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Temple Terrace's redevelopment director offers confident vision for 'City Center'

Martin Hudson, 44, looks to avoid the pitfalls that have plagued the city’s downtown project.
Martin Hudson, 44, looks to avoid the pitfalls that have plagued the city’s downtown project.
Published May 14, 2015

TEMPLE TERRACE — As a boy growing up in Columbus, Ind., Martin Hudson passed the time in church drawing cities on the back of the programs.

So, planning Temple Terrace's downtown — which to date has given a headache for the City Council — is fun for him.

"Not only is it fun; we can do this,'' he said, exuding the confidence of someone who has done it before.

Hudson, 44, on the job four months as the city's redevelopment director, has laid out a plan of action designed to avoid the pitfalls that mired the City Council and the departed developer, Vlass Temple Terrace, in two years of strife and stalemate.

Hudson has even abandoned the old name for the residential-office-retail-cultural enclave, which covers 22 acres on the east side of 56th Street from Bullard Parkway to the Hillsborough River. "City Center'' is the working name for what once was called Downtown Temple Terrace.

The big change over last time is that the developers aren't going to be given the land in exchange for fulfilling a specific vision the city has laid out. Instead, the city will seek developers' proposals based on the main idea of the community. If the city likes a plan and the developer has a record of reliability and is ready to build, the city will sell one or more parcels, or even all the land, to that buyer.

The City Council has approved a step-by-step plan of action with the goal of having a developer — or developers — chosen by early next year.

In April, Hudson sent out the first feeler: a nonbinding request for ideas on what developers would do if they owned part or all of the property. Although no plans have yet come in, he said he has received a lot of inquiries from developers.

By the end of the year, council members will have chosen and checked out which builders they're interested in, and Hudson will seek specific proposals.

Hudson recently guided council members on a tour of the appealing urban centers of St. Petersburg, Dunedin and Westchase.

"It's that ground floor space that makes it all work,'' Hudson said. "It's not how tall everything is or how short everything is, it's the ground floor space.''

Everything should be designed to appeal to the pedestrian, "the one with the wallet,'' Hudson said, mentioning as an example the tree canopy and awnings of downtown St. Petersburg, which make it walkable on hot days.

It all doesn't have to conform to the same architectural style, he said, because varied architecture creates interest. Under the plan with Vlass, the city had stipulated that all buildings be in the Mediterranean revival style.

"My goal and objective is to outline an educational program that will help the citizens understand the value of these core principles,'' Hudson said.

Eventually, Hudson wants to incorporate the principles in a new building code. The code would also include such mundane matters as ceiling height requirements, a detail that bogged the city down with Vlass. That way, the developer would have to follow the code; the contracts would focus on assuring that the developer builds what is promised.

"What I've learned is, it's wise to be flexible, focus on what matters most to the community and not get lost in the minutiae.''

Hudson said it is "absolutely possible'' to build apartments with glass-fronted retail space on the bottom floor, a key sticking point in the disputes between the city and Vlass. Vlass wanted to fit out the first floor for eventual retail but greatly limit glass storefronts, fearing that storefronts remaining empty for extended periods would turn off residents.

Hudson described an apartment building in another city that had the first floor already fitted out for the future date when retail shops may want to lease.

"What looked like storefronts were actually the services for the apartment complex. One storefront was the gym. The next storefront was the office. The next storefront was the community room,'' he said.

He added that they gave the promenade the look of a Main Street,.

Prior to taking the job in Temple Terrace, Hudson was a planner with the city of Castle Rock, Colo. Before that he worked in Hamilton, Ohio and Martin County.

Though Vlass was the third developer to take on the project, the track record does not appear to have scared people off.

"We had inquiries before we finished our litigation (with Vlass),'' said City Manager Gerald Seeber said. "People calling or stopping by to ask questions, both consultants and developers.''

Seeber noted that assembling the land is half the battle; the city has done that and put in infrastructure.

"We are much further along than lot of other places at this point.''

Contact Philip Morgan at pmorgan@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3435.

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