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Carlton: Tampa Heights is exploding! And we can learn from it.

The Hall on Franklin is a restaurant collective with some of the biggest names in the city's food scene. It is part of the commercial boom transforming Tampa Heights. [MONICA HERNDON   |   Times]
The Hall on Franklin is a restaurant collective with some of the biggest names in the city's food scene. It is part of the commercial boom transforming Tampa Heights. [MONICA HERNDON | Times]
Published May 2, 2018

Tampa Heights is exploding.

It's on fire.

It's killing it.

And a lot of other over-the-top cliches.

Inevitably, the steamrolling success of downtown Tampa — parks, bars, residences, restaurants, boat taxis, the Riverwalk — is pushing north of Interstate 275 into Tampa Heights, known as the city's first suburb. Its historic red brick streets are now officially the site of Tampa's Next Big Thing.

Already, people are spilling into the restored trolley barn full of restaurants, Armature Works, into the loud and rowdy food hall on Franklin Street, over to Ulele restaurant in the pretty park, to breweries and coffee shops. People are running, biking, and walking dogs — dog walking being the surest sign that a place is officially there.

Doesn't matter that much if it still looks like a dusty construction site — dirt piles, orange traffic barrels, ripped-up streets, road-closed signs — like the party got started before we had the chance to clean up. This is Tampa, where we've been waiting for this kind of respectful blend of history and development for a long time. We'll take it.

Now here's the trick: not letting success get away from Tampa Heights when it comes to parking, walkability, traffic and noise.

S Howard Avenue, anyone? Because there are lessons in the popularity of that South Tampa strip crowded with some of the city's busiest restaurants and bars, lessons that are reverberating in Hyde Park and other neighborhoods around it.

Turned out people who came to party also wanted to park, but so did residents who found their historic (and historically narrow) streets jammed. There's music from bars. There's traffic. These are neighborhoods used to having the ear of city leaders who have worked to make it work.

Can the city manage to manage Tampa Heights?

Already, parking can be at a premium even with Armature's vast lot. Some of the more popular venues have wisely added valet service. (Valet! Tampa Heights has arrived, or at least re-arrived from its former heyday.)

But once those new apartments called the Pearl fill with hipsters eager to take advantage of all those Heights venues, how long before people on surrounding neighborhood streets start feeling the parking and traffic pinch?

Palm Avenue, an east-west connector and alternative to oft-jammed Columbus Drive, has already been put on a "road diet" — the official term of the moment — taking it down from four lanes to two with bike lanes added. Good for people, not so much for cars.

And speaking of walkability, it's nice when you're strolling along the water on the Riverwalk. But dare go east to the Hall on Franklin or that gem of a relocated bookstore, Inkwood, and you'll find precious few crosswalks thus far. Getting to the other side of the NASCAR track into the downtown that is Tampa Street remains a dicey proposition.

Sure does seems like a good time to move forward on the idea of extending the streetcar system north from downtown, doesn't it?

So: Go, Tampa Heights. Here's to the dust clearing on the old and new in a place where we can hopefully learn from the past.

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