Transforming Tampa Bay

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Transforming Tampa Bay: Everything old is new again

Posted By on Thu, Jul 3, 2014 at 5:13 AM

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn tests the accommodations during a pre-opening tour of Le Méridien. - CHIP WEINER
  • Chip Weiner
  • Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn tests the accommodations during a pre-opening tour of Le Méridien.

Le Méridien, the four-star hotel fashioned from the 1905 Federal Courthouse, is consciously cool. Gary Prosterman, the developer, had already successfully transformed a YMCA in Philadelphia into a Le Méredien, so he knew what he was taking on. The scale and complexity of this 105,000-square-foot structure was challenging and expensive, costing $27 million.

A graceful aspect of this massive re-do is how well the original structure morphed into a 130-room hotel. Massive corridors of separate offices became hotel rooms with modernistic bathrooms and enormous original windows sporting killer views of Sacred Heart’s windows, St. Andrew’s steeple and the Franklin Exchange’s mid-century modern grilles.

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Thursday, June 19, 2014

Green dreams

Posted By on Thu, Jun 19, 2014 at 6:00 AM

Dr. Kip Curtis. - LINDA SAUL-SENA
  • Linda Saul-Sena
  • Dr. Kip Curtis.

Finally, our community is making the critical connections between kids, gardens, health, jobs and green spaces. The Edible Peace Patch Project in St Pete has come up with a brilliant template for tying these issues together. Their motto summarizes their strategy:
“Build Gardens. Feed Bodies. Expand Minds. Grow Community.”

The project was the brainchild of Dr. Kip Curtis, an Eckerd College professor who moved here in 2006 to teach environmental studies and sustainability. Kip noted the area’s low graduation rates and large “food deserts,” parts of town where fresh fruits and vegetables are tough to come by. He felt that these factors, byproducts of poverty and racism, combined to produce poor diets and limited opportunities.

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Thursday, June 5, 2014

Transforming Tampa Bay: The groves of academe — Temple Terrace

Posted By on Thu, Jun 5, 2014 at 2:54 AM


If I were looking around for a special place to live, on the Hillsborough River, with loads of amenities, I’d choose Temple Terrace. This one-mile square, incorporated town, located just east of the University of South Florida, bears out the adage about the relationship between quality and quantity — smaller can be better.

Let’s start with the community’s origins. One thousand years ago, Tocobaga Indians discovered the abundant fish and wildlife here, followed in 1750 by Spaniards. Around 1912, Mrs. Berthe Palmer, a Chicago socialite and businesswoman, purchased 19,000 acres for shooting and ranching in Hillsborough County. She named her preserve “Riverhills,” and built a hunting lodge, a water supply system, groves and a golf course.

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Thursday, May 15, 2014

Transforming Tampa Bay: Saving the good stuff

Posted By on Thu, May 15, 2014 at 5:04 AM

SUCCESS STORY: Construction teams continue to gussy up Tampa’s Federal Courthouse, on its way to becoming Le Meridien. - AMY MARTZ
  • Amy Martz
  • SUCCESS STORY: Construction teams continue to gussy up Tampa’s Federal Courthouse, on its way to becoming Le Meridien.

Americans have a marked tendency to throw stuff out and move on. We initially did this by wearing out the land and moving ever westward. We do this with clothes, jobs and relationships. Persuasive advertising almost always starts with the words “new” or “improved.”
Framing a compelling argument for keeping things goes against the grain of our national psyche. It’s challenging.

This week Tampa Bay will be filled with folks who want to protect what’s worth saving in terms of our communities. The Florida Trust for Historic Preservation is returning to our area for its 36th annual conference.

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Thursday, May 1, 2014

This old mansion

Posted By on Thu, May 1, 2014 at 1:30 PM

Cade Allen Mansion. - LINDA SAUL-SENA
  • Linda Saul-Sena
  • Cade Allen Mansion.

Chris Wescott boldly undertook the restoration of the Cade Allen Mansion without knowing about the bees.

Neglected for decades, this 5,000-square-foot stone-clad residence stood at the entry of the Allendale neighborhood in St. Petersburg. Although Wescott had remodeled several other residential properties, including some in Old Northeast, he’d never taken on an historic project of this scale and complexity.

When he purchased the property in November 2013, Wescott noticed a few bees buzzing around the front door. What a shock when the bee-removal expert found a honeycomb dating back 50 years.

The bee remover discovered 400 to 500 pounds of honeycomb hidden inside the front entryway, which required the sudden, dramatic demolition of part of the stone parapet above the front door.

“He’d never seen such a massive honeycomb in his entire professional life,” muses Wescott.

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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Is Hyde Park the Garden District of Tampa Bay?

Posted By on Wed, Apr 9, 2014 at 8:29 PM

  • Todd Bates

New Orleans’ Garden District is known for its stately historic homes, old brick patios, brilliant azaleas and canopied streets. Sound familiar?

Hyde Park and the Garden District certainly share a number of qualities: charm, old money, well-mossed oaks and front porches as favored living spaces.

The differences:

• They have a functioning streetcar. Ours (which traveled up Bayshore Boulevard and down Rome) is only a memory.

• We have Bayshore Boulevard — and better schools.

• Their oldest homes date from the early 1800s and our earliest examples are from the 1880s.

• Both areas have faced challenging economic times and, in my opinion, thanks to the attraction of historic preservation with protective legislation, have never been more attractive, polished and sought-after as neighborhoods to brag on.

• They have Mardi Gras and we have Gasparilla. Both feature prominent local leaders in heavy make-up, elaborate costumes and a markedly inebriated state during a parade past the best addresses in town.

Yep. Hyde Park is our Garden District, for sure.

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From rundown to reborn

Posted By on Wed, Apr 9, 2014 at 8:24 PM

  • Todd Bates

Hyde Park hasn’t always been the tony neighborhood we now know and love. It suffered years of being ignored, chopped up or simply neglected. As a young urban planner, I was around for its fall and rise.

What were Hyde Park’s problems? First, the streetcar which ran up Bayshore Boulevard and along Rome Avenue was ripped out in the late 1940s. The bungalows that were new and nice in the 1910s and ’20s were getting older and required maintenance. Fashions and economics changed after WWII, and the GI Bill subsidized car-oriented suburbs. The area faded.

The neighborhood’s real estate values declined, and slumlords, particularly Emilio Ippolito, bought grand old homes and cut them up into single-room occupancy apartments. With fewer homeowners, the area got shabbier. Neglect bred neglect.

“In 1973, Hyde Park was rough and scruffy and so was I, so it was a good fit,” explains Charlie Greacen, a young artist who moved to Tampa as a cartoonist for the Tampa Tribune. He chose a well-worn walkup on Richardson Place which he named “Dilworth Manor” in honor of Philadelphia’s educator and former mayor, Richardson Dilworth. Journalists Greg Tozian, Dan Ruth and George Meyer were among the Dilworth Manor alums whose legendary parties enlivened the burg.

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Thursday, March 13, 2014

If you believe in ferries ...

The fantasy of a leisurely cross-bay cruise to dining and nightlife may one day be a reality.

Posted By on Thu, Mar 13, 2014 at 4:00 AM

While the transportation planners crunch the numbers and the politicians count voter preferences, I’m imagining the experience of actually riding a ferry from Tampa to downtown St. Pete on a spring night.

Exhale slowly and envision yourself standing on a jetty by the Florida Aquarium in downtown Tampa. You’ve just parked your car in the ample lot, or maybe you took the bus or rode your bicycle, which you stored on the on-site bike rack. If you have time before your ferry is set to depart, you snack at the Aquarium or a nearby cafe and explore a few shops along Channelside Drive.

Gulls shriek as you step onto the ferry, holding your cell phone up to the scanner so that it can record your ticket. The sleek modern catamaran holds 200 passengers with both indoor and outdoor seating. After buying a glass of wine, you settle into a seat by the window to watch an enormous cruise ship pulled slowly up the Channel by a tugboat.

Since the ride to the dock in downtown St. Pete is leisurely — 42 minutes from departure to arrival — you decide not to look at your phone, but to enjoy the glorious sunset.

The low moan of a foghorn announces your arrival. You’re greeted at the dock by eager ferry-riders queueing as you exit, a swift exchange of people. After another brief toot of the foghorn, the boat backs out into Hillsborough Bay for its return run. You step out into the lively crowd strolling up Beach Drive, debating internally, “The French place to the left or the brewpub up the street?”

The ferry’s practical daily scenario, its bread-and-butter run, will be a trip between Schultz Park in South County and MacDill Air Force Base, transporting residents of Brandon, SouthShore and Apollo Beach. This will have the crisp efficiency of ferry-tram-office, allowing commuters a mellower trip and saving them both money and minutes, $2,500 a year and 30 minutes daily.

Fun comes in the off-peak times of funneling passengers, both visitors and residents, to both downtowns, Tampa and St. Pete, for sporting events, concerts, museums, shopping and dining. These trips could be direct, or they might triangulate from St. Pete to Schultz Park to Tampa.

The inclusion of Schultz Park adds a wonderful natural component to the mix of the two urban centers. This county-owned facility will offer bike trails, fishing and canoe and kayak rentals. The park will connect 66 acres of unspoiled land, creating a safe habitat for Florida wildlife.

“Urban eco-tourism” is the moniker created by Ed Turanchik, the ferry’s proponent, to describe the experience for residents and visitors. “I can imagine folks coming to the Tampa Bay area for a weekend of urban and outdoor adventures, all connected by this great ferry system, streetcar and trollies,” enthuses the environmentalist/lawyer and former county commissioner.

“People could do a museum and dinner in St. Pete, go biking in South County or kayaking in the Kitchen, and catch an event at the Forum without ever using a car over a two-day weekend.”

Doesn’t that sound like a great time? I’m ready to choose the seagulls for my traveling companions. How about you? 

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