TAMPA — Mayor Bob Buckhorn launched a yearlong effort Monday to write a master plan for downtown with the help of residents, neighborhoods and business owners.
"This is a plan that's driven from the grass roots up," Buckhorn said. "We're going to go out and talk to people about what they want their future to look like."
Starting Wednesday night, the city will hold a series of public meetings to give residents and others a chance to talk about downtown — what stores they want, where they work, how they get around, what they want to do for fun.
The city also plans to engage residents through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and any other of social media it can think of.
While Tampa has done big projects like Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park and the Tampa Museum of Art in recent years, Buckhorn said the city still needs an all-encompassing plan to tie everything into a vision for the future.
What he wants is "a blueprint for the development of this community for the next 25 years" — something that will embody design guidelines, amenities and connections between downtown and areas like Ybor City, the Channel District, Tampa Heights and North Hyde Park.
To help with the $1.43 million project — known as InVision Tampa — the city has hired AECOM, a Fortune 500 consulting firm that has worked on similar projects from London to Hong Kong to San Francisco.
Most of the money for InVision Tampa comes from a $1.18 million U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grant.
The money had been earmarked to do a corridor study along Nebraska Avenue in anticipation of high-speed rail coming to Tampa. But after Gov. Rick Scott killed high-speed rail, the city received HUD's permission to study an area up to 2 miles from downtown.
The InVision Tampa study area now stretches from downtown to Ybor City on the east, Armenia Avenue on the west, and north along Nebraska Avenue to Hillsborough Avenue.
The work also will cover land use, transportation and other factors that could play a role in whether a Major League Baseball stadium could ever be built downtown, an idea Buckhorn likes.
But the mayor said a stadium won't be the main focus of the study, which "will not specifically identify a site."
Buckhorn described the InVision Tampa work as one part of a three-part strategy, with the other two parts coming from the nonprofit Urban Land Institute, based in Washington, D.C.
The institute sent panels of experts to Tampa in October and February to look at development opportunities in downtown generally and along the Hillsborough River in particular.
Ultimately, all three studies will be layered together to give the city its most comprehensive downtown plan ever, Buckhorn said.
The second part of InVision Tampa will look at transit, including light rail and bus rapid transit, but not financing. Buckhorn does say he supports a move to allow big cities like Tampa to hold their own referendums on building mass transit.
In 2010, Hillsborough County voters rejected a proposed sales tax increase to pay for transit, although a majority of voters in the city of Tampa supported it.
If cities could hold their own referendums, then Buckhorn said he thinks Tampa and St. Petersburg both might take steps to begin to connect major destinations — their downtowns, Tampa International Airport, the University of South Florida — with mass transit. And while a city referendum might not fund a system fully, he believes President Barack Obama's administration is interested in increasing federal funding for such projects.
Looking at mass transit is necessary, Buckhorn said, because smart young professionals who move to Tampa likely will work at the University of South Florida or the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute, but they'll want to live downtown.
"We need to find a way to make that happen," he said. "So figuring out how those rail corridors connect to our downtown and our urban core is equally as important."