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Hillsborough questions to Wimauma: What do we pay for, how do we pay for it?

Figuring out affordable infrastructure is the next step in developing a downtown.
Businesses and homes are pictured on State Road 674 in Wimauma in August 2020. Hillsborough County, consultants and community members are now studying how to help the downtown area prosper.
Businesses and homes are pictured on State Road 674 in Wimauma in August 2020. Hillsborough County, consultants and community members are now studying how to help the downtown area prosper. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published May 26

WIMAUMA — The most recognizable brand along the State Road 674 business corridor in Wimauma may be Dollar General.

A county-adopted overlay district for this rural, but fast-developing hamlet in southern Hillsborough County envisions more dollars being spent in a downtown of new commercial outlets, housing and pedestrian and bicycle corridors. They would join the current mix of bodegas, produce stands and other small retailers serving a community of low-wage earners as well as recent transplants to newly built suburban housing enclaves.

After two years of studies, resident meetings and public debates, the Hillsborough County commission approved a pandemic-delayed rewrite of Wimauma’s community plan in October. Tuesday night, 93 people sat in the Wimauma Elementary School cafeteria to get an education on how to start turning words on pages into working toward prosperity.

Related: Wimauma has a revitalization plan and it's already paying off in business

Assigning dollar signs to the to-do list is the initial chore.

“What do we spend money on and how do we pay for it?” asked Teryn Sabia of the Florida Center for Community Design and Research at the University of South Florida, who helped craft the community plan.

One of the easels around the cafeteria highlighted some of government’s recent investments: $3.2 million for a new adult day care and health center; $660,000 for a basketball court at Bethune Park and sewer service changes totaling $16.5 million. The school district plans an addition to the elementary school as well as a new high school on West Lake Drive. Costs for both total nearly $95 million.

The county also plans a new temporary library at the senior center to open in 2023 until a larger, permanent facility can be built in five to seven years, said Commissioner Pat Kemp.

Related: Wimauma at epicenter of Hillsborough land disputes

Still, other infrastructure projects have cost estimates but no funding. That includes $7.5 million to resurface 10 roads, $9.25 million for a pedestrian and bicycle corridor and $4.7 million to replace two bridges.

Joe Minicozzi, president of the Asheville, North Carolina-based consulting firm Urban3, detailed the costs of sprawl and urged the attendees to remember that their planning choices carry financial consequences. His firm collected the residents’ suggestions to prepare a cost analysis to be presented sometime in the fall.

Richard Session, 67, and his wife, Vanetta, 66, just retired to Wimauma from Baltimore in December. He listed traffic and taxes as top concerns.

“They’re building, building, building everywhere,” he said. “But you don’t see anybody working on the roads.”

Others suggested golf cart paths to reduce traffic, local recreation for youths, traffic signals to slow motorists and a better design of the access to Walmart at U.S. 301 so Wimauma residents don’t have to make a U-turn on State Road 674 to head home.

Dan Gold, 50, moved with his family to Wimauma in 2020 to escape the lengthy commute he faced every day in Kyle, Texas. It’s now a 15-minute drive to his job in Riverview.

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“The community — it really needs improvement. I didn’t realize the infrastructure problems. Industry can’t expand without it,” Gold said.

The presentations emphasized what lies ahead, he said.

“It lays the groundwork: This is going to cost money.”

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