A midtown shuttle bus service centered in West Tampa might be the type of redevelopment jolt the city's central neighborhoods need, according to a plan endorsed by the West Tampa Chamber of Commerce.
The bus service would be a comparatively simple, doable part of a sweeping plan that will replace the North Boulevard public housing complex with a mixed-income, mixed-use neighborhood, revitalize West Tampa businesses and create a walkway along the Hillsborough River's western bank.
A funding source for such an undertaking might be local property tax revenue collected within a special West Tampa tax district. And there also is a recommendation for a temporary moratorium on development fees typically collected by city and county governments.
"This is a golden opportunity to reframe the future of West Tampa," said developer Ed Turanchik, who presented the plan Tuesday to about 60 people at the chamber's monthly luncheon. Turanchik said he and chamber board members have been working on the proposal for more than a year.
The former Hillsborough County commissioner and mayoral candidate has a track record of ambitious projects. Nearly a decade ago, he unsuccessfully tried to bring the Summer Olympics to Tampa. He proposed Civitas, an infill project for an urban village north of downtown that ultimately lacked funding. And he built about 50 homes in West Tampa before the crumbling economy stalled the project.
West Tampa has been the focus of much discussion since February, when planners with the Urban Land Institute released a study suggesting redevelopment goals for about 140 acres stretching from Columbus Drive south to the Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park.
The area Turanchik is proposing for a special tax district is bordered by Columbus Drive, the Hillsborough River, Interstate 275 and Habana Avenue. The riverwalk would stretch from I-275 to Columbus. The city currently has nine such districts, including ones in East Tampa, Drew Park, Ybor City and the Channel District.
The proposed rapid transit bus service — with about 25 hybrid buses — would link downtown, West Tampa, Westshore and Tampa International Airport. Buses would run every 15 minutes at rush hours, and every 30 minutes at other times. Turanchik said he is consulting with Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority officials onoperating costs.
Mayor Bob Buckhorn has seen the proposal but is uncommitted. "The details are a long way from being finalized," he said. "I think West Tampa is going to do great things, particularly in transportation and business development. … We just have to proceed carefully."
Buckhorn said a special tax district "would be a very hard sell."
Reaction from the chamber's lunch audience was generally positive, but also cautious.
A moratorium on developers' fees appealed to Armando Roche, founder of Roche Surety & Casualty Co. Inc. "You'll be able to open up the community to development and maybe push it along to where you want to grow," he said.
Former city councilwoman Mary Alvarez said other West Tampa redevelopment plans have been tried. "This plan has new and old things there," she said. "I think we're waiting to see what develops before we get excited about it."
West Tampa community activist Joe Robinson said Turanchik contacted him about the proposal, but Robinson has not reviewed it.
"It can't be the chamber and its nice pictures," Robinson said. "I'd be a strong advocate against it if it isn't inclusive. It can't be just about people with money."
Turanchik and the chamber plan to present the proposal in November to the Old West Tampa Neighborhood Association. A town hall meeting also is planned in December.
"We want to get the conversation going," Turanchik said.