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Monday, Apr 24, 2017

Upgrades for RNC give Tampa a fresh look

TAMPA Bridges are lit, roads are more aesthetically pleasing and street signs are wordier. In months leading up to the Republican National Convention, beautification and improvement projects popped up throughout Tampa. Some involved major road redesigns; others were as simple as installing new signs or filling in an eyesore of a fountain. The projects will remain long after the convention brings 50,000 people to Tampa. Among the many projects completed in time for, or because of, the Aug. 27 to 30 convention:
A 2.9-mile stretch of Bayshore Boulevard between Rome Avenue and Gandy Boulevard was resurfaced, and a stretch between Platt Street and Rome Avenue received landscaping and road improvements. More than 40 wild Florida date palms – costing $2,200 each for a total of nearly $100,000 – were planted in the median along Tampa's signature road. Meanwhile, dilapidated boat docks off Bayshore were demolished. Bayshore Marina, a city-owned strip of 36 docks just west of downtown, had been in a state of decay for years. Mayor Bob Buckhorn said the barnacle-covered marina's docks were a hazard and an eyesore. The city installed new signs along Ybor City's main thoroughfare. The signs sport three names: Seventh Avenue, La Sétima and La Séptima. A discussion about what to do with the street signs began when a contingent of Ybor residents argued that a nod to the historic neighborhood's Spanish roots -- La Sétima – on Seventh Avenue signs was a misspelling. The mistake, they said, would invite ridicule from thousands of Spanish speakers coming here for the RNC. Ultimately, after some members of the community argued for Séptima while others fought for Sétima, council members decided keep Sétima and add Séptima. As part of a roughly $500,000 project, the city added landscaping, lighting and irrigation to a stretch of Ashley Drive between the Interstate 275 junction and Fortune Street, near the Straz Center. Ashley is one of the city's "opportunity corridors" – high-traffic, high-visibility streets that serve as gateways leading to downtown Tampa. Buckhorn hopes the corridors will become magnets for economic development. Other corridors including the Orange/Jefferson I-275 Interchange also received improvements. The Tampa-Hillsborough County Expressway Authority spent about $235,000 to beautify the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway at the Swann Avenue underpass. Aesthetic improvements include pedestrian-friendly walkways, lighting enhancements and fresh paint for the underpass near Hyde Park Village. Holly trees, lady palms, shrubbery and plants were added to the roughly 60-foot by 150-foot area, said Lea Del Tosto, a project manager at landscape architect Stantec. LED lighting was added and the sidewalk along Swann was widened from about 5 feet to areas between 10 and 20 feet. A $1.2 million project was designed to turn a portion of Zack Street downtown into an artsy, pedestrian-friendly thoroughfare leading to the banks of the Hillsborough River. Most of the project's first phase – including extended sidewalks, crosswalks, landscaping and shade structures – will be complete in time for the RNC. Artwork including Susan Gott's glass works will be installed after the convention. The project ultimately will have three phases, costing a total of about $3 million and extending some 10 blocks from Ashley Drive to Nebraska Avenue. The project will create a pedestrian corridor linking Franklin Street to the waterfront, the Glazer Children's Museum, the Tampa Museum of Art and Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park. Zack will continue to be a two-way street, though lanes will be narrowed as sidewalks are widened. The project will integrate public art and add street lighting, trees, benches and other upgrades. Dry for years, the fountain at the entrance to the Sandra Freedman Tennis Complex was turned into a Zen rock garden. The fountain's rusty pipes were covered with sand and stone. City officials said completely repairing the fountain was too expensive, but filling it with a Zen garden provided a "short-term fix." Davis Islands residents had circulated a petition online and at the complex, seeking an upgrade to the fountain. The petition questioned who would be responsible if a skateboarder was injured in the dry fountain. It also said many people connected to the RNC would be coming to the tennis complex this month. "Is this how we want them to remember our beautiful, waterfront tennis complex?" the petition stated. Artist Tracey Dear's "Agua Luces" project, completed days ago, bathes five downtown bridges in a canvas of LED lights. The affected bridges over the Hillsborough River are along Kennedy Boulevard, Brorein Street, CSX railroad tracks and Platt Street, as well as the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway's bridge crossing the river. Buckhorn officially lit the bridges Friday night at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park. The project is part of a larger redevelopment plan to bring focus to the river and showcase Tampa as a maritime community, Buckhorn said. About $520,000 was spent on upgrading the arena's sound, including the placement of 100,000 square feet of acoustic blankets along the ceiling so delegates inside the convention hall can hear the speeches better. The cost was shared by the Tampa Bay Lightning and the RNC. The upgrades won't have much effect on the sound of hockey games, but officials say acoustics during concerts will be vastly improved. Additionally, the RNC and Lightning are paying to add two additional megawatts of electrical capacity to the venue. AT&T, the official wireless provider for the convention, has spent about $21 million in various upgrades for the RNC alone. The company is erecting three new cell towers to avoid dropped calls and added 300 layers of frequency to cell sites so users can download information faster. Bright House Networks will provide Internet and cable television services and a spokesman said the company has added over 190 miles of single strands of fiber to downtown Tampa to enhance internet capacity. It has also added over 48 miles of indoor data cabling at the Forum and Convention Center, where many of the 15,000 members of the worldwide media will work.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report. jpoltilove@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7691

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