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Zephyrhills, USF team to revitalize downtown

With businesses moving north of town, the city looks for help from the university's Center for Economic Research.

By BRADY DENNIS

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 6, 2001


ZEPHYRHILLS -- The stagnant downtown retail scene of Zephyrhills may be getting an overhaul, thanks to experts at the University of South Florida.

USF's Center for Economic Research and the Florida Center for Community Design and Research will partner with the city and Main Street Zephyrhills to do a market study and land use analysis for the downtown area.

In short, officials are looking for a way to draw new businesses -- and new customers -- to the city's historic strip along Fifth Avenue.

It will take some work, as much of the city's retail center has gravitated north of town, where strip malls and megastores dominate the landscape.

"I used to have a place on Main Street, but I moved because the place was killing me," Marcus Price, owner of Cyberjester on 6305 Gall Blvd., said recently. "I pay three times the rent now, but I get 10 times the business."

Development experts at USF recently announced they will seek a $20,000 grant from the university to help with the project. The university has in-house grants set aside with the goal of helping surrounding communities.

"Successful revitalization of the area will help residents maintain and celebrate Zephyrhills' character, and will preserve some of the unique small-town characteristics of the Tampa Bay region," USF economist Gina Space wrote in the grant proposal.

In turn, the city -- with help from the Main Street organization and other businesses -- would match the grant with $20,000 of its own.

The lack of downtown retail business is no secret. At a recent meeting, city leaders and business owners sat down with the experts from USF and began to talk solutions.

The short answer, they said, is that it will take time. But they said the grant and subsequent study from USF could go a long way in turning the place around.

"The big issue is: Is the community committed enough to create a successful downtown in the long term?" Space said at the meeting.

"Some businesses are going to fail. It's going to take time and a lot of patience and community effort."

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