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Wheeler Street project, key to Plant City's Midtown, poised for summer start

PLANT CITY — The Midtown project is moving ahead after all.

For years, the much-touted project to revitalize 85 acres in the downtown with a mix of shops, offices and homes has remained mostly an idea. But now, officials say, Midtown is poised to take a step forward.

Bids from contractors to reconfigure Wheeler Street between Renfro and Alabama streets are set to be opened today. The applications are due at City Hall at 2 p.m.

So far, officials aren't sure how many contractors will vie for the $2.1 million project, the first of two phases along Wheeler. But at a prebid construction conference in late February, 16 companies expressed interest, purchasing manager Kevin Orth said.

"We've been prepping for this project, and for the entire redevelopment plan, for three or four years, so it's nice to have construction getting under way," City Manager Greg Horwedel said.

After the bids are unsealed, the city staff will review the applications to make a recommendation to the City Commission next month on whether one of the contractors stands out.

If commissioners select a contractor at that meeting — likely on April 22 — work to realign Wheeler could begin in June or July.

The work is more than a road project. It signifies symbolic progress after numerous obstacles, from contaminated soil to drainage issues to the sluggish real estate market, have plagued the project.

Also, officials hope that as work progresses, developers and business owners will be spurred to invest in Midtown to carry out the bulk of the construction.

The city owns only 13 of the 85 acres targeted for redevelopment. The rest remains privately held, much of it parking lots, empty businesses and undeveloped land north of Ball Street to Renfro.

"When you start a project like this and everybody sees something new becoming a reality, it makes people step forward," Mayor Michael Sparkman said.

When fully realized years from now, Midtown, a term coined by then-Mayor Rick Lott to describe the redevelopment area, will include a village green surrounded by three- and four-story buildings.

The district would contain apartments and condominiums, stores, restaurants and possibly an entertainment venue. A gazebo in the green would host outdoor concerts and other events.

Wheeler is a key component of the project. The street curves sharply, cutting diagonally from Renfro to Evers Street. Officials want to realign Wheeler to eliminate the curve and carry it southward to Ball, about three blocks.

Realigning the street would provide an additional block for homes and businesses and create a grid pattern consistent with urban development, Horwedel said.

The work would be carried out in two phases. The first would take Wheeler south for two blocks from Renfro to Alabama Street. That phase, budgeted at $2.1 million, is the one contractors are vying for now.

The second phase, southward for one block to Ball, would run about $1.1 million. Horwedel said it's hoped the second phase immediately follows the first.

In addition to realigning Wheeler, the project will create a small park at Evers and Refro streets.

Warren Street, which now ends at Evers, will be continued west to Wheeler. New sidewalks, street lighting and landscaping, including Chinese elms, would be added as well, city engineer Brett Gocka said.

The work is expected to last about six months.

Rich Shopes can be reached at rshopes@tampabay.com or (813) 661-2454.

Wheeler Street project, key to Plant City's Midtown, poised for summer start 03/28/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 27, 2013 5:02pm]
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