What will they love? How to ensure Tampa Bay’s allure

At the core of Lightning owner Jeff Vinik’s $1 billion plan to transform Channelside are plans for a medical school and heart institute. Economic development advocates say the med complex is crucial to the regional economy, and are lobbying hard for state dollars.

“You’re talking about a couple hundred medical students, several hundred physicians, faculty and staff that will be a part of this project,” said Brian Lamb, chair of the Tampa Bay Partnership board. “Our goal is to be able to bring a
tremendous amount of energy for that young population, Millenial population if you want to define it, to be in that area.”

But if Morsani Medical School and USF Health Heart Institute get built, and smart young professionals and med students do flock to the area, will Tampa Bay have enough to make them want to stay after they graduate?

Sort of, say urban-planner types. But it may have a ways to go.

Rule of thirds

Chances are, if you love where you live, it’s not your house you’re digging. It’s the place you visit to get your morning coffee or evening brewski. Academics call these “third places.” That is, places where we go other than home or work. If you live in Seminole Heights, yours might be the Mermaid Tavern. In Palm Harbor, it might be Stilthouse Brewery. These days, such homes away from home are increasingly common.

“The present generation of younger people, thank god, are sick of subdivision life,” said Ray Oldenburg, the scholar who coined the “third places” phrase. Speaking recently in St. Pete, the University of West Florida sociology professor emeritus said, “The cities are humanizing, and third places are certainly helping to humanize them.”

It’s out with big box store-lined Ulmertons, in with Grand Central Districts.

Preservation acts

Fans of old buildings say restoring them can transform a city. Take St. Pete’s Kenwood or Tampa Heights, both blighted until people began buying up decrepit bungalows and bringing them back to life. Without such efforts, preservationists argue, cities run the risk of becoming
aesthetically homogenous.

“Without the things that make a community unique you could be in Anywhere, USA,” Tampa Preservation, Inc. president
Becky Clarke said in an email. “Historic preservation also helps to keep those characteristics authentic as opposed to turning into an imitation, like Disney World.”

Yet parts of Tampa are still at risk of losing their old-school charm. Among these, Clarke said, are Palmetto Beach and Palma Ceia.

Transit, dammit!

Voters have rejected sales tax bumps to fund transit in Pinellas, Polk and Hillsborough counties. But to its supporters, comprehensive, user-friendly public transit is the missing piece.

“What this is, and what it would be, is an investment in our future,” said Tampa City Council candidate Guido Maniscalco at a recent Tampa Tiger Bay Club forum. “Then we would bring those big corporations and jobs that are so important to the future of this community.”

Not-so-mean streets

Hand-in-hand with overhauling transit: turning area thoroughfares into something other than pedestrian death zones.

Downtown Tampa still has numerous one-way streets at its core, as does downtown St. Pete. Some officials are looking at turning them into two-way routes, to slow the pace of traffic and make areas more attractive for small businesses.

Tampa Councilwoman Yvonne “Yolie” Capin said during a recent interview that she wants to see Florida and Tampa avenues made into two-way streets up through Seminole Heights.

“I think it would change the whole dynamic if we could do that,” she said.

Tampa is also in the midst of its “Complete Streets” program, which creates bike lanes, sidewalks, crosswalks and parking lanes.

The Pier: Make up your damn mind!

Tampa, with Vinik’s help, may be on the verge of a game-changing new waterfront development. Meanwhile, the St. Pete Pier drama drags on. Fans of the existing Pier are stubborn, as their 2013 rejection of the futuristic Lens concept showed. Now another fight could be gearing up. A panel has narrowed its list of design proposals to seven, and the critics — including many of those who fought the Lens — are already sharpening their knives. 

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