Four years ago this month, I began writing for Creative Loafing, chronicling the evolution of Tampa Bay’s urban centers and neighborhoods. What’s popped up (or what’s been torn down) in those four years?
“Growing pains” (Online publication date: 3/8/13)
I was doubtful back in 2013, but the good news for Kennedy Boulevard is that landscaping and murals have really improved the quality of our central east-west artery. Actually, that dynamic duo — landscaping for beauty and softness, murals for color and punch — has improved everything. Some of the new construction on Kennedy has been less than inspired, but the maturation of trees and hedges has helped camouflage mediocre structures. Kudos to the University of Tampa for taking an abandoned lot surrounded by a rusty chain-link fence and replacing it with a welcoming entry.
“Mangled by McMansions” (3/26/15)
A painful update to this story: The beat goes on. Smaller homes crafted from solid materials continue to bite the dust to be replaced with huge boxes decorated with random plaster and styrofoam. Particularly in older neighborhoods, this painful loss of affordable, human-scale homes is threatening to undermine the charm which attracted folks there in the first place. Accolades to the brave souls of St. Pete Preservation whose Saturday morning walking tours aim to enlighten locals and tourists about successes and losses in each part of town.
“Preserving Grand Central Avenue” (7/1/15)
In this column, I explored the future of three historic homes and several grand trees slated for demolition as part of a proposed condo development across from the Oxford Exchange and Mise en Place in Hyde Park. Well, the original dreadful design was replaced by a less offensive one, still not great, and one home and two trees were saved. Sigh.
“If you believe in ferries” (3/13/14)
Transportation continues to vex us all. However, we can all take heart from a new transit option, thanks to Ed Turanchik and Mayor Rick Kriseman’s leadership. The ferry service between downtown St. Pete and Tampa is revelatory. Approaching our urban centers from the water allows us a completely fresh experience. Hitherto, the only way to get to each center was either to drive and park, so that your first city view was a parking lot, or to be a marathon bike rider and commit your day to cycling. Now, when you arrive by ferry, you are greeted by the cities’ best features — their waterfronts, parks, public art, cafes and museums — all walkable/bikeable, close and shaded.
Speaking of city views, this column disputed the need for replacing the old St. Pete Pier at all. Citing the dynamic downtown vibe, I questioned the wisdom of investing additional resources to lure folks to the CBD when they’re already there. Now, a year later, the winning design has been scaled back and the construction price has escalated. Even the Times editorials are now doubting the necessity of a pier. St. Pete could make a better investment — like, for instance, reworking the alley in First Block to support its continued life as a historic place.
Some amazingly good news has emerged about the proposed TBX proposal for Lexus Lanes, which was covered in three articles. This summer, our political folk suddenly realized that the Howard Frankland Bridge, a central part of the proposed TBX system, would be losing a regular lane to become an exclusively tolled lane. Though our merry group of Stop TBX-ers had been saying this for years, it finally dawned on the politicos how outraged their constituents would be about having to pay $6 each way to have a smoother ride. Faced with this major ah-ha moment, they turned to FDOT and demanded that this piece of the TBX puzzle be removed from the plan. In warp speed, FDOT declared that this would be done immediately, spurred by the fear of losing support from state legislators Jack Latvala and Dana Young. With the centerpiece of the route removed, community consciousness raised, and Governor Skeletor’s time running out, the tides could be turning for this toxic project.
Some happy news from downtown Franklin Street to build on: The Hall, a foodie mecca-in-the-making is months from completion. This repurposed historic building already has a dance studio on its second floor. Beginning in early 2017, five restaurants, a raw bar and a craft cocktail bar will open, literally, to the street. Huge garage doors will open to reveal the food offerings and the patrons. Foundation Coffee, now open one block south, on Franklin Street, is already breathing new life into this area. The Hall should dramatically jack up the energy and life here.
“Heartbreak of Havana” (11/1/13)
Go to Cuba now! That’s one message I tried to convey in this column exploring the fragility of that magical city’s architectural heritage. Thanks to President Obama, you are currently free to visit, and who knows what the future holds? You owe it to yourself to take a direct flight from Tampa and enjoy the richness of Cuba’s delights before the doors close, again.
My passionate relationship to Tampa Bay is conflicted. I love our potential and hate wasted opportunities. Please join me in pushing for transit, deploring demolitions, and spending your hard-earned cash in locally owned places. Plant trees and hug them. When you build something, hire an architect. Talk about good design. Vote for representatives who care about protecting the natural and built environment.