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Wednesday, Oct 01, 2014
Joe Henderson Columns

Henderson: Council makes the right call on downtown tower

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A project like the 36-story tower planned downtown next to the Straz Center shouldn’t just sail through to approval without a thorough screening, and Tampa City Council members made sure it didn’t. They asked tough, fair questions and the community had a rousing debate.

That’s how the process is supposed to work.

That’s how it worked at a lengthy public hearing Thursday night, where all sides had their say. No one can say they got left out. Now, get busy and build the thing. For that matter, put a few more stories on it.

Bring more people downtown.

Let’s get started.

Technically, the project needs final approval when the council meets again on Aug. 22. That seems like a formality.

After Thursday’s 5-2 vote by the council to approve the tower’s zoning and other infrastructure changes, including vacating parts of Cass and Tyler streets, this project is almost shovel-ready. Councilwomen Mary Mulhern and Yvonne Yolie Capin dissented.

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Plans call for 380 apartments and a parking garage with more than 600 spaces, along with shops and other retail. Some opponents argued it was in the wrong spot, but I just don’t understand that complaint.

First off, that is the site where the builder decided it would work best, and it’s his money. Either build it where his investment says it works best, or don’t build it at all. Just saying, “Put it somewhere else” isn’t much of a game plan.

Secondly, it depends on what you consider “wrong.”

What’s wrong with the potential of several hundred more people out and about downtown on a given night? Tampa’s downtown has been historically drowsy after dark. This will help change that.

The initial complaints that it would negatively affect the Straz don’t hold up. The building actually could provide more parking for theatergoers. Residents might even roll out of their apartments and take in a play or concert without having to get in their cars.

The argument that a large tower will destroy the view and ambiance of the arts district doesn’t hold water with me, either. It is basically at the northern end of downtown, so it looks to me like only one smaller building will have its view of the Hillsborough River obstructed. The rest of the waterfront is largely unaffected.

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When I think of lively downtowns, I think of music, entertainment and dining. Mostly, though, I think about people strolling the streets, walking their dogs, taking in the sights. A project like this is the natural evolution from where Tampa is to where it should want to be.

More people living downtown is how all that starts.

A better downtown makes for a vibrant city. A better city.

Debates like we just had over a major project like this are healthy, and they ought to be part of any other big deals going forward. All voices should be heard, and then the best decision gets made for the greater good.

Building this tower is the best decision.

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