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Tuesday, Apr 24, 2018
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Refurbished streets will entice businesses to Ybor, officials say

Plans to refurbish 21st and 22nd streets will transform them from part of the state’s rumbling truck route into scenic throughways that could actually reunite the long-divided Ybor City historic district.

That reunion, said Vince Pardo, manager of the Ybor City Development Corp., could make the area more appealing to businesses considering relocating there, including developers seeking to build residential units.

“Our business recruitment and targeted industries haven’t changed,” Pardo said. “It will just be more appealing to locate there.”

Ybor City’s business plan targets residential, hotel, retail and restaurants for that area, Pardo said, as he traveled to meet with a developer this week on possible future residential for the area.

For the better part of 18 months, traffic on both roads between Adamo Drive and Hillsborough Avenue will be slow-going, Florida Department of Transportation officials say. Work is slated to begin in early October and for much of the time, traffic on one road or the other will be down to one lane.

Once completed, both roads will be turned over by the state to the City of Tampa in a more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly state, said FDOT spokeswoman Kris Carson.

At that point, the city can pass an ordinance outlawing commercial truck traffic on the roads, Pardo said.

The new toll road connecting Interstate 4 to the Selmon Expressway made this project possible by diverting most of the truck traffic off of the local roads and on to the interstate connector. The $421 million connector opened in December.

This $10.2 million “urban modification” project will narrow 21st and 22nd streets from three lanes to two lanes. It will also include wider sidewalks, some on-street parking, brick crosswalks, landscaping, granite curbing and globe streetlights matching those already on 7th Avenue, said Project Manager Mary Lou Godfrey.

FDOT will also add a water main under 22nd street at the request of the City of Tampa.

“The design FDOT is using, much credit to them, came from the community,” Pardo said. “I had a year or a-year-and-a-half’s worth of meetings internally and with the DOT consultant about what the community wanted to see this roadway become. We incorporated that into the Ybor City Vision Plan.”

A big part of that plan was to create a shady, pedestrian-friendly zone, he said. The sidewalks will be shaded with 63 Washingtonia palms, 15 Medjool date palms, 70 lavender crape myrtles and six royal poinciana trees.

“There are some places where residential is being considered,” Pardo said. We would not have considered that with an active truck route” running through Ybor. “Parking right in front of the businesses is a real plus, too. And the new bike lane will help also. There will be new opportunities.”

For many years, Pardo said, 21st and 22nd streets were a divide for Ybor City. “If it wasn’t for the Columbia restaurant (at the corner of 7th Avenue and 22nd Street), most tourists would just kind of turn around instead of dealing with the speed and the type of vehicles on the roads. It’s very intimidating.”

That will change with this project, he said. “There will be as many as 86 lamp posts, embellishments to the sidewalks, litter baskets and benches. It will feel more like a street where someone is wanting to open a business” and patronize businesses.

“This project not only beautifies the two roadways, but makes them more desirable for economic development,” Pardo said.

Getting to that point won’t necessarily be easy on existing businesses, however. “It’s going to be beautiful when they are finished, but in the meantime, we’re going to hurt for it,” said Danielle Realy, head waitress for Tony’s Restaurant, located in the construction zone on 22nd Street. “What’s the point of having a beautiful road if people have already forgotten about our business?” The long construction schedule is worrisome, she said.

Some are looking on the more positive side of the project.

“We are thinking about the big picture and once they’ve gotten the work done,” said Casey Gonzmart, chairman of the Columbia Restaurant Group. The Columbia, arguably Ybor City’s most famous business, is located on the southwest corner of 22nd Street and 7th Avenue, just across from Tony’s Restaurant.

“We’re looking forward to the changes, to be honest,” Gonzmart said. “DOT has kept us informed. I hope everyone benefits. We look at the big picture and it’s progress and it’s going to be beautiful. We have the same customers as Tony’s. Hopefully, we’ll all benefit.”

Like any road construction project, Pardo said, “the businesses are anxious to see it come and will be anxious to see it go. There will be disruption. But, every community meeting we had, people were told about disruption.”

In addition to the actual road work, Godfrey said railroad crossings on both streets will be replaced during the project. Those tasks will be done at different times, since it will require the roads to be closed while the crossings are reconstructed, she said.

“It will be slow-going, but it will be really beautiful once it is finished,” she said.

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