Campaign Trail Mix: Village Voices

The other night a vacant storefront that used to be an Old Hyde Park Village shoe store housed a City Council forum. Afterward, District 4 candidates Gene Wells and John Dingfelder (Clay Phillips did not attend) addressed an issue of obvious interest to immediate neighbors. What, if anything, can — or should — the city do to help the Village?

Once part of the “New Urbanism” vanguard, the Village has been buffeted by economic downturns and marketplace winds gusting out of the new International Plaza and the retrofitted WestShore Plaza. The Village is a key community linchpin and a valuable visitor amenity.

“It’s got to be tough in here,” assessed Wells, “with some major tenants leaving. But you have to recognize that the dynamics have changed, and this is not a mall. Having said that, however, you don’t have to lose the war.”

Wells, the owner-founder of Computer Parts of America Inc., noted that he has to compete with Office Depot and Staples. “It’s not easy, but it can be done,” he stated. “Service is certainly one factor.”

Fostering a business-friendly climate is another.

“I think we have to help create an environment for businesses to grow,” added Wells. “That includes help with zoning and land-use. We might have to provide tax credits or incentives.

“This was the grand experiment, and we can’t give up on it,” said Wells. “The property owners and the city made the investment here. The city has to keep an eye on that ball.”

Dingfelder sees a “mediative” role for the city to “facilitate better communication” with the neighbors. To see what they want — to “survey the neighborhood.”

“I think it’s an unbelievably unique asset,” emphasized Dingfelder. “Twenty years before Celebration and Westchase. The Village is ripe for a bunch of smaller shops like in Europe.”

He’d also like to look at ways to encourage traffic into the Village.

Along Rome, for example, he envisions bike lanes. “I’d like to encourage Bayshore bike traffic to come up into the Village,” said Dingfelder. “Maybe a sign down by Bayshore as well. These are relatively inexpensive propositions that the city could certainly look at.”

There are more pricey propositions that Dingfelder would also look at. Along Swann.

“The trolley is something I’ve mentioned,” noted Dingfelder. “If and when it takes off, Tampa Heights and Seminole Heights and circling into Hyde Park is logical. Coming up Swann.

“I’m open to ways the city can help — within economic balance.”

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