There are a lot of ideas and plans that the mayor and other major players have in the works to achieve that goal (particularly in developing West Tampa), and one method Buckhorn has employed is to allow the public to have say about what they want downtown and the neighborhoods surrounding it to be.
On Tuesday, Buckhorn held a news conference in City Hall's Courtyard, the very same place where he first introduced InVision Tampa last April. InVision Tampa is a master plan and study — of downtown, the Nebraska Avenue Transit Corridor, and its surrounding neighborhoods — that he pledged would depend heavily on public input.
"This plan — what you see here — is the culmination of a lot of work," Buckhorn said while holding up a paper copy of what represents The Center City Plan. "But it is just the beginning, not the end." (The other major part — the Nebraska Avenue Corridor plan — will follow later).
Officials say the report includes a lot of public input, including more than 800 in-person attendees and more than 1,000 social and virtual town hall users who were allowed to weigh in on what they want downtown Tampa to become. There were also eight neighborhood walking tours and community meetings, more than 20 stakeholder group meetings, and a public design workshop, all held in neighborhoods like Tampa Heights, Ybor City, V.M. Ybor, Old West Tampa, the Channel district, North Hyde Park, and the Nebraska/Hillsborough corridor.
"We wanted to create a blueprint for the development of our urban core. Not just our downtown, but all of our neighborhoods that connect with downtown," the mayor added.
The report was produced with Orlando-based AECOM, and the funding for it came from a grant from the department of Housing and Urban Development.
A decade ago, downtown Tampa was a ghost town after 5:30 p.m., but that hasn't been the case for awhile, especially with the increased use of Curtis Hixon Park for events on weeknights and weekends. Buckhorn said that developments on the west side of the Hillsborough River are also increasing, with plenty more to come. This includes the final expansion of the Riverwalk, and a privately financed renovation of Tampa's historic Water Works Building.
AECOM's Pete Sechler said there are two documents with the study. One is called "Issues and Opportunites," where much of the input received from the community has been assembled. The other is the "Center City Master Plan," which Sechler said consists of the input from the first document to generate the ideas that are in it.
There are 10 "forward moves" in the report:
1. Nurture new river places that spur activity and create access to the Hillsborough River and Garrison Channel, extending the economic value of the Center City waterfront.
2. Make the north downtown neighborhoods a multimodal, walkable area that extends the value of the Riverwalk and cultural venues east to Nebraska Avenue.
3. Establish streets and parks as primary elements of civic identity to catalyze downtown as the location of choice for new private development investment in the region.
4. Redevelop south downtown in a pattern of streets, blocks and public spaces that connect the Channel District with venues in the Downtown Core.
5. Reposition street corridors from traffic conduits to residentially-oriented, balanced “Neighborhood Connectors” and local business “Main Streets.”
6. Rebalance Tampa and Florida Avenues as local streets, joining neighborhoods while providing regional access.
7. Develop an attractive, safe, cross-city, multi-purpose trail that links the eastern and western Center City to neighborhoods and the Riverwalk.
8. Create a premium local transit route crossing the river from the Channel District to North Hyde Park to link residential, employment, and academic areas and capture “choice riders” as a mechanism for both transportation and economic development.
9. Continue on the mission of repositioning the large parcels of property within the Center City for development while supporting grassroots efforts for neighborhood improvements.
10. Leverage substantial education and healthcare assets and investments by linking their large workforce and student populations with community revitalization.
Buckhorn said what will truly stimulate downtown is more residential housing.
"I think you're going to see in the next year and a half significant interest in highrise residential construction," he said, adding that it was important that public spaces "match" the development.
The report does not list any public expenditures that could help stimulate development. Buckhorn said that would depend on the "scope and the scale of the improvements."
Buckhorn name-checked his former City Council colleague Linda Saul-Sena as someone who always believed that the Hillsborough River should be the center of downtown, and not the edge. Saul-Sena, who is now contributing to CL and attended the news conference, said afterwards that "this is great. He (Buckhorn) is talking about exactly the right stuff. Bringing credible people in from elsewhere is brilliant. I think this is spot-on. Now we just need to do it."
Karen Kress with the Downtown Tampa Partnership was an active participant in many of the discussions that have taken place all year long. She said the plan sounds great, but now it comes down to how it will be funded.
Kress has worked downtown for the last decade, and said that there have already been significant advances in city life.
"I think we need to give ourselves a little more credit," she said.
"This document will be a living, breathing blueprint for the development for our downtown and the urban core for the next 20 years," Buckhorn said, hoping future mayors can add to it after he's gone.
The InVision Tampa plan is also scheduled to be discussed at a community open house from 6 to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 27, at Tampa Preparatory School, 727 W. Cass St.