1. Opinion

Temple Terrace, developer at odds over definition of downtown

In its 87-year history, Temple Terrace has lacked the one thing to pave the way — at least in its civic mindset — to truly transform itself into a real, honest-to-goodness city. And no, having a Mons Venus franchise doesn't count.

For all its charms, its trees, its locale on the Hillsborough River, its lovely neighborhoods, Temple Terrace has never really had a downtown to call its own. And no, having a few strip malls along 56th Street doesn't count either.

Until recently perhaps the signature selling point of Temple Terrace has been its elegant golf course wending its way through the city. It's been said that Billy Graham, then a student at nearby Florida College, found God on the 18th green, which was probably not the first, nor last time the Almighty's name has been uttered ­— one way or the other — on its links.

So for about the past eight years, the city's potentates have been mulling over a master plan to at long last create what it can call Downtown Temple Terrace.

You might say Temple Terrace is making great strides in this effort because the hallmark of any urban plan involves years of a multitude of blueprints everyone dickers over, ignores and then starts again as costs and tempers rise.

At issue is a proposed $160 million downtown complex on the east side of 56th Street from Bullard Parkway to the Hillsborough River. Really, $160 million? For that kind of money the city might be able to lure a certain baseball team to relocate to the site and call itself the Temple Terrace Rays.

Alas disputes have arisen between the city and the developer of the project. The biggest chasm between the parties involved seems to be a disagreement over how to divvy up the residential and commercial space.

On one side is the developer, Vlass Temple Terrace, who wants to build a residential community. On the other is the city, which envisions a village-like atmosphere with retail stores on the first floor with residential units on the upper floors.

Now, not to get too overly picky here, but you don't have to be the great urban architect Robert Moses to figure out the whole purpose of a "downtown" is to have a retail environment that attracts people to want to buy stuff.

Why this is even an issue is a bit befuddling. Anyone who has ever visited "downtown" Westchase has noticed a very utilitarian mix of first-floor retail with residential units above them.

And yet, the city and developer haven't been able to figure this out — for eight years?!?!?

Change never comes easy. A curmudgeon might suggest Temple Terrace forget the whole thing and be happy with the quiet, delightful little place that it is. After all, the city need only look at other developed areas for some object lessons in ambition.

Sure Temple Terrace might resolve its differences and create its own faux Mayberry-on-the-Hillsborough. Then what? Walmart, that's what.

Once you start developing, it's only a matter of time before the mother of all big box stores starts sniffing around. And that's what is happening along Dale Mabry Highway, where the mega-retailer wants to build a new store the size of Iowa near Floyd Road.

Good grief, there are already two Walmarts on steroids within a few miles of the latest site plan. Are the communities of northern Hillsborough that desperate to be within a three-minute drive for $1.50 Pringles?

Temple Terrace might want to ponder that fate. Besides, with all this progress a mere cement mixer away, can a brass pole be that far behind?