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Downtown Tampa hip, just not like you thought, study shows

Published Mar. 14, 2015

TAMPA — Downtown Tampa might not be the youthful, trendy city it wants to be, but it is diverse.

It's old and young. Half settled, half single. It's high-income boomers mixed with millenials who own more dogs, which means more walkability, future bikeability and a safer city environment.

And it's growing.

These are all revelations Pat Hill of marketing firm HCP Associates made in a downtown development forum Friday morning. Backed by statistics from the area's latest demographic study, Hill busted longtime Tampa myths and mentioned new possibilities.

Transportation problems? Taxi use is down, but services like Uber and Lyft are up. Parking during a Lightning game can be tricky, sure, but more than 80 percent of people who live downtown think parking is accessible, statistics surprisingly show.

Hill said more than half of downtown residents regularly bike or use the streetcar — and would use it more if it offered more stops — while most all walk or drive on longer commutes.

Hill also addressed the tired notion that Tampa isn't down with dogs: Almost a quarter of downtown residents now own them, he said. And the area has four dog parks.

"We don't have that in Carrollwood," Hill said of the suburban enclave north of the city.

Then there's the lack of affordable apartments — another myth, he said. About 77 percent of residents think area housing is reasonable — an increase of about 15 percentage points since 2008. And developer David Traynor of Smith and Associates said more apartment buildings are coming with more affordable options. "They just haven't been announced yet," he said.

That, combined with waterfront views and one of the country's most popular entertainment venues — Amalie Arena — make it an area that's quickly attracting more residents and workers, Hill said.

"The people who moved out here are telling other people, 'You gotta come down, you gotta move,' " he said. "That wouldn't have happened in 1980. It's just nonstop."

The sidewalks don't roll up at 5 o'clock here anymore, Hill said. He pointed to park events, the Riverwalk and downtown's more than 130 food establishments as signs of not just growth but also retention.

But as residents stay, they have more to say. Though the study presented a snapshot of opportunity, it also highlighted areas needing improvement — including addressing homelessness.

"It's not a threat to security, it's simply an enhancement of life," Hill said of the issue.

Overall, he said, in at least two years, "we will see a change" downtown.

"We will need more units, we will need more buildings, we will need more groceries and nightlife and activities," he said. "But the bottom line is this is a very exciting time for Tampa."

The lack of grocery stores has long been a sore point. Developers have pointed to a new condo tower north of Channelside that may house a future market, which Andy May, with Cushman & Wakefield commercial real estate, mentioned again at Friday's forum. But that's still speculative.

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The 36,000-square-foot retail space beneath the planned Martin at Meridian, off Twiggs and Meridian, is a bit small for a Publix, which averages closer to 45,000 square feet per store. But a Publix GreenWise — a smaller, standalone organic version — hasn't been ruled out.

A spokesman with Mercury Advisors LLC, which owns the yet-to-be condo, did not want to comment.

Hill said downtown's diverse demographics are a positive.

"It substantially improves what downtown has to offer," he said, like $100 meals for two nestled next to sports pubs and sandwich spots.

"The opportunity (for development) is there," Hill said. "It's just a matter of taking the movement to make it happen now."

Contact Rachel Crosby at rcrosby@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3400. Follow @rachelacrosby.

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