But there's more work to be done, and so on Monday morning Mayor Bob Buckhorn announced a master plan and design study of downtown, the Nebraska Avenue Transit Corridor and its surrounding neighborhoods that he says will depend heavily on public input.
They're calling it the InVision Tampa Campaign for City Center, and the city is spending $1.2 million of recently received funding from a Housing and Urban Development grant to use two consultants on the project — AECOM out of Orlando, and Parsons Brinckerhoff, both global consulting firms.
"This is a plan where neighbors and neighborhoods are going to be fully engaged. We're going to go and talk to people about what they want their future to look like," Buckhorn said at a news conference at the City Hall Courtyard. "And talk to them about what they want this urban environment to look like. What are the amenities they need and how is it that they get to work, how they can live work and play in the same area? What it is that helps their neighborhoods successful?"
Throughout the half-hour-long event, Buckhorn repeatedly emphasized that it would be a grass-roots plan and not a decision made by those sitting inside City Hall — though he said inside groups like the Tampa Bay Partnership would be intimately involved. "The more diverse the voices, the better," he said.
The project will include Channelside, Ybor City, Tampa Heights, and the west bank of the HIllsborough River.
Buckhorn said he wanted the community to buy into the plan, which is why he says they'll be the major drivers of it, with regular and electronic town halls to elicit their opinions (with the first such meeting scheduled for tomorrow evening at the Hyatt Regency downtown).
AECOM is a global company that has most recently worked on developing the Olympic Village in London in advance of the 2012 Summer games. It's also worked on projects in New York, Hong Kong and San Francisco. Tim Jackson from the group said he was looking forward to "exciting, creative, engaged civic involvement here, as you, the citizens create a plan and vision for the future of downtown...and the future of Tampa in the global economy."
The mayor said the scoping-out of a a plan for mass transit wasn't explicitly in this study, but would be part of the planning process. "It's a long road to go," he admitted, referring to the fact that there is no money for a light-rail system following the rejection of a light-rail tax by countywide voters in 2010 (though the tax was approved by Tampa residents).
Last week the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) approved a resolution calling on the state Legislature to allow cities the right to place tax referenda on their own ballots (current law only allows counties to do so). Buckhorn said on Monday he supports that initiative, adding that if it were law, he could imagine himself and St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster getting together to run referenda that would allow Downtown St. Pete to be connected to Tampa International, and TIA to downtown Tampa.
When asked by the Tampa Tribune's Kevin Wiatrowski if the city could generate enough funds to support a light-rail system, Buckhorn said it would be a start, and hopefully could be supplemented with funds from the federal government.
Buckhorn said this project will work in tandem with the Urban Land Institute's study for downtown, as well as a study of the west bank of the Hillsborough River. "All three of these studies are going to be layered on top of each other," he said.
Tim Jackson with AECOM says there are three things that need to happen in Tampa: 1) Connect the Hillsborough River to community assets; 2) A transportation system that connects everyone; 3) Great neighborhoods that people want to continue to invest in.
When asked if his emphasis on downtown city life could alienate residents in the upper reaches of Busch Boulevard or New Tampa, for example, Buckhorn said without an active downtown, "You really don't have a city." But he insisted his staff was active throughout all parts of Tampa.
The first part of the study is scheduled to conclude this October.