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Zephyrhills moves ahead on downtown facelift

Despite drawing complaints the first time around, city officials pursue a state grant for a second phase of streetscaping.

By CARY DAVIS

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 29, 2000


ZEPHYRHILLS -- Depending on how you look at it, City Council members are either committed to revitalizing downtown Zephyrhills or they're gluttons for punishment.

The council voted unanimously Monday night to seek a state grant for the second phase of the city's streetscaping project, giving preliminary approval to plans that would extend the renovations three blocks east, create more public parking and provide money to downtown business owners for building improvements.

The first phase of the streetscaping project, completed earlier this year at a cost of $1.1-million, focused on revitalizing the central business district.

Fifth Avenue and several side streets were repaved. A new drainage system was installed. Workers tore up the concrete sidewalks along Fifth Avenue and replaced them with brick. The intersection of Fifth Avenue and Seventh Street was paved with a multicolored brick design. Antique lights now line the sidewalks and the freshly landscaped median of Fifth Avenue.

The improvements were hailed as a rebirth for the downtown business area. But the project also drew angry protests from downtown shopkeepers, some of whom complained that they nearly lost their businesses when Fifth Avenue was torn up and closed for four months this past winter.

Now, as the city prepares to embark on a second round of improvements, residents are taking sides again.

City Manager Steve Spina, the lightning rod for many of the complaints that plagued the first phase of the project, said the plans his staff unveiled Monday night won't inconvenience downtown businesses.

"This won't be nearly as intensive," he told council members.

The proposed improvements include:

Purchasing land downtown for public parking lots.

Building new sidewalks along Fifth Avenue from Ninth to 12th streets. Plans also call for new sidewalks along Eighth and Ninth streets. The sidewalks would be concrete with brick borders.

Installing antique lights and new landscaping in the median and along the sides of Fifth Avenue from Ninth to 12th streets.

Setting aside up to $160,000 for facade improvements to downtown buildings. Each building would be eligible for up to $20,000 for the improvements. Building owners would be required to pay a 10 percent match for any city funding.

The city's application for the $600,000 commercial revitalization grant must be submitted to the state Department of Community Affairs by the end of May. To be eligible for the grant, the city must agree to pour $225,000 into the project.

Spina said construction could begin next spring.

Jim Childers, who owns an insurance agency on Fifth Avenue, said he can't wait.

"The activity downtown since they finished the streetscaping has really picked up," Childers said. "But one of our biggest problems has always been parking, so anything they can do to give us some lots would really help."

Sue Lynn Miller, owner of a Christian bookstore downtown, agreed.

"If they're going to help the store owners improve their buildings and give us some more parking, which we desperately need, I think it would be great," Miller said.

Others said they dreaded the idea of another major construction project in the downtown area.

"I'm against it," said jewelry store owner Mel Tschappat, "because the last time they did this, it nearly ruined my business."

Ann Hubbard, a candidate for City Council, spoke out against the proposed improvements at Monday night's meeting. She said city residents should be allowed to vote on whether they want their tax money spent on another streetscaping project.

"People are tired of it,and they don't want any more money spent on it," Hubbard said.

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