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USF surrounding communities to get a makeover

Published: Monday, May 14, 2012

Updated: Monday, May 14, 2012 01:05

 

The neighborhoods surrounding USF will soon be turned into an “Innovation Destination” by a coalition of Tampa’s public and private stakeholders. 

Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist has worked with a planning committee to design a series of maps that outline areas of critical need, based on detailed geographic and sociological research. These areas will receive a number of redevelopments, infrastructure improvements and programs to help residents with employment during the next 10 to 20 years.

“The areas of concern are where you have poverty, crime, vagrancy and unemployment,” Crist said.

Crist’s mapped territory, which has been branded “Innovation Destination,” has USF centered in the targeted region extending from Interstate 75 in the east to Interstate 275 in the west, and from New Tampa and Bruce B. Downs Boulevard in the north to Sulphur Springs and Hillsborough Avenue in the south.

He said areas that could be redeveloped include the Hidden River Business Park east of USF, a Telecom business park and vacant shopping areas around Temple Terrace.

However, the idea is in its beginning stages, as money and partners in the project are still being decided.

“I laid it out on the table, and I asked the county to begin working to identify who the partners should be, get them to the table and begin developing an action plan,” Crist said.

Mike Merrill, Hillsborough County administrator, said one of the reasons for doing this is “to attract and keep the best and brightest students at USF.”

“If we can create a campus that’s part of a larger community that is vibrant, it’s got a strong economy, low crime rates, is attractive to live in, has a lot of things that students want to do — in the way of entertainment or jobs — then we’re going to be able to … keep students that will then want to stay and become a part of the community rather than just get a four-year degree … and then (leave) Florida or  Tampa,” Merrill said.

At a mayoral forum on campus last year, USF President Judy Genshaft called the areas surrounding USF “horrendous and embarrassing.” 

Merrill said that creating a foundation of sound infrastructure and reduced poverty and crime rates in Crist’s mapped territory would be an incentive for other companies to invest in the area and build their bases in it.

With about 18 percent of 335,709 residents who live in Tampa fall below the poverty line, and 2,199 violent and 12,020 property crimes in the last year, Tampa is safer than only 13 percent of the cities across the U.S., according to neighborhoodscout.com. As of April, the Tampa area had an unemployment rate of 8.9 percent, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Now that maps have been drawn, Crist said the next steps are to identify the stakeholders who have a vested interest in their respective communities
and to decide on a process by which an actual plan may be developed. The Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation (EDC) will help bring partners together for the project.

The core group of partners will probably include the Innovation Alliance, which is a non-profit comprising USF, Moffitt Cancer Center, Busch Gardens and Florida Hospitals, Merrill said.

University spokesman Michael Hoad said in an email that the four members of the Innovation Alliance began to collaborate on two overall concepts, which are helping “economic development by working together” and finding “ways to improve the areas around us.”

“Fletcher Avenue, for example, is a huge problem for USF students,” he said. “We have an estimated 1,000 students a day crossing Fletcher on foot.”

Once the EDC brings all partners together, the coalition will develop a framework for conducting an existing
condition analysis, which is an examination of the housing, poverty and unemployment levels, types of industries, land uses and zone designations of the targeted area, and coming to an initial plan for infrastructure improvement and redevelopment. 

Merrill said that even before the existing condition analysis can begin, the coalition would need to figure out “what has to be done, what point in time, who needs to do it (and) how do we get the resources.”

“It’s more than just making a few cosmetic changes to Fowler Avenue or Fletcher Avenue or window dressing to make it look better,” Merrill said. “It doesn’t really address the underlying … problems, so jobs, poverty, crime are really the factors that are driving that area that kind of surrounds USF. Unless we can change those … (by creating) good-paying jobs, help small businesses, flourish and lift the economy, you’re not going to take USF to the next level. So that’s really the vision here.”

Crist wants the coalition assembled and the process detailing how existing condition analysis will be carried out by the end of June.

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