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Neighborhood news

Road to progress has some ugly sights

By RICK GERSHMAN
Published April 27, 2007


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Talk about growing pains: Over the summer, the number of people living here will quintuple.

"In the next three or four months, we'll go from 120 residents to 600," said Henry Lewis, a Channel District business owner for decades.

The reason: Several large condominium complexes will finally open. In subsequent years, thousands more residents are expected.

"You're suddenly going to have a lot of people walking around down here," Lewis said. "And right now, it's not very nice to walk around."

Lewis has run his printing business, City Blue Print, in the Channel District since 1968. He's not pleased with the current state of affairs.

Lewis told the city's Community Redevelopment Area Board last week that the Channel District "is in the worst shape it's been in over 38 years."

Chief among his concerns: potholes, flooding, graffiti and trash.

Most result from the constant construction down here, as four major residential/retail complexes are in the home stretch of completion.

Lewis is one of numerous residents who gave the CRA board - which is composed of Tampa City Council members - and CRA manager Michael Chen an earful in separate meetings last week.

Francine McDonald said it's "very, very, very upsetting" that she pays nearly $12,000 in property taxes "to live in an area that the city is thoroughly ignoring."

Another concern is street parking, especially on 12th Street. Spots already are few and far between, and construction workers are using many of those, several residents maintained.

Chen said help is on the way, though fixing some of the engineering issues related to streets and flooding take time.

"I am sympathetic to the things they would like to have repaired," he said. "Certainly, that district has been impacted by a lot of construction.

"I would certainly like to deliver the improvements to residents faster. But they don't always understand there are some complexities. ... It's not always as simple as slapping down some asphalt."

Freshman council member Mary Mulhern was convinced that the problems deserve greater attention.

"Obviously this should be a priority for public works," she said. "We are expecting 6,000 new residents to move in there over time.

"I don't know if those condos are selling right now. And they are certainly not going to sell if people have flooded streets and graffiti and it looks blighted."

Said board member Joe Caetano: "If we are going to be the next great city, we have to take care of these people."

Public works director Irvin Lee called the Channel District's growing pains "a daunting challenge."

"There are multiple utilities or agencies that we have to work with, because we don't want to do one project just to create another problem," he said. "We are making progress."

Despite Davis' concerns, he said Chen is "doing a great job" and he's confident the CRA Board and city staff will deal with the problems.

"I think now that the CRA is aware of it, they will address the issues quite quickly," he said. "They're listening to our needs."

Davis contended that departments like public works and transportation haven't been able to keep up with massive development citywide.

"I think they need to contract out," he said. "This needs to be outsourced."

That's part of the plan, Chen said.

"We're looking at interim solutions and we hope to have some preliminary solution ideas in hand within the next two weeks," he said. "As soon as we have those in hand we're going to go out and contract the work."

Rick Gershman can be reached at rgershman@sptimes.com or 226-3431.

[Last modified April 26, 2007, 07:50:46]


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