News & Views » Transforming Tampa Bay

What's going up, what's coming down in 2013

What's ahead for our urban landscape.



Looking ahead to 2013, there’s much potential drama brewing in our urban landscape. Questions abound: Will this be built? Will that be demolished? Will we transcend tackiness? Here are my top 10 concerns and aspirations. Please let me know what yours are at, and together let’s push for quality!

The Courtney Campbell Trail. The $20 million construction of a 12-foot-wide bridge from Hillsborough to Pinellas County strictly for bicyclists, pedestrians and rollerbladers is already underway. The 7-mile Courtney Campbell Trail will link the Hillsborough Greenway to the east in July 2013 with the Pinellas Trail to the west in 2014. With the Friendship Trail’s future in limbo, this magnet for runners and bicyclists should demonstrate that our area can attract athletes as well as make the locals very happy. Thankfully, the City of Tampa is reworking the concessions and restrooms at Ben T. Davis Beach to give everyone a break!

The Historic St. Petersburg YMCA. The fate of this impressive building awaits a January meeting of St. Pete’s City Council, who will decide whether to allocate 14 more parking spaces which the current owner, Phil Powell, believes will make the property easier to redevelop; if the spaces aren’t granted, Powell is likely to proceed with his demolition request. Abandoned for a decade, this four-story, 51,000-square-foot structure still sports 1920s decorative details, including illuminated tile walls, hand-painted cypress beams, and decorative ironwork. In October, preservationist Peter Belmont handed City Council members several hundred postcards pleading with them to save the building from an ignoble transformation into a drive-through bank. Let’s hope that the Y remains intact, giving a sense of scale and history to a rapidly changing urban center.

The Hyde Park Urban Design Plan. This proposed plan takes the radical position that looks matter. This grass-roots effort by a trio of neighborhood groups is novel in its big-picture, long-term approach to maintaining the residential character of this historic area. Hyde Park can boast century-old oaks canopying narrow streets lined with bungalows and villas, protected by design guidelines. Many neighbors credit the stable property values on an involved citizenry who self-funded historically appropriate street signs, public and park improvements. Investing private dollars to underwrite this ambitious plan (which could include changes to historic zoning codes, uncovering of brick streets, and changes to commercial streetscape standards) would be the first effort by residents in the Bay area to protect their neighborhood’s aesthetic future. What vision and effort these folks are displaying!

Connect Tampa Bay. This new, not-partisan group of businesspeople was formed by local transportation advocates to strategize and fund improvements to our transportation system. Hallelujah! They recognize that we’ve got to get our mobility act together as a region to be economically competitive. Kevin Thurman, executive director, opines, “We can’t wait for Tallahassee to build us a modern transportation system. Tampa Bay needs more transportation options!”

The Belleview Biltmore. The 115-year-old resort built by Henry Plant in the town of Belleair faces an uncertain future. This 430,000-square-foot behemoth is currently owned by Daniel Ades from Kawa Capital in Miami, who has applied for a demolition permit. The tug-of-war over the Biltmore has the town using the heft of an outstanding $250,000 fine for code enforcement liens compounded since 2006. The town has recently signed a $3.5 million purchase agreement for the adjacent 133-acre golf course. While the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation listed this site on its 2012 Most Endangered Sites list, the current owners insist that this grande dame just can’t ever make a return on the $150 million which a renovation would cost. I’m worried.

The Rays stadium. Where should a new stadium be located? A hot debate is guaranteed to continue around this wildly contentious issue in 2013. Strong arguments can be made all around, but whichever community will be willing to pick up the $420 million tab to construct this facility is the winner… or perhaps, the sucker, depending on who crunches the numbers.

The Al Lopez Baseball Museum. Tampa has enjoyed a national reputation for its role as an incubator for famous “béisbol” players, and now the boyhood home of Tampa’s first Hall of Famer, Ybor City native Al Lopez, is going to become a baseball museum. The Ybor City Museum Society has taken the lead in coordinating a three-part deal with the sheriff’s department donating the land, with FDOT picking up the moving cost for the house and the Museum Society shouldering the renovation. The county’s new preservation challenge grant just kicked in $250,000 to help underwrite this project. Next door, at the corner of Ninth Avenue and 19th Streets, the Hillsborough Sheriff’s Museum, being created in another casita, is expected to open by the year’s end.

InVision Tampa. Mayor Bob Buckhorn gets full credit for developing this plan for Tampa’s city center. He convinced HUD to allow the city to redirect the funding for our non-starter of a high-speed rail station to the creation of a workable urban design plan. (All anger should be directed to Gov. Scott for spurning the $2.4 BILLION of federal money that would have brought us high-speed rail to Orlando.) Rolled out in November after loads of public involvement, the InVision Plan is impressive in its ambitions: the transformation of Tampa’s core into a bike- and pedestrian-friendly place connecting our neighborhoods with the Hillsborough River. Missing in action is our historic streetcar, which gets virtually no mention. Add it!!

Le Meridien Hotel. “Show stopper” describes the dramatic shift of Tampa’s 1906 federal courthouse into a luxurious 130-room hotel, according to Gary Prosterman, the project’s developer. “The existing architecture and materials will be repurposed in a manner that will make this place a MUST see.” The original imposing, columned courthouse, with marble floors and walls, decorative ceilings, and rich mahogany paneling and wainscoting, will boast a signature restaurant and bar and a 2,100-square-foot ballroom. Empty for over a decade, the building is scheduled to reopen in the spring of 2014, with construction beginning in 2013.

Water Works Park. Located on the Hillsborough River just north of the Interstate exit ramp to Ashley Drive and Doyle Carlton Drive, the Ulele Spring was the original source of fresh drinking water for the City of Tampa. This unexpected oasis was hidden in overgrowth for decades as the city turned its back to the river and located the Tampa Police Department’s cruiser repair facility on the river’s edge. Fortunately, this magical spring and the surrounding parkland are poised for improvement. The brick waterworks building is being renovated to house a seafood grill masterminded by Richard Gonzmart, the Columbia Restaurant patriarch. A federal Tiger grant will fund the riverwalk extension, and a NOAA grant will underwrite the restoration of the spring and shoreline. Look forward to a Water Works Park renaissance beginning in mid-2013.

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