Tampa, Pasco developing attractive work-life mix
TAMPA - If you work in Tampa, odds are good you know the drill: Leave home early, creep along in traffic for what seems like an eternity, then reverse the process at the end of the work day.
Among the country's large cities, Tampa is one of the most commuter-oriented, according to a recent study by the Census Bureau.
Only Miami, Atlanta and Washington, D.C., are more influenced by the workday flow to and from the suburbs.
But changes under way at both ends of the commuter pipeline could bring some balance to the city's relationship with its suburbs and keep workers closer to home.
In Tampa, Mayor Bob Buckhorn wants more people living in the city's urban core and continues to push programs to make downtown and the Channel District more enticing, particularly to young people
In Pasco County, commissioners want more jobs in bedroom communities like Wesley Chapel and Land O' Lakes, which now send a third of their population out of the county for work.
Each strategy is likely to boost the region's economic bottom line over the next decade or so.
"It's not a zero-sum game," said Richard Gehring, Pasco's growth management director.
Each work day, Tampa absorbs more than 161,000 commuters, swelling its population by nearly 50 percent. The city has twice as many jobs as it has workers, the Census Bureau study says.
By comparison, St. Petersburg, which has both a smaller business base and a larger residential population in its urban core, grows by just 3.5 percent during the work day.
Over the coming decade, Buckhorn wants to turn some of those commuters into Tampa residents.
"The trends nationally have been toward more and more people living in the urban core," Buckhorn said. "I think over the next decade, downtown Tampa is going to explode in a very positive way. Demand for residences is outstripping our supply right now."
The last decade saw the downtown population grow dramatically, from a few hundred in 2000 to nearly 6,000 today. A third downtown high-rise and a new multistory apartment building in the Channel District - complete with a potential grocery store - promise to push those numbers even higher.
The city has acres of vacant property between downtown and Channelside to accommodate more residential and more office space.
"That desire to be downtown, for both workers and the people who live here, is going to increase significantly in the next few years," Buckhorn said.
He expects high gas prices and the toll of commuting itself to sell suburbanites on his vision of downtown living.
To sweeten the deal, the mayor has embarked on a program of softening downtown's hard edges:
Bike lanes and sidewalks to make the city safer for pedestrians.
The final phase of Tampa's Riverwalk to lure people downtown on weekends.
Turning commuter routes like Florida Avenue and Tampa Street back into two-way roads to make them more inviting to businesses.
"I think downtown is becoming a destination for people to live, work and play," Buckhorn said.
Gehring hopes to create the same scenario in Tampa's northern suburbs.
Pasco County exports 65,500 workers every day, more than any other county in Florida. The vast majority of those workers head south to Tampa or Pinellas County.
Those commuters made Pasco one of the fastest-growing counties in the country during the housing boom. For a brief period in 2006, it even led the nation in job creation, thanks to all the construction there.
The housing collapse in 2008 sent the county into a financial tailspin and convinced its leaders they needed to be more than just a place where Tampa's workers sleep.
Gehring sees the solution in the mix among live, work and play.
"What Pasco's trying to do is balance the triangle, so we're not all bedroom," Gehring said.
Gehring expects financial giants Raymond James and T. Rowe Price to help achieve that balance.
Together, they've promised to bring more than 3,000 predominantly white-collar jobs to Wesley Chapel and Land O' Lakes, which currently have about three times as many workers as they have local jobs, according the census study.
Some of those jobs will move up from Tampa, but the majority will be new, expanding the regional economy and taking some commuters off the highways.
Today, Wesley Chapel and Land O' Lakes have millions of square feet of potential office space on the books. Much of that land is within easy reach of the University of South Florida, which is emerging as Tampa's third economic hub after downtown and the West Shore Business District.
Developing all that space will take decades. Gehring compares it to the evolution of St. Petersburg's Carillon area. Gehring designed the Carillon complex in 1981.
Having Carrillon-style job centers on either side of Tampa will benefit Tampa, too, since it remains the hub for business travel by air, Gehring said.
That's OK with Buckhorn.
Even if Pasco builds corporate centers in Wesley Chapel, "half the CEOs are still going to live in South Tampa," he said.
And even as Pasco adds jobs, it will be adding new residents. If things work out, they'll have something in common with their urban counterparts, Gehring said.
"Rush hour won't go away any time soon," he said. "But you'll have shorter trips.