Tampa's West Shore area has the largest concentration of office space in Florida — and the cold and congested environment to prove it. Nobody thinks of the area as a place to walk, bicycle or sit at a sidewalk cafe. But that could change in the years ahead under a master plan being put forward by the area's business leaders. Tampa and Hillsborough County should take reasonable steps to turn the idea into reality.
The plan, a year in the making, looks to transform the look and feel of a business district where 100,000 people work. It seeks to better marry the office environment and the hotels and restaurants that cater to it with the long-established neighborhoods in the West Shore area. Along the office corridors, the measure calls for widening and landscaping the sidewalks, reducing the speed limits and adding benches, shade screens, bike racks and other amenities to make the main roads more pedestrian-friendly. New mass transit also could help accommodate growth while sparing the neighborhoods from further traffic congestion.
Getting people out of their cars and changing the character of West Shore won't be easy or cheap. The road improvements alone would cost more than $10 million. Hillsborough's mass transit agency, HART, would have to seriously expand local bus service, at least during the work week. The state wants to build a multimodal center in the area, which would make West Shore a launching point for connections to downtown, Tampa International Airport and Pinellas County. These are the most practical transit options for an area where the workforce will grow to 160,000 people. The business group that put the plan together, the Westshore Alliance, deserves credit for stepping up to address an issue that affects both job-development opportunities and the area's quality of life.
The alliance will present its plan today to Hillsborough County commissioners and on Thursday to the Tampa City Council. Both boards need to hold a more thorough public dialogue before committing to any long-term tax support for the improvements. But the master plan recognizes the value that attractive public space will bring to West Shore, especially as it adds hundreds of new multifamily residential units. And the alliance brought neighborhood leaders into the planning process, which helped balance a vision for West Shore as a place to both work and live. The plan's regional impact could also revive talks in Hillsborough over a new transit referendum. Elected officials need to take it from here.