USF surrounding communities to get a makeover

The neighborhoods surrounding USF will soon be turned into an Innovation Destination by a coalition of Tampas public and private stakeholders.

Hillsborough County Commissioner VictorCristhas worked with a planningcommittee to design a series of maps that outline areas of critical need, based on detailed geographic and sociologicalresearch. These areas will receive a number ofredevelopments, infrastructure improvements and programs to help residents withemployment during the next10 to 20 years.

The areas of concern are where you have poverty, crime, vagrancy and unemployment,Cristsaid.

Cristsmapped 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 andBruce B. Downs Boulevard in the north toSulphurSprings and Hillsborough Avenue in the south.

He said areas that couldbe redeveloped include the Hidden River Business Park east of USF, a Telecombusiness park and vacant shopping areas aroundTemple 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 beginworking to identify who the partners should be, get them to the table and begin developing an action plan,Cristsaid.

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 acampus thats part of a larger community that is vibrant, its got a strong economy, low crime rates, is attractive to live in, has a lot of things thatstudents want to do in the way of entertainment or jobs then were 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 JudyGenshaftcalled the areas surrounding USF horrendous and embarrassing.

Merrill said that creatinga foundation of soundinfrastructure and reducedpoverty and crime rates inCristsmapped territory would be an incentive for othercompanies 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 thepoverty line, and 2,199 violent and 12,020 property crimes in the last year, Tampa is safer than only 13 percent of thecities across the U.S., April, the Tampa area had an unemployment rate of8.9 percent, according tothe federal Bureau ofLabor Statistics.

Now that maps have been drawn,Cristsaid the next steps are to identify the stakeholders who have a vested interestin their respective communities
and to decide on a process bywhich an actual plan may be developed. The Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation (EDC) will help bring partnerstogether for the project.

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

University spokesman MichaelHoadsaid 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 findingways to improve the areasaround us.

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

Once theEDCbrings all partners together, the coalitionwill develop a framework for conducting an existing
condition analysis, which is an examination of the housing, poverty and unemploymentlevels, types of industries, land uses and zonedesignations of the targeted area, and coming to an initial plan forinfrastructure 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.

Its more than just making a few cosmetic changes to Fowler Avenue or Fletcher Avenue orwindow dressing to make it look better, Merrill said. It doesnt 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, helpsmall businesses, flourishand lift the economy, youre not going to take USF to the next level. So thats really the vision here.

Cristwants the coalitionassembled and the processdetailing how existing condition analysis will be carried out by the end of June.