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Shop Gandy aims to help businesses navigate Selmon connector construction

Work on the 2-mile extension of the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway to the Gandy Bridge is expected to begin early next year. The traffic disruptions concern businesses along Gandy Boulevard.
Work on the 2-mile extension of the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway to the Gandy Bridge is expected to begin early next year. The traffic disruptions concern businesses along Gandy Boulevard.
Published Sept. 27, 2017

SOUTH TAMPA — Keith Sawyer is worried.

The source of his anxiety: A major construction project, scheduled to begin early next year, that will disrupt the traffic pattern for years along Gandy Boulevard in South Tampa.

Sawyer, owner of Cutting Edge Lawn Care, says he's concerned how the building of an overpass extension connecting the Selmon Expressway to the Gandy Bridge would affect his business.

It's the talk of his fellow business owners in the area, he said. "A lot of my friends, that's what they're worried about — the feasibility of getting to our clients."

Tammy Field, who lives just blocks behind 81Bay Brewing on Gandy, said the project's reach goes beyond businesses and residents in the immediate area.

"People are going to think twice before they come to South Tampa," she said. "How hard is our life going to be for 21/2 years?"

On Tuesday, Sawyer, Field, and dozens of other Gandy-area business owners and residents gathered at 81Bay Brewing to sip beer and nibble on foods from local eateries while learning more about Shop Gandy, a marketing initiative launched by four area chambers of commerce in partnership with the Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority.

It includes a website, shopgandy.com, with resources for Gandy businesses as well as information about the construction project. In August, the expressway authority awarded a $230 million contract to Kiewit Infrastructure South Co. and AECOM to design and build the 2-mile extension.

The toll lane will rise above the median of Gandy Boulevard and allow drivers to go to or from the expressway to the bridge without driving on the thoroughfare. The project will be paid for using toll revenues and money borrowed from the bond market. The authority reports the extension will divert an estimated 18,900 vehicles per day, or about 40 percent of the traffic now on Gandy. While it may ease congestion, it will also siphon away potential customers.

Shop Gandy aims to ensure that establishments like 81Bay Brewing and business owners like Sawyer maintain robust business while the extension is under construction, said Joe Waggoner, the expressway's executive director.

"We approached this looking at the impact before, during, and after (construction)," he said. "We want to minimize the construction's impact to the community."

Ways to do that include keeping driveways clear and keeping lane closures and detours relegated to nighttime, he said.

In a separate interview, South Tampa Chamber of Commerce CEO Kelly Flannery said the expressway's approach to the campaign — which includes the launch party, future events and the website — has made an impression on her membership.

"We're comforted by the fact they are taking business owners to heart," she said.

While construction will be "disruptive," the campaign allows the community, business owners, and leaders to come together, Flannery said.

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"We're looking at this to be a catalyst for community involvement and to put a call of action out to the community to support local businesses," she said.

The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce and Greater Brandon Chamber of Commerce also back the effort. It will include promotional materials for Gandy businesses, enhanced access to social media networks, an online business directory and event calendar and the opportunity to host chamber events with neighboring businesses and stakeholders at no cost.

Contact Kenya Woodard at hillsnews@tampabay.com.