Tides Of Change Include Tampa’s Waterfront

Space happens.

Last week’s column — weaving Mayor Pam Iorio’s walk on the styled side in sensible shoes with a vision of what’s in store for downtown – couldn’t accommodate the entirety of the piece.

Plans for the rebirth of center city residential and the revival of North Franklin Street plus a critical study to determine the viability of the federal courthouse as an art museum were referenced. But in any courthouse/museum scenario, the riverfront must be accounted for. That is now addressed. And change, to be sure, is coming — one way or the other — along the Hillsborough.

From Iorio’s perspective, the arts and the waterfront overlap; ideally they would create an urban synergy – all part of the game plan to help make Tampa a more “livable” city.

That’s why the mayor’s walking tour inevitably stops at the water’s edge.

Those gazing west from Ashley Drive unfailingly notice that the panorama from the 400 North Ashley (“Beer Can”) building to the Poe Garage is incongruously nondescript for such prime waterfront real estate. OK, it’s a crime. The incumbent and underwhelming Tampa Museum of Art is sandwiched between two parks rarely frequented by anyone with a home.

With so much contingent on the study of mold and asbestos at the old courthouse, this unconscionably drab tableau remains in “the conceptual stage right now,” says Iorio.

But the concept is as ambitious as it is pragmatic. The city would demolish the old museum and the parking garage beneath. The grade-level land would become an extended park and a people magnet, while providing a post card vista.

“It’s important to be able to see the (University of Tampa) minarets uninhibited,” explains Iorio.

Plans, which include the Children’s Museum and collaboration with the Riverwalk project, also call for selling development rights for low-rise condos and commercial usage – such as cafes. The residential component, says Iorio, would abut the Poe Garage and help “hide” it. There’s also an “opportunity for development” at the lusterless, virtually hidden Kiley Gardens, next to 400 North Ashley. (Kiley Gardens would also be the backup site for the new museum if the courthouse doesn’t prove feasible.)

Developer money would subsequently fund improvements for the expansive park, (a redesigned) Ashley Drive and the aesthetic trappings for the conversion of Zack Street into an arts corridor.

Iorio doesn’t foresee any trouble attracting the right kind of private-sector interest – and cooperation.

“We’re talking about THE best real estate in Tampa,” she emphasizes. “They would love to build on it.”

And two final thoughts.

First, imagine a walking tour that doesn’t include an obeisance stop at the Trump Tower site. And it’s not just logistics or the mayor’s refusal to wear her broken-in tennis shoes. It’s not included because it’s not necessary.

And, second, imagine a Tampa redevelopment story that doesn’t need to mention Channelside.

Call it building momentum.

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