TAMPA — In the first of several projects to beautify corridors leading into downtown Tampa, the city this week is moving ahead with a makeover of Ashley Drive.
If the City Council approves a design contract today, drivers can soon look for more shrubs, palms and trees along Ashley.
Think of ground plants popping with red, yellow and orange, plus flowering trees such as bottlebrushes or dwarf royal poincianas.
The Ashley Drive improvements will go from the bottom of the exit ramp off of Interstate 275 to Tyler Street.
City officials expect the installation to begin in May, with a goal of having it done by August, before the Republican National Convention.
"I'm pushing them hard to get it done by then so that the picture that the world sees is the picture we want them to see," Mayor Bob Buckhorn said Wednesday.
But he said the goal is to do the projects not just "for the RNC but for perpetuity."
Along with prettier plants on Ashley, city officials want better irrigation and lights that illuminate and accent the new landscaping at night.
They're even talking about replacing the chain-link fence along the looping Ashley/I-275 ramp with something more aesthetically pleasing.
Design costs for Ashley Drive's beautification would be $99,500, and a separate $561,000 city appropriation is expected to cover the costs of the Ashley project, plus other work to be done later, the mayor said.
Ashley and streets like it are the city's front door, Buckhorn said.
The goal of his new "Opportunity Corridors" initiative is to make the streets more inviting and pedestrian-friendly and to encourage new stores to open along the improved streets.
In coming years, the city plans to move in concentric circles starting close to downtown.
So after Ashley, streets such as Channelside Drive would be done next, with the city later moving out to roads like Nebraska Avenue.
"This is the beginning of what will be a four-year commitment," Buckhorn said.
Richard Danielson can be reached at Danielson@tampabay.com, (813) 226-3403 or @Danielson_Times on Twitter.