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USF to help lure shoppers to downtown Zephyrhills

Debi Spanger is ready for more traffic along a Fifth Avenue that often resembles a ghost town.

The co-owner of Spanger Design said she hopes that Thursday's meeting with officials from the University of South Florida is a step in the right direction.

Researchers from USF, merchants and city officials met to discuss what they wanted to accomplish with $40,000 earmarked for a market study and land-use analysis downtown.

"I think things are looking really bright for Fifth Avenue," Spanger said. "(The study) could be a real positive thing for all of us, as long as we're working together."

Merchants told officials they want a downtown that will lure more shoppers.

The university in April okayed a $20,000 in-house grant for the project. The city agreed to kick in an additional $20,000, with help from the Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce, Zephyrhills Spring Water Co. and the Main Street organization.

USF's Center for Economic Development Research and the Florida Center for Community Design and Research will team up to conduct the study.

The project, which is already under way, is expected to wrap up in March, according to a time line handed out Thursday by USF officials.

Ken Weiand, the director of the Center for Economic Development Research, said Zephyrhills is facing a problem typical of many growing communities.

"It's a good project, and it's timely for them," Weiand said. "They are in the process of change. The question is how they adapt to that change."

City Manager Steve Spina said he sees much promise in the project. He has watched other municipalities such as Dade City and San Antonio successfully market their downtowns, and he is eager to see the same result in Zephyrhills.

"We can't seem to market the downtown," Spina said. "I think (this study) is necessary. We have to do something."