DOWNTOWN — First the skyscrapers, then a giant waterfront park, new museums and lots of new restaurants. The renovation of downtown has been a slow but dramatic process since 2005 but one thing has been lacking:
Something eye-catching to tie it all together.
The city recently unveiled its first shot at that goal with the Zack Street Promenade of the Arts project, which will overhaul three downtown blocks that lead to Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park with public art, sculptures, signs, trees and shaded benches.
"Zack Street is the critical link between Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park on the river and the classic federal courthouse soon to become a boutique hotel," Mayor Bob Buckhorn said in a statement. "The increased pedestrian activity alone will stimulate economic growth and transform Zack Street."
The $1.2 million project began last week and is scheduled to be completed by Aug. 4 — in time to show off during the Republican National Convention the week of Aug. 27. It will include sidewalk art, a backlit vertical glass sculpture adorned by vines, pavers featuring medallions with snippets of Tampa history, artistic benches, ornate street lighting, wider portions of sidewalk and many new trees and plants.
"No matter where you're walking on Zack Street, you're always going to find something new and different that will always engage you," said Phil Graham, principal and landscape architect of Graham-Booth Landscape Architecture overseeing the project.
A yet-to-be disclosed local artist's work will be turned into a giant tile mosaic on a concrete column. Bioswale technology and design will allow rainwater to be collected, sifted and put back into the surrounding landscaping. Although the project's completion is months away, downtown workers and residents can expect to see art projects popping up on the street in May, Graham said.
The project stretches along Zack, from Franklin Street to Curtis Hixon Park at Ashley Drive. In future years, the city would like to extend the remodeling to all 10 blocks of Zack between Ashley and Nebraska Avenue.
Since at least 2005, the Zack Street project has been in city discussions, first dubbed an "Avenue of the Arts." The city chose Zack as its first downtown sidewalk remodeling project for several reasons. It's close to the Tampa Museum of Art, as well as the Tampa Firefighters and Glazer Children's museums. The Tampa Theatre, Union Station and the old federal courthouse are also nearby. And the street runs like an arrow straight to the entrance of Curtis Hixon Park.
"There was an obvious tie to Curtis Hixon Park," Graham said, "and the proximity of Zack Street to other cultural destinations."
The project incorporated input from businesses and property owners along Zack — some who have agreed to install art on their private properties to accentuate the street's redesign. Business owners said they expect the project to bring even more people downtown to retail stores, restaurants and Curtis Hixon.
"I think it'll be fantastic for the flow of people to have a scenic walk all the way to the park," said Mike Przybycin, general manager of Pizza Fusion, inside the SkyPoint highrise along Zack. "We love being across the street from the park, and obviously we love foot traffic."
Justin George can be reached at (813) 226-3368 or firstname.lastname@example.org.