A $1.2 million project is under way to turn a portion of Zack Street downtown into an artsy, pedestrian-friendly thoroughfare leading to the banks of the Hillsborough River.
Construction has begun on the project's first phase and is expected to be complete in July, a month before the Republican National Convention takes place in Tampa.
The project will create a pedestrian corridor linking Franklin Street to the waterfront, the Glazer Children's Museum, the Tampa Museum of Art and Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park.
"From Curtis Hixon Park all the way to the federal courthouse, it's going to provide an opportunity for a great streetscape, a pedestrian-friendly environment and adding a lot of public art to the pedestrian experience," Mayor Bob Buckhorn said.
Buckhorn said the project is an investment in economic development. He expects it will be good for businesses and downtown Tampa's street life.
Zack will continue to be a two-way street, though lanes will be narrowed as sidewalks are widened. The project will integrate public art and add street lighting, trees, benches and other upgrades.
The city doesn't anticipate closing Zack Street during the project.
The project was a priority for then-Mayor Pam Iorio, who said it was essential to Tampa's redevelopment.
"We have heard from small businesses for years that we need to find ways to bring people who visit our cultural assets into the city core for other activities," she said in 2010.
The project ultimately will have three phases, costing roughly $3 million total and extending about 10 blocks from Ashley Drive to Nebraska Avenue, said David Vaughn, director of the city's contract administration department. Only the project's initial phase is funded; no timetable has been set for the other two phases.
It makes sense to begin the project from Ashley Drive to Florida Avenue because that's the busiest stretch of Zack through downtown, Vaughn said.
The project was put on hold for a few years when a Florida Supreme Court ruling halted the use of redevelopment money without voter approval. The city resurrected the project in early 2009 and earmarked funding.
In September 2009, the Tampa City Council unexpectedly voted to cut the $2 million in proposed funding for the project, citing Tampa's dire financial straits and thoughts that the money would be better spent on neglected parks, pools and other facilities.
Backed by downtown business leaders, Iorio lobbied the council to support a plan to split the Community Investment Tax money between Tampa's parks department and the Zack Street project. Council members agreed, and the city used the money to convert a portion of Zack into a two-way road and to pay for conceptual plans for the project.
"It was important to Mayor Iorio and it was the right thing to do, and so I think it's going to fit nicely and will bridge administrations," Buckhorn said.