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'Artistic' bus station opens for riders today

The two-story terminal with a clock tower, landscaped courtyard and mosaic artwork creates a parklike atmosphere for a once-dingy area.

By SUSAN THURSTON, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 14, 2003

For years, passengers waited for the city bus from a makeshift terminal tucked between the support beams of Interstate 275. Noise, dust and fumes spewed from speeding cars overhead. When it rained, mucky water splashed pedestrians below.

That all ends today with the opening of the Marion Transit Center, a $4.5-million bus station serving about 20 routes in the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit system.

HARTline moved its terminal to accommodate a massive state road project at the I-275 and I-4 interchange. The agency also wanted to make the bus environment more inviting to car-addicted professionals who work downtown.

"You can never expect to attract choice riders, who choose to ride, unless you can offer them an experience that is pleasant," said Ed Crawford, a HARTline spokesman.

The new terminal between Marion and Morgan streets in northern downtown has a two-story, 10,500-square-foot building and 14 bus bays. A clock tower and landscaped courtyard with benches and mosaic artwork create a parklike atmosphere.

HARTline executive director Sharon Dent came up with the Italian-influenced design while vacationing in Tuscany, Crawford said. She liked the simple lines and the style of architecture.

The main building houses a ticket area, offices, public restrooms and a break room for the bus drivers. The reception hall floor features a large flower design by Tarpon Springs artist Elizabeth Indianos.

The second story leaves 5,250 square feet for offices, which HARTline may lease to the Florida Department of Transportation or the city of Tampa for transportation-related business.

In the courtyard, the clock tower has a small concession area for a snack bar or vending machines. People waiting for buses will stroll across a patio of pale blue tiles, adorned with a mosaic of a hibiscus flower.

"Artistic," is how Crawford describes it.

The terminal is expected to serve about 2,500 passengers a day, who travel from as far away as the University of South Florida and Brandon to connect to other buses. The free Uptown Downtown Connector will have a stop at the terminal, linking riders to the new TECO streetcar line.

The station replaces HARTline's North Terminal a few blocks away beneath the interstate. DOT bought the old terminal for $886,000 so the contractor on the highway project would have offices near the job site.

HARTline closed the North Terminal in May, diverting buses to the general area of Marion street. The change upset some passengers who complained about the heat and eventually stopped riding, Crawford said.

Officials hope the new terminal boosts ridership and sparks new development in an area plagued by vacant lots and neglected buildings. It marks the first major project in northern downtown since the Sam M. Gibbons U.S. Courthouse, which opened on Florida Avenue in 1998.

"I'm hoping and I'm pretty confident that it will be a catalyst to spur a little confidence in that part of town," said Wilson Stair, Tampa's urban design manager.

HARTline built the terminal across from the Morgan Street cemetery on city-owned land, which the bus agency is renting for $1 a year. State and federal grants, along with money from the sale of the old terminal, paid for the construction.

A large chuck of the cost went toward stormwater improvements. To protect against flooding, crews had to build a huge vault under the terminal to collect water when it rains.

-- Susan Thurston can be reached at 226-3394 or .

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