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Nip and tuck

After years as a premier community, Tampa Palms wants a new look.

By EMILY NIPPS
Published July 13, 2007


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TAMPA PALMS - Throughout the late 1980s and '90s, Tampa Palms prided itself on its modern home designs, sparkling fountains and sleek monument signs. Homeowners were quick to distinguish their own gate-laden community - New Tampa's first of its type - from the similar subdivisions that followed.

But times have changed. Developers have gotten savvy. New, exclusive neighborhoods have crowded New Tampa, boasting newer golf courses, water parks and decorative lampposts.

Suddenly Tampa Palms, where the average home goes for close to $500,000, doesn't look so fancy. The parks are a little blighted and boring. The fountains look limp. The homes and signs and all of the things that once set Tampa Palms apart now look so ... common.

And that won't do, especially in today's tough real estate market.

Tampa Palms' Community Development District and the homeowners association recently asked a landscape architectural firm to check out other communities, both in and out of New Tampa, and report on what it finds. The neighborhood Areas 1 and 2 only is prepared to spend millions of dollars on a facelift, a five-year plan that could include new signs, a showcase community center and interactive fountains, much like the ones children play in at Lowry Park Zoo or Grand Hampton's pool.

Call it a grand-scale version of keeping up with the Joneses. Or, if you live here, as tax district consultant Maggie Wilson does, "it's more like keeping up with the Tampa Palmans."

That's because "we have a perception of ourselves," Wilson said. "But is that a 1990s perception, or is that a perception based on reality today?"

- - -

Most Tampa Palms residents would agree that the royal blue tile background and brass lettering on the monument signs have served the neighborhood well.

Yet home buyers might find the old design dated or tacky, especially as some of today's newer planned communities mark their entrances with neutral hues and more modern fonts.

The Tampa Palms pool in Compton Park is perfectly adequate for swimming, and the crowns of fountains add a nice touch to the community's ponds.

But look at the water slides in West Meadows and Heritage Isles. Or the bubbling springs in the Grand Hampton swimming hole, right next to the Olympic-sized lap pool.

"We're seeing all these new subdivisions with developer money to promote them on billboards," said Bill Edwards, president of the Tampa Palms Owners Association. "In the end, it's all about: When people sell their houses, what are buyers looking for?"

Randy Marlowe, who has lived in Tampa Palms almost seven years and serves on the taxing district board, agrees that upgrades are necessary. The light posts are "getting a little long in the tooth" and could use a touch of modernization, he said. He's in favor of a new community center and a water park.

"The amenities here are good," he said. "I don't know if they're state-of-the-art, though. I'm not so interested in why someone would or wouldn't buy a home here. I'm more concerned with those we've lost, those that have moved to other neighborhoods."

Penny Timson is one of them.

Although she still works in Tampa Palms and is a member of the Tampa Palms Women's Club, Timson moved with her husband to live on a large lake in Cory Lake Isles.

Tampa Palms is "an aging community," she said. "But it's still very beautiful, and it has the new shopping center going in. It's a very nice place to live."

Hardeman-Kempton, the consultant firm Tampa Palms hired, has taken on the task of making the neighborhood a hot property again. It will help its client decide what kinds of bells and whistles it needs, what it wants and what it can afford.

"It's analysis basically saying, 'Hey, you know what you have, here's what these people have, and this is what some other people have,' " consultant Ted Kempton said. "We hope to ultimately give them a benchmark to work with so they can still be considered a premier community."

Just what it means to be "premier" is subject to interpretation, and neither Wilson nor Kempton wanted to offer a definition that might offend people elsewhere.

Tampa Palms will host a community planning workshop on Aug. 4, the first of several sessions aimed at collecting input and ideas for improvements. At this first meeting, Hardeman-Kempton will present its inventory study of other neighborhoods, as well as an in-depth look at Tampa Palms' current state.

They are looking at the clubhouse in Hunter's Green, the landscape of Seven Oaks, the pool in Grand Hampton. They are looking at the commercial areas of Westchase and the entrance sign at Cheval.

"We are not a fad-driven design firm," Kempton said. "Just because you put the latest gizmo in a pool doesn't matter. We're trying to create common areas that offer elements and amenities that create lifestyle."

The budget for the "rebranding," as many Tampa Palms leaders are calling it, is sizable. Since it retired its $1.3-million-per-year bond debt last year, the CDD hopes to make all of the upgrades without borrowing more money. If anything, Wilson expects fees to go down.

With that kind of financial health, Wilson said, "I would guess that one of those interactive water features is coming to a park near me very soon."

Emily Nipps can be reached at (813) 269-5313 or nipps@sptimes.com.

 

 

If you go

Community planning workshop

When: Saturday, Aug. 4, at 10 a.m.

Where: Compton Park clubhouse

Who: Any residents living in Tampa Palms Areas 1 and 2.

Purpose: To generate input and feedback on what improvements and amenities might make Tampa Palms a more desirable place to live.

 

[Last modified July 12, 2007, 07:57:58]


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