TAMPA — Four orange sails herald the completion of the next step in downtown Tampa's evolution from a tie-clad workplace to a more leisurely destination for strolling and shopping.
The mostly finished Zack Street Promenade of the Arts project between Ashley Drive and Franklin Street features a narrower roadway to slow traffic, wider sidewalks with brushed concrete, and a "bulb out" brick walkway to give pedestrians more space. The $1.2 million upgrade also includes concrete block benches, bright orange sails for shade and bunches of trees and bushes.
Missing for now is the art, which includes several pieces such as metal medallions showcasing historic photos, crosswalk imprints inlaid with textured glass and a backlit glass tile sculpture that uses molds of cigar presses, sheepshead, Gasparilla beads and other well-known local objects.
Not all the art pieces were ready before the Republican National Convention so the city postponed installation for about six weeks, said David Vaughn, Tampa's contracts administration director. Even so, business owners say the project has dramatically altered the street. The street improvements come about the same time as the nearby reopening of the historic, 86-year-old Floridan Hotel, which had been shuttered for 25 years.
The additions add momentum to downtown's redevelopment effort in the past few years that has brought new condo towers, a Riverwalk, renovated Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, bars and restaurants to the urban core.
"Now that it's complete and done and over with it, we're happy with it," said Dave Burton, owner of Pizza Fusion on Zack Street. "A great addition to downtown that keeps getting better and better."
The jury's still out on whether the Promenade of the Arts will lead to more business, Burton said, but the wider sidewalks should allow more outdoor seating for his restaurant this fall. The Victoria Transport Policy Institute, a Canadian research organization, reported last year that a study of consumer spending in British towns found that customers who walk spend more money than those who drive. A 2010 University of Arizona study also found that office, shops and apartment complexes in more "walkable" areas had higher property values than those in "less walkable" areas.
"I hope it spurs some economic development along the corridor," said Karen Kress, Tampa Downtown Partnership Transportation and Planning director. "When you have a pedestrian-friendly street, there are studies that show people linger and spend more time and more money."
The city has made Zack Street its example of how it would like to remodel other downtown streets. It was chosen first because it leads to the entrance of Hixon Park, which has become a downtown hub for concerts, festivals and outdoor events.
Justin George can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3368.