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Checking back on Channel District

By AMY SCHERZER, scherzer@sptimes.com
Published January 11, 2008


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In 1993, Kim and Richard Markham's move into a 20,000-square-foot warehouse on N 11th Street kickstarted the Channel District renaissance. Richard, a family physician, and Kim, an accountant, opened a medical clinic and rallied the fledgling neighborhood - maybe 20 residents at the time, counting cats and dogs - to define itself.

Then in January 2005, the Markhams moved onto 6 acres in Molokai, Hawaii, a rural island of 7,000 people with no traffic lights, no daily newspaper and one movie theater. Now, the couple grow organic vegetables and fruits. Kim is a competitive outrigger paddler; Richard is an award-winning Auwana hula dancer.

Last week, they visited the Channel District for the first time in three years. I had a few questions for them, and they shared some insightful thoughts about this changing community.

 

Your first reaction?

Kim: Amazed, and alternatively elated and disappointed. We drove around in circles going, "Wow, look at that, wow." We remembered when our first house used to be next to a crack house, and now it's a beautiful law firm. It felt like a place you've never seen before but you've known you've been there.

Richard: Some buildings are better than the drawings, like the Ventana (condominium). Some buildings didn't have the visual impact I thought they would. I hope the architects continue to push the limits to create interesting buildings.

Your biggest disappointment?

Kim: The city hasn't addressed the streetscape for the benefit of the residents living there. The developers have made really nice and expensive improvements, but they can't do it alone.

Richard: It's almost inexcusable to plan for three years. Paved streets, wide sidewalks, landscaping, parking ... I thought that would be done by now. It's not even begun.

 

Despite your efforts to enforce the district's 60-foot height limit, the City Council waived the restriction to allow high-rise condos. What went through your mind when you saw the towers?

Kim: To me, it already looks very similar to neighborhoods in Miami and even South Hyde Park. We spent thousands of hours defining the district's unique sense of place. Now the distinction is blurred.

We did hope at one time the district architecture would hark back to the low-rise, big-box warehouse style, in sharp contrast to a glamorous urban core where 30-story towers belong.

In Molokai, no building can be higher than a palm tree, so no one's view of the ocean is ever blocked.

Richard: I always thought the most interesting part of the Channel District were the views of the channels, the ships and the industry across the water, which gives a glimpse of Tampa's history and ongoing reality of this city. So we always argued for a deep setback on the waterfront. All of the waterfront should stay in the public domain.

 

You helped lobby the City Council and the County Commission to create tax increment financing (TIF) here. Has that achieved what you hoped?

Kim: TIF money is a blank check for City Council to spend a pool of tax money for whatever they want. With 10,000 to 30,000 projected residents living in a hurricane zone, the Channel District Council wanted a protected infrastructure, buried utilities and we wanted 10 percent to be directed to the arts, because that's what was so special about the district. I don't know if that's been done.

Richard: We had a difficult time getting back to business after the four hurricanes in 2004 because of flooding and especially the downed power lines. TIF should address those infrastructure issues first, but I am also in favor of some types of buy-down or subsidies for artists and arts groups so they can co-exist in the urban core with residential and commercial.

 

So what do you find pleasing in the district?

Kim: I love the vibrant colors, blue, green, purple. I'm thrilled about the Stageworks space - they used to have their rehearsals in my house. Our primary goal was not to drive out the artists, because that's what made the district fun. A few who own their buildings are still there, but most of the renters are gone.

It's still the best place to live for three reasons: location, location, location. It's still the heart of the whole urban experience. In a way, I'm sorry I can't be in two places at the same time.

 

You once wrote in your Channel District newsletter many things you would accomplish as Mayor for a Day. What suggestions do you have now?

Kim: I wish the empty retail spaces could be occupied by galleries, even temporarily, while we get through the recession.

Richard: The city should use some TIF or public money to purchase some pocket parks and install decent lighting so people can safely enjoy the streets after dark. And some land needs to be reserved for public parking.

 

What do you miss about Tampa?

Richard: I miss my patients, and I miss walking to hockey games. Nobody in Molokai cares about my Lightning. I still keep my skates and stick handy. We developed a surge of enthusiasm for the district, rode a great wave of energy through City Council and developed great friendships.

Kim: I miss the urban fabric, the wine-and-cheese art openings. We have the hula scene, but I miss peering into someone else's mind. I miss decent restaurants - it's a 50-mile flight to Honolulu or an hour-and-half ferry to Maui. I miss all our friends and invite everybody to visit us in Molokai.

[Last modified January 10, 2008, 07:25:20]


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