Tampa seeks ideas for rebirth of Nebraska Avenue
Stand on a corner along Nebraska Avenue on a Monday afternoon and the first thing you’ll notice is how much traffic there is.
Between 14,000 and 16,000 cars each day travel Nebraska, according to the Florida Department of Transportation. The street is a major link between downtown and neighborhoods like V.M. Ybor and Southeast Seminole Heights.
But it’s also a sprawling ribbon of asphalt built more for cars than for people. South of Hillsborough Avenue, the street is home to eclectic restaurants, hair salons, industrial firms, rooming houses, abandoned buildings and parking lots wrapped in chain link.
“The physical environment reflects a place where new investments has been few and far between,” said members of AECom, the planning consultants the city hired last year to craft a strategy for breathing new life into downtown and the surrounding neighborhoods.
Nebraska Avenue became a centerpiece of that plan, known as the InVision project.
Mayor Bob Buckhorn wants to tame Nebraska, making the street more inviting to pedestrians and businesses alike.
The rebirth of Nebraska is tied to HART’s plan to begin new bus-rapid transit, known as MetroRapid, running north along the street between downtown and the Hidden River regional park-and-ride lot on Fletcher Avenue. That service, which includes new green-and-silver stations along Nebraska, starts operating in June.
City officials want people who live, work and drive along Nebraska to offer their ideas for how to make the street a better place to do all those things. They’re inviting people to a workshop at 6 p.m. tonight at the Children’s Board offices in Ybor City to brainstorm the street’s future.
The city’s planning consultants will return Thursday having turned some of those ideas into guidelines for the future rebirth of the corridor.
It’s a change that can’t come soon enough for Eric Allen.
“You see a lot of empty buildings still on Nebraska,” Allen said as he stepped from a Florida Blood Services bloodmobile at Nebraska and Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue. “We need to do something about that.”
Allen, who lives at the northern end of the corridor targeted by the InVision plan, has called the area home for all his 61 years.
“It was a little bit better” in the past, he said. “It was more homegrown and closer-knit.”
City officials would like to see Nebraska return to that homier state. They see the beginnings of change between Chelsea Street and Hillsborough Avenue, home to Seminole Heights attractions such as Ella’s Folk Art Café and Southern Brewing and Winemaking.
Both businesses are mentioned in the InVision report about the future of Nebraska.
Southern Brewing owner Kelly Fenstermacher said she and her husband, Brian, chose their location because of the support they thought they’d get from the gentrifying neighborhood around them.
The busy nature of Nebraska kept them from adding a street-side patio as they had planned. It’s in the back instead, away from the traffic and noise.
The DOT shrunk Nebraska from four lanes to three several years ago, but Kelly’s contribution to the discussion of what to do next includes planted medians to help calm the busy street.
“They would give it a more quaint feel.”