DOWNTOWN — A row of neutral-colored office and federal buildings stand tall along Zack Street. But there's not much else.
Workers typically walk to streets elsewhere for lunch.
In a few years, city officials hope, Zack will be a lively thoroughfare where people stop and look around.
It may even be among downtown's main attractions.
Details are still being worked out, but the "Zack Street Avenue of the Arts" could feature rotating sculptures and street art on banners. Curbs and sidewalks will be smoothed out. Murals or engraved poetry could decorate sidewalks. For fun, a crossing signal might be installed that tells pedestrians to jump, hop or dance.
David Vaughn, the city's director of contract administration, hopes the project will be completed by spring 2011, before Mayor Pam Iorio leaves office. However, that's an ambitious goal, he said.
The transformation is in its beginning stages. The city's first step is to turn Zack into a two-way street with creatively designed crosswalks and angled parking spots.
Officials and downtown business owners want to go beyond the 9 to 5 crowd by making the area prettier and more practical for pedestrians.
"I've been working in downtown since the '70s and we never had to have playgrounds or bike racks," said Bob McDonaugh, a city urban and economic development manager.
People now live in condos downtown, and 10 restaurants opened up in the past year. City Bike Tampa, a shop for cyclists, opened recently on E Cass Street.
Engineers haven't been chosen for the Zack project, so costs and other details are uncertain. The city may use capital investment funds to pay for some changes to the street, Vaughn said.
Potential designers and architects will meet Tuesday in City Council chambers to hear more about the project. The estimated payment to engineers for design and planning is $200,000.
The street, which stretches from Ashley Drive to Nebraska Avenue, is less than a mile long with seven historical structures nearby. The Tampa Union Station sits at the east end. The artsy avenue will guide residents and visitors to the Glazer Children's Museum and Tampa Museum of Art off N Ashley Drive. Both are scheduled for completion in 2010.
"Our responsibility is to make a palette so that people can bring what they want to it," said Robin Nigh, the city's manager of art programs.
The Zack project has been in the works since at least 2005. It was put on hold in 2007, however, when the Florida Supreme Court ruled Tampa needed voter approval before funding the project with loans and then repaying through property taxes. Officials don't know yet where all the money will come from but have decided against that approach.
City Council member Linda Saul-Sena expects better streets and landscaping to attract businesses. Then, people.
Downtown business owners also hope to benefit from the potential increase in pedestrians.
"They'll say, 'Oh, we'll meet you at Zack Street center of the arts and we'll figure out what we'll do from there,'" said Tara Schroeder, director of programming for Tampa Theatre, which sees a yearly audience of 140,000.
Indigo Coffee has served at the corner of E Twiggs Street and N Franklin Street for 16 months, a short walk from Zack, which Indigo president Jeff Darrey calls a "yawn." He welcomes any plan to attract walkers and bikers.
The shop's best weekend was during the Gasparilla Arts Festival.
"And that's artsy, but that attracts a very broad range of residents of Tampa Bay," Darrey said. Zack Street, he hopes, will bring a local, consistent crowd.
Ileana Morales can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3403.