Saturday, November 18, 2017
News Roundup

Tampa project seeks to re-imagine downtown

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TAMPA — Since the 1950s, downtown Tampa has been seen overwhelmingly as a business district where major roads exist to move huge volumes of traffic in and out during rush hour.

Time for a change, a consultant suggested to Tampa City Council members Wednesday.

"You have a lot of roads that are busy for about 20 minutes, and then they're empty," said Pete Sechler, the project manager for AECOM, a Fortune 500 consulting firm hired to work on Mayor Bob Buckhorn's yearlong InVision Tampa project.

Instead of designing a downtown that's geared toward handling an hour of heavy commuting every day, Sechler said officials might consider designing a downtown for the other 23 hours.

That could mean reworking how people think about downtown, changing the perception from it being only a business district for offices to a neighborhood where people live and shop.

Buckhorn launched the $1.43 million InVision Tampa project in April to create a 25-year blueprint for downtown development. He wants a master plan that will address design guidelines, amenities and connections between downtown and areas like Ybor City, the Channel District, Tampa Heights and North Hyde Park.

Since then, the project team has held large community brain-storming sessions, neighborhood discussions and focus groups with major stakeholders like Tampa General Hospital, the University of Tampa and the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The plan hasn't been written yet — two design workshops are scheduled next week — but Sechler said the feedback seems to be settling into five broad categories:

• Rethinking how people perceive the role of downtown.

• Neighborhood stabilization and improvement efforts.

• Creating more activities along the Hillsborough River.

• Downtown circulation issues, including sidewalks, bike lanes and one-way streets.

• Creating a city that better supports transit by linking the thinking about land use and transportation.

"The fundamental issue is that you don't yet have a city that's particularly transit-supportive, because it's just not dense enough," Sechler said. In 10 years, he said, that could be different as Tampa fosters the development of nodes that could better support transit.

Transit is one of the issues that discussion participants have brought up the most. In written comments about what Tampa should and shouldn't do in the next five years, a must-do suggestion that turns up often is "Invest in mass transit," while a leading must-not-do suggestion has been "Keep widening roads."

Noting that baseball also has come up in the discussion, City Council Chairman Charlie Miranda asked whether the InVision team knows something that everyone else doesn't about the future of the Tampa Bay Rays.

No, Sechler said, but if the plan includes any mention of a baseball stadium or any other major community venue, it should be designed as one that people can walk to and that has a mix of uses, not one isolated by major roads.

"The next major investment like that that you make has got to be urban," he said. "It's got to be up on the street."

Sechler said the study team also has discussed whether to suggest potential stadium sites. Two that have come to mind are the area generally bounded by the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway, the Tampa Bay Times Forum and the ConAgra Mills plant, and the site of the Tampa Park Apartments, next to Nuccio Parkway and south of E Seventh Avenue.

That's premature, Miranda said, like talking about "marrying somebody else's wife while she's still married."

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