TAMPA — North 22nd Street has come a long way since a hit-and-run driver struck and killed two siblings and injured two others as they crossed the road at night nine years ago.
Now the two-lane artery is a hub of activity lined with wide sidewalks, 4-foot-wide bicycle lanes, improved lighting, off-the-road transit bus bays and landscaped green spaces.
The street’s checkered past and the people who helped to change it were acknowledged Thursday at a ceremony to mark the completion of the $20 million road improvement project.
More than 100 spectators joined Hillsborough County commissioners Mark Sharp, Les Miller and Victor Crist and state Rep. Betty Reed at the dedication outside the University Area Community Center adjacent to 22nd Street.
“It’s called the 22nd Main Street project, which might sound pedestrian,” Sharp said. “But families were afraid to go outside. The street was dangerous.”
Now North 22nd Street is home to a community recreation center, health clinic, a junior achievement center, a senior retirement village and apartment complexes.
County Commissioner Victor Crist, a longtime activist in the University Area community, described the project as a labor of love inspired by residents and business and political leaders, including former University Mall manager Tom Locke, who died in July; Don Grantham, pastor of University Baptist Church; Jim Norman, who served as a county commissioner and state senator; and University Village residents Walter Hood and Gertrude Johanson.
Judy Locke said her husband spent 18 years looking forward to the completion of the 22nd Street project.
“Tom was always dedicated to children. That was his sweet spot,” Judy Locke said. “He always wanted the children to have a place to grow and reach their completeness in the community.”
The remake of North 22nd Street from Club Drive behind University Mall north to Bearss Avenue began as a single project funded in part with money from a 1993 grant to clean out and makeover high-crime neighborhoods, Crist said.
The road project lingered until the fatal hit-and-run traffic accident nearly a decade ago sparked community protests.
On the night of March 31, 2004, Jennifer Porter, then a 28-year-old dance teacher who lived in Pasco County, was driving home from work when she struck four children as they were crossing North 22nd Street near the community center.
Porter pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident involving death. She was sentenced in 2005 to house arrest and probation, which she completed in 2010.
After the incident, 22nd Street improvements grew to become a three-phase project to increase public safety. The county contributed millions in Community Investment Tax dollars for wider lanes, new traffic humps, sidewalks and improved lighting.
Supporters hope the makeover will help trigger an economic boom to attract new businesses and high-tech companies paying high wages.
Miller acknowledged the accomplishments and encourage supporters to continue the fight for more public-private partnerships to make the University Area a premier gateway community.
“It has to be a collaborative effort to make this a good place to work, live and play,” Miller said.