Downtown Dwellers: Raising urban kids in Tampa

For Downtown Tampa families with young children, the neighborhood isn’t an urban jungle, it’s an urban jungle gym with easy access to outdoor space and cultural activities.

According to a recent biennial survey compiled by Tampa Downtown Partnership, married couples with children make up 21 percent of the population living downtown or within three miles of the city hub.

And with more than 4,000 residential units in the downtown area currently under construction or slated for construction, more will be coming to fill those halls with the laughter of children.

“We are catering to families more and more; that’s what good cities do,” says Kelsy Van Camp, Director of Marketing and Communications for Tampa Downtown Partnership.

Tampa’s multigenerational appeal is clearly on the rise.

Raising urban kids

There’s The Tampa Riverwalk, that eclectic history lesson/art path hugging the east bank of the Hillsborough River, a perfect place for roller skating, walking dogs, and riding bicycles. Curtis Hixon Park, a key event hub, where children can almost always be seen throwing a Frisbee or dashing through water fountains.

A few blocks away, Rampello Downtown Partnership K-8 Magnet School on East Washington Street boasts an ‘A’ rating and sought-after lottery admission.

Daily downtown life might include a kid-appropriate ‘pop up’ performance by a group like The Florida Orchestra. Such ‘pop ups’ have become surprise delights in downtown and bring culture and entertainment out in the open. It’s not uncommon to come across an impromptu all-comers Zumbu class or yoga event. And, yes, kids are welcome to join in and try out their downward dog pose.

City kids (and their parents) find this world of excitement at their doorsteps.

Consider little Ellie Paulino’s lifestyle: weekdays, the first grader’s day begins on the Downtowner as she heads to Rampello. The free ride service makes the six-block commute simple. Ellie lives in an apartment downtown with parents Rafael and Sam and younger sister Eve.

During Ellie’s kindergarten year, homeschooling was an easy choice, Rafael says. Regular destinations included the Florida Aquarium and the John F. Germany Public Library, with its schedule stacked with kids’ classes. Now that Ellie is enrolled at Rampello, he and Sam like that she’s close by.

“Living and working downtown is even more appealing when you have easy access to your child,” Van Camp says. “Plus, the Rampello students have many field trip opportunities within walking distance.”

Buzzing with possibilities

Tampa wasn’t always as inviting to the kiddie set. Rafael is a former New York City resident; when he and his family moved to the Bay Area two and a half years ago, the civil engineer for Bohler Engineering worked on the NINE 15 apartment building on North Franklin Street. When construction began, the surrounding blocks contained abandoned stores and felt desolate, Rafael says. Now, the neighborhood is buzzing with possibility.

“We see people drive miles and miles to enjoy activities we can walk to from our apartment,” he says. “There’s just so much here for us.”

For Ellie, that means plenty of classes at the Straz Center for Performing Arts. Comparable music and drama education in the Big Apple is exorbitantly expensive, Rafael notes, and the Straz is just a plie away (barely an exaggeration). Experiences, he explains, are what his family values; what they lack in living space, they make up for in access.

Destinations are plentiful, and organizations like the Channel District Community Alliance are serving as catalysts for a more neighborhood feel. The association brings neighbors together and sponsors events. And an increase in family-family establishments like niche grocery store Duckweed Urban Market as part of an ongoing trend toward an all-inclusive downtown environment.

Quality family life

Such convenience is a premium for Lauren Karfonta Durkin, who lives downtown with her husband Bryan and their young son, Hudson. She commutes to her job at Citibank in Brandon, where Hudson attends daycare, and she arrives home each day thankful that house upkeep isn’t on the agenda. Her family cherishes their weekends, she says, and the lack of ‘honey do’ lists frees them to explore all Tampa has to offer.

Hudson loves the splash pad at nearby Waterworks Park, a mile north along the Riverwalk. Whenever the mood strikes, the family grabs a ball and heads across the street to Curtis Hixon Park. Like the Paulino family, the Durkins have lived in downtown for two and a half years and bear witness to the continuing change.

She urges young families to consider living in Downtown Tampa and to ponder what they believe to be quality family life. Living for today and for the moment is possible in such a space, she says. Plus, she notes, the area is coming alive.

“There’s just so much energy,” she says. “I never thought that when I had a child I would live in a high-rise condo — and I absolutely love it here.”

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