The city of Tampa is finally bringing some much-needed attention to Terrace Park and University Square, two aging and struggling neighborhoods 12 miles north of downtown. Last week, the Tampa City Council recognized a new master plan for the community — the start of what will be a yearslong process to clean up the neighborhoods, improve housing and attract new businesses. This effort is overdue, and it could fundamentally change the look and economics of an area that is central to nurturing a medical arts hub near the University of South Florida.
Local officials and residents worked on the community plan for more than a year, addressing everything from housing, traffic and crime to the need for more public infrastructure, parks and mass transit. Situated east of I-275 between Busch Boulevard and Fowler Avenue, the Terrace Park-University Square area came of age with the opening of USF a half-century ago. Today, it includes a mix of industrial uses along with housing for students and moderate-income workers. The 4-square-mile area also includes Busch Gardens and the Museum of Science and Industry. The university and a sprawling array of health care providers sit to the north.
The transitory nature of the population and a demographic base that is younger and more racially diverse than Tampa as a whole present both challenges and opportunities. Improved mass transit service would make it easier for residents to seek work both within and outside the area and clear the way to landscape the streets to make the district more attractive to new investment. The plan calls for new public works, housing rehabilitation grants, a crackdown on slum landlords, more streetlights and a range of crime prevention programs.
The city should start small by beefing up code enforcement and working with landlords and low-income homeowners to improve their properties. Neighborhood leaders should expand cleanup and Crime Watch programs; the first step toward attracting new business is to create a safer living environment. Officials should look at grant programs to fund small, locally owned businesses, and work to put vacant property back to work or to public use. Even pocket parks can foster a sense of community.
The city should follow through with new capital spending, and it will need to spend more on the operations side to beautify the commercial core and the neighborhoods. But with USF increasing its national profile, and with the medical arts a new regional economic focus, the city has an opportunity to turn around the university area and revive its economic base. The community plan is a start, and a smart way to energize residents and the private sector.