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A touch of Paris on Kennedy Boulevard?

While the street may never look like the French scene on the invitations to the public meetings, many have high hopes.

By RON MATUS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published November 1, 2002

Carmen Smith says Kennedy Boulevard looks better than it did when she set up shop six years ago. She credits city officials for uprooting prostitutes and planting crepe myrtles.

But the owner of Artsifartsi at Kennedy and Habana Avenue is not a big fan of billboards or auto repair shops.

And she still sees too much "riff raff" near downtown.

"Kennedy Boulevard is the gateway to Tampa," Smith said. "I think it has improved dramatically ... but there's still room for improvement."

Local officials agree.

They're conducting two meetings to get public input on bettering traffic flow on Kennedy and making it look better. The first one is next week.

Among items on the table: The possibility of design standards for new buildings.

Kennedy Boulevard, once called Grand Central, "is not just a street, it's our community's main boulevard," said City Council member Linda Saul-Sena. "As such, it should be grand, not mediocre."

The two "interactive open houses" were organized by the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization. Saul-Sena chairs the group's Livable Roadways Committee, which floated the open-house idea.

In June, the MPO hired a consultant to study congestion and traffic safety on Kennedy. Similar studies have been done on other major roads in Tampa, but this study will look at aesthetics, too.

A report is due in February.

For the upcoming meetings, 500 invitations were sent, mostly to merchants and neighborhood leaders.

The back of the invitation shows a drawing of a tree-lined boulevard in Paris, with tall buildings set close to the street. Below the picture, the caption asks, "What is your vision for Kennedy Boulevard?"

Saul-Sena sees the meetings as a way to kick-start plans that were put on the back burner a decade ago.

In particular, she's pushing for design standards similar to those in SoHo, Ybor City and downtown. Her vision: Buildings closer to the street, with fewer driveways and parking in back.

A more attractive boulevard, she said, will boost property values and the community's quality of life.

It's unclear how merchants and property owners will respond.

Jay Furnari, executive director of the South Tampa Chamber of Commerce, said he didn't know about the upcoming meetings. He said he couldn't comment until he learned more.

Smith, whom Saul-Sena calls "an urban pioneer," renovated a two-story Victorian home to set up Artsifartsi, which sells high-end contemporary crafts. At the time, she figured Kennedy Boulevard was a decade away from a renaissance.

Her projections may have been a little optimistic, but Smith still sees positive change coming. She pointed to recent city attention on Hyde Park and SoHo.

"Kennedy Boulevard deserves every bit as much attention," she said.

The first meeting is Thursday, in the lobby of the Mise En Place building, 442 W Kennedy Blvd. The second is Nov. 12, in the center court of WestShore Plaza.

Both meetings will run from 4-7 p.m. For more information, call Ronnie Blackshear at the planning commission, 273-3774, ext. 351, or reach him at

-- Ron Matus can be reached at 226-3405 or

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