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Library, Straz worry high-rise could hurt patrons' access

Plans for the Residences at the Riverwalk at Tyler and Cass streets in Tampa call for a change to the way patrons currently access the Straz Center and the John F. Germany Public Library.
Plans for the Residences at the Riverwalk at Tyler and Cass streets in Tampa call for a change to the way patrons currently access the Straz Center and the John F. Germany Public Library.
Published May 7, 2013

TAMPA — As a proposed high-rise apartment tower heads to a key City Council vote this week, library and performing arts patrons are urging developers to preserve covered pedestrian access to their two neighboring institutions.

The proposed tower — called the Residences at the Riverwalk — would be built west of the John F. Germany Public Library and south of the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts.

Currently, walking through the area at street level is hazardous because Tyler and Cass streets are both one-way, each carrying four lanes of fast-moving traffic.

But go up one level and it's a different story.

An elevated, enclosed pedestrian bridge goes from the William F. Poe Parking Garage, over Cass and to the back door of the library and then on to the Straz.

It is heavily used. At the library alone, more than 66,000 patrons used the back entrance last year, and many, if not most, came in on the pedestrian bridge.

The developers of the 36-story tower are looking at keeping the bridge from the Poe garage to the corner of their parking garage, but that's where it would end.

That's because they plan to create a two-way road between their garage and the library, and trucks — including fire trucks — would not be able to go under the walkway, which slopes downward as it approaches the library.

So patrons coming over from the Poe garage would have to take stairs or an elevator to the first floor and walk over to the library from there.

Developers also plan to bring foot traffic to the Straz Center down to the sidewalk and past the stores and restaurants they have planned for the ground floor of their apartment tower.

The plan has alarmed some patrons.

"I am 75 and walk slowly, but am able to drive," Louise Burnett of Tampa wrote in an email to the Friends of the Library of Tampa-Hillsborough County. "I can still access the John Germany library … by using the sky walk from the Poe garage. I also use the sky walk every time I come to the Straz, which is several times a year.

"If the sky walk were to be removed, I could never get across Cass Street on foot, especially during rain, and therefore would not be able to access those two locations," Burnett added.

As proposed, the tower would be built on 1 acre the developers are buying from the city for $4 million. That's at least twice the property's appraised value, which has been put in the range of from nearly $1.45 million to about $2 million.

Using the money from the sale of the land, the city plans to reconfigure Cass and Tyler streets into a safer grid of two-way streets.

"I think the street plan is a good plan, and it will definitely bring about an improvement," Straz Center chief operating officer Lorrin Shepard said. "It comes back now to this elevated walkway, and we're hearing also from our patrons. What we currently have is an amenity that is appreciated by both library and Straz Center patrons … one would hope that we can retain or improve on this aspect for both facilities."

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During a special meeting on Monday with the Friends' board, developers Greg Minder and Phillip Smith said they wanted to listen and work with stakeholders.

"In the interest of being good neighbors, it's important for us to get your feedback," Smith said. "We're certainly willing listeners, and we want to be participants in the dialogue and address your concerns, any of them that we possibly can."

The elevated walkway is not something the council is expected to address this week during a rezoning hearing for the property, but a top city official said the project would come back to the council in the future for approval of a site plan and a roadway agreement that could address the elevated walkway.

"Those are issues the City Council will look at when they're approving the site plan of the building," said Bob McDonaugh, the city's administrator of economic opportunity.


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