Car traffic comes back to Franklin
By TAMARA LUSH
TAMPA -- It was 1974 and Mayor Dick Greco and other city leaders had an idea about how to nudge downtown Tampa out of its doldrums: close Franklin Street to vehicles.
People would stroll along the brick-lined streets, shop at the small boutiques and eat at the sidewalk cafes sure to spring up.
But the cafes never materialized. Neither did the stores nor the pedestrians. They all went to the sprawling suburban malls.
Greco left office for 20 years, then returned in 1995 to serve again as mayor.
Thursday, he and other city officials introduced an idea about how to nudge downtown Tampa out of its doldrums: open Franklin Street to vehicle traffic.
"The pedestrian mall was a great idea whose time has past," said Jim Cloar, president of the Tampa Downtown Partnership. "At night, it feels a little spooky here. Nothing is going on."
The majority of Franklin Street's foot traffic comes at lunchtime, when busy office workers grab a sandwich or a lottery ticket.
At night, the stores close and homeless people and police officers seem to be the only ones on the street.
Greco ushered in the changes Thursday by driving his car through a ribbon stretched across Franklin Street, officially opening the five-block mall to cars for the first time since he closed it to traffic in 1974.
The city will eventually spend $1-million to accommodate the traffic. So far, new lights have been erected and bright yellow lines were painted on the brick streets. Plans call for rebuilding the sidewalks and planting more trees.
Not everybody is sold on the idea.
Bhasker Patel, the owner of Franklin Street News, isn't so sure he wants cars on his street.
"It's a nice, quiet walking street at lunchtime," he said.
City leaders decided to preserve that tradition by keeping Franklin Street, between Kennedy Boulevard and Twiggs Street, closed to vehicles between 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. on weekdays so pedestrians can stroll at lunchtime.
Greco hopes the change will be the first of many to draw people downtown. In a month or two, he promised, the city will announce plans for downtown housing.
"The inner city is going to take on a new look; it will be vibrant," said Greco. "But it will take a little time."
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