Tampa has made great strides

By GREG MINDER, Special to the Times
Published December 31, 2007

Picture a place where you can step out of your home and walk to work, to a coffee shop, an art gallery, the gym."

As I read those words in the Times on Dec. 5 ("Life around Tampa Bay is no walk in the park - or to it"), an image of downtown Tampa came to mind. Downtown residents - which now number about 1,000 people - often walk to work, walk to Starbucks, walk to the Tampa Museum of Art, and walk to the YMCA.

So I was shocked when the article continued, "That picture will not include anywhere in Tampa Bay, according to a new study that ranks the area dead last for walkability in a survey of 30 major metropolitan areas."

As an executive committee member for the Tampa Downtown Partnership, the Urban Land Institute, and a board member of the Tampa Museum of Art, I feel it's important to set the record straight.

Downtown Tampa has become a great place to walk. The picture the Times article painted of a downtown that is not walkable is completely inaccurate.

Downtown residents walk to restaurants and to cultural and entertainment venues such as the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, Tampa Theatre and the Times Forum. They walk their dogs in Curtis Hixon Park and walk through the green space along the Hillsborough River.

Take Josie Cazares, for example. She is a resident of SkyPoint, a downtown residential tower that my company, intowngroup, built in partnership with Novare Group. She recently told us that she drives the few minutes to her job in Ybor City, but parks her car on the weekend. Last weekend, she walked to an "Art after Dark" event at the Tampa Museum of Art, walked to First Watch for breakfast, and to University of Tampa for the Victorian Christmas Stroll at the Henry B. Plant Museum. She says one of the best things about living downtown is being able to walk wherever she wants to go.

And although Cazares chooses to drive to work, many others walk. With approximately 66,000 people employed downtown, there are plenty of opportunities for downtown residents to walk to work.

For a lunch break or evening out, there are many restaurants within walking distance, too. The Web site www.hilifetampa.com, sponsored by the Tampa Downtown Partnership, lists more than 100 restaurants located downtown. The Fly and Malio's are trendy hotspots that attract a crowd, and dozens of other dining options provide plenty of variety to meet every taste.

With community leaders in government and the private sector taking action to foster the growth of downtown, Tampa has made great strides toward its goal to be a vibrant city that offers employment, residences, shopping, dining, entertainment and cultural venues, all within walking distance of each other. Especially as more residents move downtown, this trend will continue.

Tampa's downtown is constantly evolving, and will continue to do so indefinitely. Even downtown areas that have been around for 200 years (think Boston or New York City) continue to plan for growth and development. Tampa may be younger in the process, but we are in the same cycle of growth and constant renewal that keeps a city vibrant and flourishing.

If you want to picture a place where you can walk out of your home and to almost anywhere you desire, picture downtown Tampa. The reality is there are plenty of people - including Josie Cazares and her many neighbors at SkyPoint - who are already doing just that.

Greg Minder is president of intowngroup. He is an executive committee member for the Tampa Downtown Partnership, the Urban Land Institute, and a board member of the Tampa Museum of Art.