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Neighborhood report

Waterfront road again a subject of debate

Once again, a developer wants to close part of Bay Center Drive, a strip popular with fishermen and nature lovers.

By SUSAN THURSTON, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 24, 2003


Developers have resurrected a controversial plan to close part of a public road that overlooks Old Tampa Bay.

Highwoods Properties has asked the city of Tampa to vacate a section of Bay Center Drive just south of Interstate 275 to accommodate two seven-story office buildings.

If approved, Highwoods would buy the four existing buildings on the site and demolish them in phases over the next several years, said David Mechanik, an attorney for the development company.

The street closure goes to the City Council on Thursday at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall, 315 E Kennedy Blvd.

Neighbors plan to attend. They oppose removing a public road along the water and closing a secondary access to homes and condominiums on nearby Mariner Street.

"It's public property, and it should remain public property," said Margaret Vizzi, anmember of the Beach Park Homeowners Association and longtime resident.

The west side of Bay Center Drive is a popular spot among fishermen and neighbors who enjoy the scenic views of sunsets and the water. People stroll along the grassy strip, relax on the benches and watch fish leap from the bay.

For many, it's the area's best-kept secret.

"Everybody who lives around here or stays around here goes to walk," Vizzi said.

In 1997, another developer sought to vacate the street for a similar project but withdrew because of neighborhood opposition.

This time, developers hope for a different outcome.

Based on past objections, Highwoods has proposed leaving a 25-foot public walkway along the water and creating a road through the middle of the property that connects with Mariner, Mechanik said. Currently, the property owner, Harbinger, owns the land on the water's edge but allows the public to use it.

The city of Tampa parks, transportation and water departments initially objected to the proposal but were working early this week to resolve the issues.

Mechanik said the area offers companies convenience to the West Shore business district and beautiful views. Some tenants in the existing buildings, which date to the 1960s, may move to the new buildings.

Developers consider it prime real estate.

"Demand in the West Shore area has been pretty significant over the past few years and they are optimistic it will continue," Mechanik said.

Highwoods has developed commercial property across Hillsborough County, including the Intermedia complex in New Tampa.

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

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