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Moribund 22nd St. has hope of flourishing

Armed with $5-million from the county, planners float ideas for a road through poverty.

By JOSH ZIMMER, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 7, 2002

UNIVERSITY NORTH -- An ambitious revitalization plan is taking shape for the 22nd Street corridor, a struggling 2-mile stretch from Fowler to Bearss avenues.

On a large overhead screen Wednesday night, Hillsborough county planners and their consultants unveiled a study they hope contains the seeds of success for a major artery through one of the county's poorest neighborhoods.

According to the vision, the corridor would be widened and landscaped to become pedestrian friendly with plenty of curbside parking and a magnet for new businesses. The ultimate goal, beyond the window dressing, is to improve housing and create jobs. The meeting at the University Area Community Center attracted a varied crowd of residents, business owners, law enforcement officers and people interested in taking advantage of business opportunities. One of them was Howard Harris, who recently opened a nonprofit group called Bootstraps, which aims to build affordable, single-family housing.

"I understand conceptually what they're trying to do," Harris said. "I think it probably needs to be refined a bit, get a little more community input. What I'd like to see a little bit more of is some relating of experience, like 'We've done this before in this area and this worked out.' "

Harris also gave a thumbs-up to the emphasis on landscaping, bike paths and sidewalks. But planners will have to figure out a way to reduce the amount of rental housing, which accounts for most of the market, he said.

"I think they're really going to need to figure out a way to significantly add to the stock of single-family and owner-occupied homes in the area," he said. "These people by and large living there don't have any stake in the area."

Planners and consultants were upbeat about the possibilities while also cautioning patience. A final plan needs to be developed with greater input from local residents and business owners, said Michael Callahan, project manager with the county's Department of Planning and Growth Management. The next meeting will probably take place within six weeks, after planners review comments from the meeting.

Some of the good news, Callahan said, is that $5-million in community investment tax revenues is earmarked for renovating the corridor.

Planners pointed to bright spots: the existing commercial activity on Fletcher and Fowler avenues, and the high volume of foot and bus traffic along 22nd Street, which "energizes" the corridor, consultant Ian Nestler of Boca Raton said.

But the demographics are daunting, marketing consultant David Scussle said.

For example, the abundance of rental housing, much of it built for University of South Florida students, is not meeting the needs of families, he said. Planners' game plan vastly expands the property set aside for single-family and multifamily dwellings.

To encourage economic development, they proposed a large commercial/office center on the south side of Fletcher between 22nd and Bruce B. Downs. Another idea they're floating would place combination family/business units along 22nd Street, which Scussle said could be attractive to small commercial owners.

"The balance of 22nd Street has great potential, but it's a conglomeration of many things that happened over the years," Nestler said.

Any plan will take years to complete, Callahan said.

"It's going to be three to four years before we can spend (the money) in full," he said. "I know there must be some impatience in the community. We're here now."

-- Josh Zimmer can be reached at 269-5314.

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