TAMPA — City officials and others hope reconstruction of 22nd Street can turn back the clock.
Many storefronts on the mile-long strip from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to 21st Avenue are shuttered or have long since been bulldozed. But in its heyday 30 years ago, 22nd Street was a nexus for black-owned businesses.
Dianne Hart, 55, chief executive officer of the East Tampa Business and Civic Association, remembers mom-and-pop restaurants, corner grocers and retailers like Sol's ice cream parlor, the Paradise bar and Hill's diner, where Hart waited tables as a teenager.
"As time progressed, people moved," she said. "Children weren't interested in maintaining the businesses, and when the city tore down the (College Hill and Ponce de Leon public housing) projects, the area emptied out.
"Business was devastated because there was nobody there. The area went from 1,300 families to no families."
Hart sees signs of progress now. In addition to the new mixed-income Belmont Heights Estates community that replaced College Hill and Ponce de Leon, there's the reconstruction of 22nd Street itself.
After more than five years of planning, work to rebuild and beautify the street is underway. City officials are hoping the project spurs an economic rebirth.
In addition to reconstructing the two-lane road, officials will add sidewalks, a multipurpose lane, landscaping, pedestrian lighting and decorative crossings.
"This will hopefully spur revitalization of that entire neighborhood," said Essie Sims Jr., chairman of the Citizens Advisory Board to the East Tampa Community Redevelopment Area, which provided most of the project's $7 million funding.
The project is expected to wrap up next summer. For motorists, that translates into another 16 to 18 months of lane closures.
"It's getting there. It's still got a ways to go, but yeah, it's looking better," said Bob McDonaugh, the city's administrator for economic opportunity.
Among the hopeful, the Rev. Antonio Hawkins of the Exciting Faith Alive church in Grant Park says the project is already spurring optimism.
"It's improving the morale of the inner city down there," said Hawkins, whose mother grew up in the College Hill complex. "Ten years ago, there was a lot of crime and violence. Now there's more pride of ownership. I've definitely seen the changes."
The road, a gateway into East Tampa, has been a priority since community leaders with the East Tampa CRA started evaluating possible redevelopment sites in 2004, Hart said.
A CRA is a special taxing district in which a portion of property taxes raised in the district must be set aside for redevelopment there. The work on 22nd Street started about 18 months ago.
So far, workers have rebuilt a four-block stretch from Lake Avenue to MLK. Now, they are reconstructing the portion between 23rd and 26th avenues. The southbound lane is ripped up and new curbs are going in. Southbound traffic is detoured just north of 26th.
After that, the focus will shift to the three-block stretch from Lake to 26th avenues and then from 21st to 23rd avenues. A roundabout just north of 21st Avenue, the project's final piece, is planned for next year.
Last month, the Tampa City Council approved the $65,000 purchase of a house to make room for the roundabout.
The project isn't without growing pains. Not every business is happy with plans to add the multipurpose lane on the street's east side.
Hassan Salah, the owner of King's grocery store, says parking in front of his store would be reconfigured because the Department of Transportation won't allow cars to back out onto the street. Instead, motorists will be required to parallel park, reducing the number of spaces.
"Without parking, this will hurt business. I might have to shut down and move," said Salah, who opened the store seven years ago.
Community leaders are seeking a potential parking lot nearby to accommodate Salah.
"It can be a very difficult task to please everybody," said Hart. "Sometimes in the process of progress you can have some problems, some hiccups, but at the end the day, this will be resolved so everybody will be happy."