A gas station, a Vietnamese restaurant, and a sporting goods store were set ablaze, and were among 40 Tampa businesses damaged during weekend unrest at the end of May, in an area that developers and planners have been working to revitalize for years.
Despite the destruction, plans are moving ahead to transform Uptown Tampa, described as "two parallel universes" because of its high poverty rate in close proximity to universities, medical centers, shopping and tourist attractions, leaders of the Tampa Innovation Partnership said Friday.
“We have approximately eight percent of the population in Hillsborough County which lives in Uptown,” said TIP executive director Mark Sharpe, during a conversation Friday broadcast by Cafe con Tampa.
“We have some of the poorest demographics, with a per capita income well below the national average. And then we have some of the wealthiest, and they live side by side and it's like two parallel universes, just kind of like missing each other,” added Sharpe, a former Hillsborough County Commissioner.
“But we will not succeed as a nation if we just try to go back to where we were before COVID, or before this latest incident. We've got to go forward.”
Protests have swept the nation following the death of George Floyd, who died after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
Tampa police arrested at least 70 people and said a total of 40 business sustained damage, including fire and smashed windows, and 23 of those businesses were looted.
“I've gotten a lot of reaction over the last week and a lot of shock, frankly, you know about what’s happened,” said developer Chris Bowen, who is leading a project to build a 100-acre mixed-use walkable city center on University Mall property.
“This is our street. This is our neighborhood together. And I'm not going to make excuses or try and cover up what people are feeling, okay? This is the place to show your feelings but to do it in a constructive way and to create outcomes together. That way, we can all be proud of it and we can all share it.”
Demolition on a Sears building began in January, to make way for the development that known as Rithm, which stands for “research, innovation, technology, habitat, and medicine.”
Connecting different spaces safely is a key part of the Tampa Innovation Partnership, which began in 2011 and spans 25,000 acres in northern Tampa. The area draws four million tourists per year, and is home to Busch Gardens, the University of South Florida, Moffitt Cancer Center, the James A. Haley Veterans Administration Hospital and Advent Health.
The boundaries include Busch Boulevard to the south, Bearss Avenue to the north, I-75 on the east and I-275 on the west, encompassing pasts of Tampa, Temple Terrace and unincorporated Hillsborough County.
Part of the plan includes a shuttle connection and pedestrian and bike trail between the VA Hospital and the Rithm development.
Bowen also said a major project in planning mode is the redevelopment of Fowler Avenue, a multi-lane roadway lined with businesses.
“That's probably a billion dollar plus project that is coming down the pike for us,” Bowen said.
“Five years ago it was probably going to look more like a highway, you know, as it does. Now it's turned to becoming really a boulevard plan that is urban focused and pedestrian focused, and bike focused and mass transit focused. So in the last five years, this has probably done a 180 (degree turn) in the planning of the redevelopment.”
Sharpe said that presently, it’s simply not a safe place for strolling shoppers.
“The challenge with that areas, it's not safe to walk, it's not safe to bike. We have the worst rankings in the nation. And that's not satisfactory,” he said.
Sharpe said he is at the stage of being “excited about the concepts,” which include studying ways to connect the downtown area to the uptown area, with the potential for bus rapid transit and lead to a “very different looking Fowler Avenue that would connect the entire quarter.”
He added that raising revenue is also a concern.
“We're not at this time looking to increase -- certainly not in this age of COVID and just in general -- anyone's taxes, but we are looking at ways that we can generate revenue for the much needed infrastructure improvements, or at least do a better job of coordinating our needs in the uptown district with the entities that do dispense government revenue, so that we can have a clear vision of where that money should go,” Sharpe said.