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Construction, parking shortage, hurting East Cass businesses

E Cass Street is undergoing a transformation between N. Franklin and N. Tampa.  Local business are upset because on street parking has been taken up for construction and a new bike lane.
E Cass Street is undergoing a transformation between N. Franklin and N. Tampa. Local business are upset because on street parking has been taken up for construction and a new bike lane.
Published May 15, 2016

TAMPA — Downtown modernization is coming to E Cass Street. For some businesses there, that is not good news.

Some customers have stopped coming to businesses between N Tamp a and N Franklin streets.

For those businesses, some of which have been there for nearly a half-century, the combined road construction, redevelopment and loss of parking spaces is spelling financial disaster.

One massive project, the $90-million, 23-story Nine15 residential tower on the corner of N Franklin and E Cass, will expand the area's potential customer base by 362 rental one- and two-bedroom apartments, offer 8,000 square feet of ground floor retail space, and provide a 460-space parking garage — by 2017.

But for now, the biggest problem for existing businesses is the lack of parking, according to Dan Mouniemne, owner of John Rolfe Lounge, which describes itself as "Downtown Tampa's premiere cigar bar and lounge."

"I am down 91 percent from this time last year," says Mouniemne. "My overhead is $11,900 a month and now I'm only taking in about $160 a day."

He says he doesn't know how much longer he can keep his 3-year-old business open.

Kevin Craft, who opened City Bike Tampa on E Cass almost seven years ago, reports losses in the "six figures" just since last August.

He is considering filing a financial claim against the city, and, like some other business owners, doesn't understand why the city did not warn them of the planned elimination of parking spaces.

"We used to have over 100 parking spaces on both sides either on E Cass or around the block on Franklin and Tyler. Now most are gone," says Mouniemne .

As part of the city's Invision plan to convert the downtown core to a more accessible pedestrian and bicycle-friendly city, parking on the south side of E Cass was replaced with a wide bicycle lane and one-way traffic was converted to two-way.

Now there are about eight long-term metered parking spaces on the north side of E Cass, but they must be shared by all the businesses. Other parking spaces on side streets are largely restricted to 15 minutes, an inadequate time, the business owners say, for most of their customers.

"Our customers are having trouble getting to us. A lot are very sick and can't walk very far," says Paramount Hair manager Drew Kim. "They call in and say they can't find parking."

The store, which began selling wigs on E Cass Street in 1970, has seen a 30 percent drop in business.

Many of Kim's customers used to park on N Franklin, but those spaces are now short term and often filled with Nine15 construction worker vehicles.

Mike Chucran, the city's director of Contract Administration, said once roadway construction is completed in August the number of parking spaces in the E Cass area will be almost identical to those available before construction began last summer.

As for notification to the businesses, Chucran said aside from the contractors keeping businesses updated during actual road construction, there was no need for specific notification before the project was approved since the number of parking spaces was not ultimately unchanged

Mouniemne spoke before the Tampa City Council earlier this month and plans to go back May 19 to hear a staff report on the parking issue — and, he hopes, find a solution to his failing business.

"We are trying to reimagine our downtown core. The growing national trend of people walking and commuting by bicycle means we won't need as many parking spaces," explains City Council member Lisa Monteleone, who wants to know why Mouniemne and other businesses along E Cass were not informed about the roadway redesign's impact on parking.

"It will be difficult for a few years since we are still in an auto-dependent culture. Hopefully business will get better when the growing pains are over with," she says.

Dennis Kurapka, part owner of Caffeine, a coffee shop that just opened on E Cass two weeks ago, is hoping that the changes will help his new business.

Contact Sheila Mullane Estrada at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

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