For years, area residents and urban planners have complained that downtown Tampa is isolated from the neighborhoods around it. But a new effort under way could change all that. Mayor Bob Buckhorn announced last week that the city would hire a Los Angeles firm to develop a master plan for the urban core. The move could bring new vibrancy to the city center for generations.
Writing a master plan for downtown — which the city does not have — was one of Buckhorn's earliest and most substantive promises heading into the March elections, and he is right to pursue it so early in his term. For decades, downtown evolved on its own. Bus service into the downtown was scattershot; there was no easy or safe pedestrian gateway from the neighborhoods; and parking was expensive and a hassle. The city has opened up many one-way streets to two-way traffic as a way to make downtown more retail-friendly. But downtown still suffers from the reputation of being little beyond a business center.
Buckhorn's predecessors, Pam Iorio and Dick Greco, began to change the feel by attracting new hotels and condos downtown and building new museums and waterfront parks. Downtown now has more character, and a nightlife and social scene that is active seven days a week. A master plan will build on the transformation already taking place and create a vision for connecting downtown with the adjoining neighborhoods of Ybor City, the Channel District, Tampa Heights and Hyde Park. The plan will establish design guidelines that will maintain the character of these residential areas while also laying out new development opportunities.
The plan will take nearly two years to write — in part because of the broad public input that city officials and the consultants will need on an ongoing basis. And with the economy still sagging, there is no broad redevelopment plan in sight. But the master plan will act as a guide. For the first time, city officials and the private sector will have a shared sense of what strategic direction Tampa needs to pursue to redevelop the urban core. The new museums, parks, entertainment venues and other amenities are here — and in fine shape for the foreseeable future. The challenge now is to connect these neighborhoods by using downtown as a focal point.