Tampa's City Council has an opportunity today to reshape the West Shore business district. New development guidelines would make the area a more pleasant place to work, shop and live. Down the road, West Shore could broaden its identity from a corridor of office parks to a more rounded place for business, entertainment and shopping. The guidelines lay the right foundation, and the council should approve them.
With 100,000 people working there, West Shore is the largest commercial office market in Florida. It also is home to the city's premier malls and surrounded by well established neighborhoods. The challenge for the city in growing West Shore is to marry these uses without undermining either the commercial or the residential base.
The "overlay" plan going to council does just that. It calls for development in the district's core to front the streets, forcing parking to the sides and behind the buildings. The purpose is to make West Shore easy and safe for pedestrians and bicycles, and to remove the visual clutter of cars and concrete. The plan also encourages the development of streetfront cafes and open space to attract more people into parks, plazas and other public areas.
The changes could add flair and charm to what's now largely a sterile office environment. The plan also adds protections for neighborhoods. Businesses would have to turn lights and outside speakers away from residential areas. They would have to reach out to residents before moving forward on redevelopment plans. And the push to bring sidewalks into greater use should improve safety throughout the district.
The plan gives developers more clarity, and it relieves the city and homeowners from having to respond piecemeal to every development proposal. That's why the plan is endorsed by both county planners and the area's homeowners association. And the proposal could have some immediate benefit, for it highlights the potential of using West Shore Boulevard as a base for robust, circulator bus service during the workweek.
Mayor Bob Buckhorn and a majority of the council members ran on promises to cut unnecessary bureaucracy, better integrate commercial and residential uses and make the city more pedestrian-friendly. This plan does all three. It is the product of negotiations among private business, government and neighborhood leaders. It sets the stage for a more livable West Shore once the economy recovers. And it is a model for how disparate groups can come together on a common vision for their community.