Free shuttle, street cleaning crews now working the streets of an expanded downtown

TAMPA – Tampa’s downtown is expanding across the Hillsborough River and into Tampa Heights.

The Downtown Partnership special taxing district made the leap official Monday with the start of the new fiscal year and the collection of revenues from commercial and residential property owners in the rapidly developing Tampa Heights neighborhood.

Rick Fernandez, president of the Tampa Heights Civic Association, welcomed the expansion – especially for the free Downtowner shuttle it will bring, as well as street-cleaning crews employed by the partnership and the pith-helmeted, yellow-shirted, tourism ambassadors.

“Anything that connects Tampa Heights and downtown in this seamless way is a good thing,” said Fernandez, who attended a morning tour of the district for the media, city and partnership officials. The tour floated and rolled from Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park to the dining and entertainment areas Armature Works and the Hall on Franklin.

Fernandez and others hope the added services the taxing district will make possible can help tear down a cultural wall between residential Tampa Heights and downtown that was erected in concrete nearly 60 years ago with the construction of Interstate 275.

The district’s expansion is “something great cities do,” said Mickey Jacob, the Downtown Partnership’s chairman. “This is the first step.”

The expanded district enables “urban pioneers” in Tampa Heights who are seeking a funkier vibe to “maintain that special character in their neighborhood,” said Bob McDonaugh, the city’s top economic development official.

“It’s connecting it to downtown,” McDonaugh said, but not absorbing Tampa Heights into the skyscrapers that define the area to the southeast. “There’s a difference.”

The City Council approved expanding the district earlier this year.

Founded in 1994, the district assesses property owners $1.10 per $1,000 in taxable property value, bringing in about $2.5 million a year. Earlier this year, partnership and city officials estimated that expanding into Tampa Heights will bring in another $44,000. The boundaries are North Boulevard on the west, Palm Avenue on the north and Central Avenue on the East.

By Charlie Frago – Reporter, Tampa Bay Times

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