HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — Hillsborough County and the City of Tampa are taking steps in the next two weeks in a plan to revitalize the Uptown District near Tampa's University Area. This community has struggled for many years as a result of urban sprawl and a lack of development and investment, according to community leaders.
Leaders with the Tampa Innovation Partnership, otherwise known as !P, will present the !P District business plan to the Hillsborough County Commission on Wednesday.
This includes Mark Sharpe, the executive director, and Eddie Burch, the communications and coordination officer with !P. Christopher Bowen, Chief Development Strategist with RD Management LLC will be presenting also.
Goals include transforming the University Mall into RITHM at Uptown, a project for the Fowler Avenue corridor between I-275 and 30th Street/Bruce B. Downs.
Community leaders are also creating an Uptown Innovation District, which is an area centered on Fowler Avenue, Bruce B. Downs/30th Street and Busch Boulevard. It's designed to encourage office and industrial redevelopment and to redevelop obsolete structures, according to the Tampa Innovation Partnership.
But to achieve that, Sharpe said it's critical that public and private investment focuses on infrastructure and safety in this redevelopment zone.
"Just better sidewalks, better lighting, encouraging people to be able to walk in a safe environment," Sharpe said.
The University Area has had a dangerous record of deadly crashes, especially when it comes to pedestrian and bicycle deaths.
"What you'll find in the University Area, and I experienced this firsthand, is that it's dangerous to walk," Sharpe said. "It's dangerous to ride a bike. It's dangerous to drive."
As a part of the strategic plan presented to both city and county leaders in the next two weeks, Sharpe said they will focus on making people less reliant on cars and feeling safer walking, riding, and taking public transit.
Some of the measures included in the strategic plan include:
- Launching the Uptown Circulator
- Construct the Veterans’ Tech Trail, a multipurpose trail connecting the RITHM At Uptown (the University Mall property) to the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital property
- Secure funding to build needed sidewalks
- Include provisions for bike-share
- Expand the Veterans’ Tech Trail into the Uptown Greenway Trail Network connecting to the broader Hillsborough County/City of Tampa network
There are also goals to help empower the community as a part of the strategic plan. One of the biggest aspects is securing funding for job-training programs that should deliver skills needed to excel in the engineering and medical fields, with a special focus on information systems, cybersecurity, data science, artificial intelligence, machine learning and other emerging specialties.
Additionally, it will include incentives for the workforce and affordable housing in an established community benefits plan.
The new strategic business plan has been developed by the Tampa !P Executive Board Chair, Advisory Board Chair, Opportunity Zone Consultant, Executive Director & staff, the UACDC President/CEO, as well as staff representatives from Hillsborough County and The City of Tampa.
Moving forward, !P will present this plan to Tampa City Council next week and also be seeking community feedback and engagement. In the meantime, Sharpe is asking local governments to take action.
"Now is the time for the city and the county to come together and invest in the community at Uptown," Sharpe said. "We're putting together the plan. Now is the time, and it really requires a significant investment. I'm frustrated because what I see are sprinklings of investments that occur, we need significant investments."
Sharpe said they are seeing positive moves in private investment for these projects from companies like Yuengling, where executives are planning to invest $65M.
"We have other development partners along the corridor that are coming together," Sharpe said. "We need the city and the county to join us."