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Ybor City fights back against flooding

The city is considering a $3-million project to funnel stormwater south to the Ybor Channel and Hillsborough Bay.

By SUSAN THURSTON, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published October 4, 2002


Every day before closing time, Jill Wax drags a custom-made blue tapestry sandbag to the front door of her La France vintage clothing store.

She never knows when a storm will roll through and flood her business on Seventh Avenue.

It has happened before.

"When we have a downpour, the pipes fill up and the water has no place to go," she says. "We get flooded from the front to the back. I have to do a whole lot of laundry."

To fix the problem, the city of Tampa is considering a $3-million project to funnel stormwater from Ybor City south to the Ybor Channel and Hillsborough Bay.

Last week, Ralph Metcalf, the city's sanitary sewer director, gave the City Council a briefing on the options.

If approved, the project would improve drainage in the area of 16th Street between Palm Avenue and Seventh Avenue near Centro Ybor. Crews would add a 1,500-foot pipeline down 16th, redirect runoff and expand the storm sewer capacity.

Local leaders say it's a long time coming.

"I grew up in Ybor City and we always had some flooding. Now, with all the development, we have less open (land)," said Vince Pardo, executive director of the Ybor City Development Corp., a city agency that assists businesses.

Ybor, particularly the area of Centro Ybor, lies in a naturally occurring bowl that collects water from as far north as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. During storms, water rushes south, forming a bottleneck in Ybor.

New construction over the last few years has worsened the problem, business and city officials say. More buildings mean less vacant land to soak up the water.

Wax said flooding became a big issue at her store when Centro Ybor went up. In July, cars passing along Seventh created 4-foot waves at her front door.

As a result, city crews started blocking off the street during downpours. They also have improved drainage in alleys behind businesses using tax money collected in Ybor.

Construction on one project continued this week. Every little bit helps, Wax said. In the meantime, she keeps her mop handy.

- Susan Thurston can be reached at 226-3394 or thurston@sptimes.com.

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