Viva the evolution: Signs of renewal on a forlorn stretch of Franklin Street

Tampa Heights' main thoroughfare exemplifies urban renewal.

metamorphosis is taking place along Franklin Street. Just north of downtown Tampa, empty warehouses and abandoned commercial spaces are awakening to a fresh new life.

Once downtown’s main retail artery, Franklin Street ran north-south until it was severed in the ’60s at the interstate. It was reconnected four decades later when pioneers like CPA Lou Prida, architect Stephanie Ferrell and Fly Bar & Restaurant discovered new uses for aging structures.

After the road was reconnected, the action moved north on Franklin Street as Cafe Hey kicked off its reign as a counter-culture gathering spot, and Carl Johnson and Kate Swann opened Franklin Street Fine Woodworking.

Now a new wave of energy is surfacing farther north. Hidden Springs Ale Works moved to Tampa Heights two years ago and opened in September. Austin Good and Josh Garman met at a home brew club and pooled their skill sets to become co-owners of Hidden Springs, where they produce multiple varieties of craft beer.

“We’re really excited to be in this neighborhood,” enthuses Garman. “Tampa Heights is in a great spot between downtown and Seminole Heights. Breweries go into an area where rent is cheaper, and then they’re a catalyst for redevelopment."

The brewery's new tasting room serves multiple purposes. Commune & Co. coffee company is sold daily from 8 a.m.-3 p.m., when the vibe switches from caffeine to alcohol. In addition to Hidden Springs' own beers, brewers from other establishments are invited to rotate their concoctions via “guest taps.” On Thursday night there’s a pop-up restaurant, and food trucks cater from Friday through Sunday.

click to enlarge Hidden Springs Ale Works's Josh Garman and family. - Linda Saul-Sena
Linda Saul-Sena
Hidden Springs Ale Works's Josh Garman and family.

“This is a really cool spot," says Teri Navajo. "Coffee is the morning, beer in the afternoon and art 24/7.” Along with Tim Gibbons and Jayne Lisbeth, she's the co-curator of Hidden Springs' local artists' exhibitions, which change every seven weeks. 

Keep track of the schedule, which includes yoga, cooking classes and the Indie Flea market, at hiddenspringsaleworks.com.

Tampa Indie Flea, sponsored by 8-Count Productions, is a curated market experience held the third Sunday of the month at Hidden Springs and the historic Rialto Theatre. Indie Flea offers a mixture of food, art, clothes and other locally created goodies from Tampa Bay — many of them from St. Pete. The vibe is very easy, dog and child-friendly, and filled with small temptations from chocolates to jewelry.

The Rialto is a 1926 movie theater that has been transformed by 8-Count into a rentable events space. The 26-foot ceilings and proscenium lend themselves to parties and productions. Currently up for historic designation by Tampa City Council, the Rialto is a preservation success; abandoned for years, its blond brick facade with terra cotta details are now a gift to passersby.

Inspired by Mayor Buckhorn’s expanded vision for downtown, Maureen Ayral, an investment officer, decided to diversify her portfolio by purchasing a former biker bar at the corner of Franklin and Henderson Avenue. She invested in its transformation into a stunning loft space with a dance studio, The Hip Room, on the second floor, offering a variety of dance lessons ranging from ballet to ballroom and beyond.  

Over 1,000 visitors have come to tour her building, many professing complete ignorance that this neighborhood existed. It took her exactly two years to the day from the building’s purchase to get her Certificate of Occupancy, and she’s changed in the process. “At first I looked at this as an investment and now I’ve become involved.”

Just up the street is the Robertson Billiards company, a fourth-generation family business that boasts a vast retail showroom, crammed with dozens of pool and snooker tables, and three adjacent warehouses.  

When Alana Rodgers’s grandfather began this business in the 1950s, Baker’s Billiards was across the street. Times got tough in recent years, when Robertson’s suffered a fire in its manufacturing building and Baker’s Pool Hall closed. Fortunately, they persevered, and Alana says that she’s “inspired and encouraged” to see the reinvestment in the area.

Across from Robertson’s, the Hillsborough County Library system has just signed a lease for the Tampa Free Public Library, an historic building constructed with funds provided by Andrew Carnegie that has been the heart of local library services for 50 years. Director Andrew Breidenbaugh is pleased. “Now, 50 years later it will again be at the center of library services; it really feels like a homecoming.”

Heading due west to the Hillsborough River, you find the culmination of the uber-popular Riverwalk, Water Works Park and the successful Ulele restaurant. Just north on the river is the city’s original trolley barn. This 30-acre site, being developed by Adam Harden and Chas Bruck of SoHo Capital, will be a mixed-use development centered on the historic red brick Tampa Armature Works Building, where an update is anticipated for mid-June.

My advice is to explore Tampa Heights now — and enjoy the evolution.

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