In effort to encourage people to support local businesses and still practice safe social distancing, the Partnership provided picnic tables, planters, and lighting to the City of Tampa’s Downtown Lift Up Local recovery zone locations.
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TAMPA — You can tell a lot about a city from the trash it leaves behind.
For 14 years, Julio Montalvo has charted the ups and downs of downtown Tampa’s evolution while guiding the Tampa Downtown Partnership’s Clean Team. His crew of 15 pressure-washes the sidewalks, cares for more than 200 planters, and makes things disappear — dog poop, graffiti, trash.
Nearly eight weeks ago, as the coronavirus pandemic gripped Tampa, Montalvo watched downtown sidewalks and parking spaces go empty overnight. Trash declined and changed from wine bottles and food wrappers to rubber gloves and makeshift face coverings.
Now, Montalvo said, the trash cans are filling up again, the empty parking spaces getting scarcer. Life is itching to return to the city.
“You can look around and there’s no parking on the street now,” he said. “It was empty before but now, this week, you see more cars on the street, you see a few more cars in the parking lot, and I noticed the trash going up, the cans filling up quicker.”
Montalvo and his crews have continued to work through the pandemic, picking up roughly 60 bags of trash every day from downtown’s 1,100-acre footprint. For the most part, they’ve had the streets to themselves.
Their rough estimate is that downtown’s skyscrapers and business bunkers have operated at about 20 percent capacity under Hillsborough County’s “safer-at-home” orders. With the decision by Gov. Ron DeSantis to reopen the state this week, they expect to see 50 percent capacity by the end of May.
The Downtown Partnership had to furlough its other team of helpers — the khaki-clad ambassadors who give directions, jump-start car batteries and offer all manner of aid. They’ll return to work Monday, said Shaun Drinkard, a senior director with the partnership.
“Before, they’d get stopped in the street by people asking, ‘What can I do downtown?’” Drinkard said. “Now, that question has taken on a whole new meaning. We’ll be helping people figure out what life is going to look like now, and our hope is that we can provide a level of normalcy so that no matter how life changes for all of us, people can come back to an inviting place and relate to the same downtown they’ve always loved.”
The Clean Team spent much of this week helping Drinkard turn eight city streets, three city blocks, into al-fresco dining areas for downtown’s restaurants. There is outdoor seating for up to 350 diners, with wooden picnic tables shaded by colorful umbrellas — at least six feet apart — strings of white lights hanging from street signs, and concrete barriers softened with large planters of colorful blooms.
The dining areas are open for a two-week pilot period under Tampa Mayor Jane Castor’s Lift Up Local initiative.
Drinkard said a highlight of his 10 years with the partnership was seeing couples enjoying a date night again.
“It was like, just for a moment, life was normal and exciting and promising again.”
Weeks of cleaning quiet streets have made Clean Team member Willie Daniels, 67, even more grateful for his job. He’s been seeing new faces among the familiar downtown homeless population, a sign of the toll the coronavirus has taken on employment and the economy.
“Because we’re working, you understand, we don’t have to go through the trials and tribulations these people are going through so it’s an A plus for us,” Daniels said.
The Clean Team has always enjoyed its role as unofficial anthropologists, Montalvo said. Graffiti is one measure of a community’s direction, he said, and he noticed an uptick once the coronavirus forced schools to close and students to learn at home.
It’s not the kind of graffiti the team is used to seeing, the work of artists and experienced taggers, but a shaky, single-color, illegible scrawl four or five feet up a wall — “amateur hour,” Montalvo said.
“It’s always, ‘School sucks, coronavirus sucks, everything sucks,’” Montalvo said.
But while the nature of the graffiti has changed, the number of graffiti cleanups declined from 50 or 60 in a typical month to just 10 in April, he said.
“We don’t let it sit one day. We’re right on top of them, and now that the city is so empty, they don’t have anywhere to hide. They stick out like a sore thumb.”
“Tampa’s Clean Team tracks arc of coronavirus in trash and graffiti” – Tampa Bay Times
The Tampa Downtown Partnership has handed out 50 grants totaling $50,000 under its recently announced Tampa’s Downtown Reinvestment and Relief Fund (“REfund”) Grant Program. The money, which does not need to be repaid, was given to businesses in the Downtown Tampa Special Services District impacted by COVID-19.
In order to be cautious and sensitive during this time the 34th Annual Meeting & Luncheon will happen virtually. We are excited to use this time to celebrate Downtown and the successes of the past year.
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Lanfranco Pescante was watching the novel coronavirus pandemic a lot sooner than most in the U.S.
Pescante, co-founder of Tampa-based Nocturnal Hospitality Group, is an Italian native, and he still has family there. Nocturnal’s entire business model is built on bringing people together — its concepts include nightclub Franklin Manor, Italian restaurant Osteria Bar and Kitchen and Mole Y Abuela, a Spanish tapas bar and restaurant — but he knew he couldn’t continue to host big groups.
“I was watching it unfold from there and I knew that it was going to hit here eventually,” Pescante said of Italy.
On March 15, Pescante and his partners made the decision to temporarily close, days before they were ordered to do so by the state.
“I thought that was the right move,” Pescante said. “There was a lot of uncertainty going around, and clubs and bars are difficult — you’re in the business of bringing people together, socializing. You’re very close at the bar, dancing, sweating, everything.”
The shutdown might’ve closed down their venues, but it hasn’t stopped Nocturnal from moving ahead with its latest concepts: Shibui, an Asian fusion restaurant, is nearly ready to open on the street level of Element, an apartment tower in downtown Tampa. The group is also getting ready to begin construction on La Pergola in downtown St. Petersburg and is booking events for later this year and into 2021 at Mision Lago Estate in Thonotosassa.
At the same time, they’ve been serving free and discounted meals to displaced hospitality workers as well as first responders and front-line service workers twice a week, for a total of over 6,000 donated meals.
With restaurants reopening — Gov. Ron DeSantis’ plan for reopening the economy allows restaurants to operate at 25 percent of their indoor capacity — Nocturnal is essentially getting ready to open four restaurants at once, between its three existing concepts and Shibui. Besides restocking inventory, Pescante said he also has to figure out a schedule for this new normal, when no one knows exactly how busy dining rooms will be.
Before the pandemic, Nocturnal had 160 employees. Pescante said he wants to bring back as many as possible, but it will be in small phases as they figure out how much business to expect. Franklin Manor, he said, is weeks out from reopening, but he plans to bring those employees into his restaurants.
“It’s extremely hard to gauge,” he said. “We have no idea, in terms of volume, plus a lot of our business is from the Straz Center or from Amalie Arena, and those are still closed. I don’t know how that’s going to affect people going out.”
But the new normal hasn’t quashed the excitement around Shibui. It’s a $2.5 million investment, one that Pescante hopes will bring vibes of Las Vegas or Miami to downtown Tampa.
“I think it’s something that does not exist in Tampa Bay, period,” he said. “I think there are amazing Asian restaurants, but I don’t think there’s something like this an — Asian-fusion lounge that has a vibe where you can go on a date, go with a group of friends, sit alone at the bar or have a business meeting.”
Despite the pandemic, Shibui has been ahead of schedule. In late April, Pescante joked on his Instagram story that it was the first time a contractor has ever been ahead of schedule — and he couldn’t even open anyway. The contractor, Crane Construction Co., is based in Chicago.
“It made the process a little less stressful,” he said. “Usually it’s a nightmare dealing [with construction], especially toward the end, and with the pandemic — it’s amazing how smooth it went on in that aspect.”
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