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Youthful architects helping Oldsmar design its redevelopment district

Oldsmar City Manager Bruce Haddock, left, and City Council member Eric Seidel, center, look over an image of the city’s redevelopment district with graduate students from the University of South Florida. 
Oldsmar City Manager Bruce Haddock, left, and City Council member Eric Seidel, center, look over an image of the city’s redevelopment district with graduate students from the University of South Florida. 
Published Mar. 3, 2016

OLDSMAR — You could call this city, celebrating its 100th birthday this year, a late bloomer. Oldsmar indeed has thriving neighborhoods, a rising economic base and frills like an Olympic-style BMX track and a soon-to-open zip line park.

However, take a stroll through downtown with its vacant properties and you quickly realize that Pinellas County's northernmost city has yet to fully blossom.

In the past three years, city officials have made two attempts to launch Market Square, a planned mixed-use development covering almost seven acres along State Street in the community redevelopment district.

Now they are back at the drawing board, and joining them are about a dozen millennials, graduate students who are part of the University of South Florida's School of Architecture and Community Design. It is a partnership whose aim is to bring a fresh focus to Oldsmar's entire redevelopment district.

"Everyone sees Oldsmar differently. There are so many things going on that make up the whole city," said Marie Dauphinaise, Oldsmar's planning and redevelopment director. "We want to include all the different components. We talked about how we wanted to not just look at Market Square, but look at the whole area.''

The partnership, which is costing the city about $50,000, brought the students to Oldsmar in early February. After touring the area with Dauphinaise, the students held a workshop with Oldsmar "stakeholders,'' city officials, residents and business owners who provided insight on Oldsmar's strengths and weaknesses.

Arianna Delgado, one of the graduate students, grew up in Brandon. Before her involvement with the project, she thought of Oldsmar "as a place that we drove by but never stopped in,'' said Delgado, 23. "When the bridges (from Tampa) were built, it made it so people easily passed by Oldsmar.''

However, after learning the history of the city and studying its streets, parks and waterfront, she said Oldsmar has great potential. "I think one important factor is creating walkability," she said. "If it's made pedestrian-friendly, people would stay.''

Delgado thinks that nearby communities can be used as good examples. "Look at St. Pete. All kids my age go there,'' she said. "Look at the walkability there, with the open, public spaces whose use changes throughout the day.''

During the workshop, the participants, including Mayor Doug Bevis, were assigned teams who moved through exercises. They were asked by the student leaders to identify Oldsmar's strengths, weaknesses and even give the development district a formal name.

"We've named it 'The Edge,' " Bevis said. "It's on the edge (of Pinellas County), and we think Oldsmar is cutting edge and outside the box. It's edgy.''

Bevis also stressed that he still wants to see a downtown mixed-use project similar to Market Square, with a major business component included. "We want 500 or 600 people working here,'' he said. "But, it can't be just office space. It has to be a mix. It needs to constantly be used throughout the day.''

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Although a date has not been set, the students are planning on returning to Oldsmar within the next few weeks. They will hold an open house to share their findings, and their sketches, with the community.

Contact Piper Castillo at pcastillo@tampabay.com. Follow @Florida_PBJC.

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