TAMPA — Turns out, dog lovers and outdoor cafe diners can get along. At least for now.
For two years, city planners and residents have collaborated on a redesign of Herman Massey Park, a half-acre of troubled parkland bordering North Franklin and East Tyler streets. The plans were nearly complete and featured two dog parks, a high priority for many residents on the northern end of downtown.
But those plans hadn’t included Malka Isaak, 83, who owns the three-story building, at 214 E. Tyler St, bordering the park. Isaak has owned the former site of Cutro’s Music store for more than twenty years, waiting for the neighborhood to improve.
With high-rise apartment towers and condos shooting up all around it (and more planned), Isaak decided to partner with Rick Calderoni, who owns The Retreat, Hula Bay and The Green Iguana, to open an affordable cafe on her property, which dates to 1901.
That’s when the trouble began. City planners were hesitant to tear up their nearly complete plans to incorporate her desire to relocate two planned dog parks away from her building to the northern edge of the park. She wants to use the space next to the building for dozens of outdoor seating spots.
To do that, she’ll have to negotiate a lease with the city to use part of the park for her customers.
The disagreement reached City Council, which sitting as the Community Redevelopment Agency, asked both sides to work something out.
On Tuesday evening, they did. The Downtown Redevelopment Area’s citizen advisory board voted to support Isaak’s plan, which she said could bring up to $3 million in investment and jobs to the neighborhood.
Several members said they weren’t happy with additional delays to a process underway since 2017 at a cost of about $100,000. But they responded favorably to Isaak’s offer to pay any additional planning costs and to her argument that keeping the dog parks just a few feet from her building would damage its value.
It came down to dogs being dogs, and that not being conducive to dining al fresco.
“Dog poop next to a restaurant is not a cool idea,” said Victor DiMaio, a consultant representing Isaak.
The building at one time was a hotel and bakery in the 1920s. In that era, Isaak said, there was a passageway connecting the Allen Hotel to a neighboring brothel. She is seeking historic designation for the property and says she wants to restore it to its original brick facade. Currently, her architect said, there is a thick layer of sediment covering the outer walls. The interior needs to be shored up, too, to support a planned rooftop bar.
Gloria Jean Royster, who lives nearby, said her neighbors want a cheaper dining option in a booming area currently home to high-end eateries like Osteria Bar and Kitchen and Mole y Abuela.
“We can’t afford to eat in the neighborhood,” she said.
Council member John Dingfelder had asked the two sides to attempt to reconcile their differences. Now, redevelopment area manager Rob Rosner will report back to council members on Dec. 12.
Council members, as the CRA board, have final approval on the park redesign. As council members, they''ll have to sign off on any lease arrangement.
Isaak pointed to Four Green Fields and Big Ray’s Fish Camp as examples of successful leases of downtown public spaces.
Herman Massey, a tiny “pocket park, ” opened in 1987. The park made headlines in 2004 when several people were arrested for feeding the homeless. The following year, the city closed it for three years. But when it reopened, it quickly reverted to being a problem spot for drugs and crime.
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The new makeover attempt is a bid to change the park’s reputation and appearance and make it a gathering spot for an area of downtown that is becoming increasingly residential. Student housing, a hotel and possibly more high-rise residential development is planned around the park.
“The whole area will be a construction site for the next 24 months,” Rosner said.