Guest post by Kevin Young and Kasi Martin
On January 10th, 2015, the future of the North Franklin Street corridor was put into the hands of over 2,000 attendees, multiple media outlets, and city planners. Tampa’s first Better Block Project, on North Franklin Street, kicked off the Tampa Heights Civic Association’s efforts to revitalize one of Tampa’s most historic neighborhood corridors and bring principles of tactical urbanism to the city on a grand scale.
Recognizing a need
Downtown Tampa is standing on the threshold of a major redevelopment boom. Forty acres of Tampa’s oldest suburb – Tampa Heights – are ripe for development. Bordering the northern edges of downtown, the neighborhood used to enjoy a bustling corridor on North Franklin Street. Long-forgotten, this corridor functioned as a neighborhood gathering place with restaurants, a theater, and public transportation. Now, it is home to vacant storefronts and abandoned lots. Recently a few trailblazing entrepreneurs have gravitated to the corridor, foreseeing Franklin as Tampa’s next beacon of urban development.
Seeing the potential for development, a Better Block Planning Committee formed. A group of young professionals active in local policy came together with Tampa Heights residents and business owners in the summer of 2014 to present the Better Block project and host the city’s first visioning exercise. Through concept boards, planning exercises, and group discussion, the neighborhood expressed their long-term vision for North Franklin Street. It included:
- Mixed-use development
- Redevelopment with an emphasis on low-rise residential buildings
- Pedestrian/bike friendly thoroughfare
- Locally-owned restaurants and retail
- Expansion of artistic and creative offerings (The Rialto Theater and Franklin St. Finest Woodworking have already set up shop)
Significant obstacles to this vision were also identified during the planning exercise:
- Exclusion of the corridor from Community Redevelopment Area special funding districts and a general lack of city redevelopment attention.
- The lack of a neighborhood identity (no district name)
- Perceived safety issues associated with a large homeless population using North Franklin Street to travel to social service offerings in the neighborhood.
- A lack of transportation planning including no bike lane, needs for traffic calming, lack of foot traffic, lack of bicycle racks, no bike share stations, and no streetcar stop.
A new neighborhood identity
Unlike other bustling neighborhood corridors in Tampa, this area of North Franklin Street had lost its identity. Taking their cues from the street’s distinct, blonde brick buildings and utilizing the power of social media, the Planning Committee rebranded this corridor as Tampa’s Yellow Brick Row district. False store fronts were built to mimic the blonde brick architecture, reflecting the neighborhood’s desire to keep the development aesthetic uniform on the street. Yellow bricks were also painted in the street and on sidewalks to reflect this vision.
Hello…#YellowBrickRow, A bustling corridor unveiled
The planning group worked from the Better Block open source model, infusing it with distinctive local flair and ideas. The day-long event transformed five blocks of North Franklin Street into a prominent corridor of Tampa’s future.
Tampa’s offerings included:
- Local Cuban art and food showcase inside an old dance club
- Handmade building facades to mirror the unique yellow brick buildings on Franklin Street
- A “Retail Row” featuring pop-ups from local jewelers, bakers and artisans
- Handmade wayfinding signs
- Local food truck park and outdoor cafe space
Beer garden with up-and-coming brewery previews and local bands
- Temporary bike station by Coast Bike Share
- Metalwork sculptures from a local artist (one was permanently donated to the area)
- Interactive parklets with gardens, games and rest areas
- Interactive “Imagine____ on Franklin Street” chalkboard wall
- Temporary transformed streets with painted crosswalks, parking and footsteps
- Temporary greenspace
- Artwork in street windows to reimagine vacant storefronts with tenant options
Another distinguishing element of Tampa’s Better Block was inclusiveness of the existing neighborhood and establishments. During the event, the homeless population mingled with 2,000 attendees, showing that the presence of social services in the neighborhood needn’t stall efforts to revitalize the corridor.
Better Block attendees were excited about the neighborhood, with many asking “What is next?” Business owners attended and told stories about their entrepreneurial efforts. Neighborhood residents strolling through said they were eager for a day when families could walk the sidewalks of North Franklin Street again. The most telling feedback came from an owner of Robertson’s Billiards, the oldest establishment on Franklin St. “I never thought it would take four generations to see my grandparents’ vision for this street come true.”
Follow #YellowBrickRow for continuing developments on Franklin St and the Tampa Heights neighborhood