhancements will transform these areas into vibrant, diverse, pedestrian-scale neighborhood commercial areas," according to Green's plan.

The Narrows, Green's group said, is a "dated commercial district" that has seen little new private investment for some 30 years. Of the area's businesses, about 30, few are considered "first-choice" destinations for local residents, according to the report.

The plan calls for the city to transform the Narrows area into a "revitalized business district" that would become the "civic heart" of the city. Redevelopment would focus on creating a mixed-use village center that would define the city as a "coastal village".

The plan calls for development of "modest-scale, mixed-use" buildings that would feature ground-level retail shops, restaurants and offices with upper floors used for residential, hospitality or commercial activities.

Key West- or coastal-style buildings would rise to three or four stories and feature upper floor balconies, awnings and canopies, extensive shopfront windows, and pedestrian-friendly sidewalk zones featuring decorative paving, water features, information kiosks and street plantings.

A key feature of the redesigned Narrows would be what Green's group dubbed "the Oval" — a new, flexible open space linking Gulf Boulevard with Chic-A-Si Park, which would be doubled in size.

This primarily pedestrian area would include a central lawn and small amphitheater flanked by limited parking spaces and multiuse commercial/residential buildings.

An expanded Chic-A-Si Park would "function as the living room of the community," where numerous public events could be held, the report suggests.

Other specific recommendations included a public parking garage that would be a joint venture between the city and the Holiday Inn, increased on-site or roof-deck parking included in any new developments, creating a municipal services center at the old GTE building at the base of the Walsingham Road bridge.

The group also suggested expanding Keegan Clair Park to allow development of a 350-foot long municipal marina and boardwalk along the Intracoastal Waterway.

The city's midtown commercial core would become a "vibrant neighborhood commercial node" with a main-street-like atmosphere.

The "uptown commercial area" to the north should include, according to Green's plan, the development of a "junior market" area that would include small corner plazas, crosswalks and attractive landscape features.

Green's group also recommended the city consider changing its land development regulations to allow taller mixed-use development, establish a redevelopment area in the Narrows to increase potential financing for projects, begin enhancing the city's streetscapes, relocate the city's solid waste facility out of the Narrows area, and develop marketing programs to attract new businesses and developments.

The City Commission will discuss the USF plan during a special workshop Sept. 22.

USF plan for Indian Rocks Beach envisions revitalized business district 08/18/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 18, 2009 6:04pm]
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