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CITY HALL FEELS ARTS CENTER'S GROWING PAINS

The mayor allows the Performing Arts Center explore using riverfront land for breathing room.

Since opening more than 20 years ago, the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center has evolved into one of the world's most successful venues of its kind, with industry publications ranking it among the top three based on ticket sales.

With that success, though, has come problems with parking, traffic jams and requests to host special events that the center can't accommodate.

To improve the situation, the mayor has agreed to allow a study of ways 3.6 acres of property along the Hillsborough River could be used to alleviate congestion.

The targeted area is bounded by the Performing Arts Center, the river, Cass Street and the downtown library.

"We've grown so fast, we've outgrown everything," said executive director Judy Lisi.

Lisi and Mayor Pam Iorio this month signed a two-year agreement that will allow the Performing Arts Center to include that area in a study of redevelopment plans.

"This really just gives them the ability to spend their money at the Performing Arts Center to do some studies and analysis," said Mark Huey, Tampa's economic development manager. "They have always been one of our anchor culture amenities. Helping them to improve and enhance their product and offering to the community is a good thing for downtown, a good thing for the city."

Plans could include realigning Cass and Tyler streets to improve traffic flow before and after events.

The Performing Arts Center would pay for the improvements, although the city could pick up the tab on street realignment through property taxes collected downtown.

With the new Tampa Museum of Art, Children's Museum, and redesign of Curtis Hixon Park coming on line, Lisi said she's concerned that traffic around the center will get worse, particularly on weekends when the museums will see the most visitors and the center schedules matinees.

Lisi said the center also needs to expand its catering facilities to accommodate several hundred.

"We use the lobbies and the riverfront when we can," she said. "But it's not keeping up with demand."

Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3401.

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