Thursday, January 18, 2018
News Roundup

Politicians stunned as Ybor board rejects fallen hero memorials

TAMPA — No one objects to the idea — side-by-side memorials honoring victims of the Sept. 11 attacks and sheriff's deputies killed in the line of duty.

But on Tuesday, Tampa's Barrio Latino Commission denied plans for the memorials in Ybor City after several civic leaders there said the design needs work.

News of the vote stunned elected Tampa officials.

"You've got to be kidding me," Mayor Bob Buckhorn said.

"Can you believe that?" City Council member Frank Reddick asked. "A 9/11 memorial, and they voted it down?"

As proposed, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office would put the memorials over part of what is now a parking lot at the northwest corner of E Eighth Avenue and N 20th Street, near the sheriff's operations center.

At the south end of the block, one memorial would feature a steel beam salvaged from the World Trade Center, plus stainless steel sculptures of firefighters, police and civilians killed in the terrorist attack.

At the north end, a bronze statue of a sheriff's honor guard deputy would be placed in the center of a semicircular granite wall engraved with the names of 15 fallen sheriff's deputies.

But at Tuesday's Barrio Latino Commission meeting, Ybor City civic leaders said the plans for the park space were flawed, effectively creating two mini parks with poor pedestrian connections.

"Unfortunately, the current design as you see it is dissected and kind of disjointed," said Tony LaColla, president of the Historic Ybor Neighborhood Civic Association.

And members of the appointed Barrio Latino Commission — a city board charged with reviewing development plans to preserve Ybor City's historic fabric and architectural integrity — had concerns of their own, mainly about pedestrian safety.

Especially worrisome, they said, was an area between the memorials with a half-dozen parking spaces.

"A disaster waiting to happen," Barrio Latino Commissioner Wes Miller said. "You've just got to be so vigilant about intermingling automobiles with pedestrians."

Instead, LaColla and several commissioners embraced the idea of a redesign that would create a linear park running along Eighth Street. With a monument at each end, they said, the middle could provide public assembly space where the crowd could face either monument, depending on the event.

Commissioners discussed delaying the vote if the Sheriff's Office wanted to rework its plans.

In response, the agency offered to get rid of the parking spaces between the memorials, widen sidewalks, tweak its landscaping and use different brick pavers.

But when it did not agree to a linear park, the board voted down the plans.

"We were taken aback by the whole flavor of the meeting," said Richard Swann, the sheriff's director of risk management and facilities management.

Sheriff's officials had looked at the idea of a linear park along Eighth Avenue, but Swann said it was rejected for several reasons.

For one, their preferred design puts the memorials closer to a sheriff's access control station, staffed by armed deputies who can watch for trouble or vandalism at the monuments.

Also a linear park would put activity next to the TECO Line Streetcar, where officials worry that someone could step into the path of the trolley. Also, the trolley noise and bells could disrupt memorial services.

Going into the meeting, sheriff's officials had 30 letters of support and a dozen people on their side in the audience.

Now they plan to appeal the Barrio Latino Commission's decision to the Tampa City Council. Still, Swann said, sheriff's officials are open to discussion.

Two Ybor leaders told the commission that calls to the Sheriff's Office about the plans had gone unanswered after a meeting last month. Swann said he had a death in his family and some things on his schedule he couldn't move.

"We intend to work with the community," he said. "Nobody's trying to avoid anybody here."

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