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Planner Draws Up Artists' Enclave

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TAMPA - An effort to lure trendy, affordable housing downtown could include trading offices for artist lofts on north Franklin Street.

The Wilson Co. has had preliminary talks with the city about creating homes for artists at the block of buildings it owns on the east side of Franklin, between Zack and Twiggs streets. The idea includes converting a seven-story section of the Franklin Exchange building from offices to lofts.

The lofts would be priced to attract people who can't afford high-rise condominiums proposed for the Channel District.

More specifically, the goal would be to draw people willing to move to an area of downtown dominated by vacant buildings and businesses left shuttered after 5 p.m.

``Artists move in where angels fear to tread,'' said Wendy Ceccherelli, the city's arts and cultural affairs director. ``They make an area trendy.''

No plans are concrete yet, but artist lofts would be a progressive way to aid city efforts to use the arts to lure residents and businesses downtown, said Harry Costello, a Wilson Co. spokesman.

Artists could move in just south of the Tampa Theatre and north of restaurants that cater to the office lunchtime crowd. A block to the east, developers are vying for a chance to turn the old federal courthouse into everything from a hotel to a museum.

``There seems to be a dynamic that is evolving along Franklin Street,'' Costello said. ``It's only going to continue.''

The Wilson Co. promotes the area by hanging art on the outside of its 22-story office tower on Franklin Street. The lofts would be in the seven- story office building between the high-rise and the original three-story exchange building, Costello said.

The buildings now house offices for lawyers, engineers and other professionals.

The city is trying to attract residential and retail development downtown with a riverwalk, waterside parks and a new art museum. Construction of the museum is expected to start this year.

Lofts have sprung up in the Channel District, and high-rise condo proposals for the southern end of downtown show the potential for bringing in people who want to be residents.

City officials want residential development to push north to vacant buildings in the Franklin Street area, with the hope of creating homes for a variety of income levels.

``Great downtowns have a mix of housing [and] an eclectic mix of people. That's what creates energy,'' said Mark Huey, the city's economic development administrator.

The city announced in the spring an effort to create an artists' enclave intended to spur economic development in Ybor City. The proposed East Village of the Arts - north of Interstate 4, between 12th and 19th streets - calls for starting with five houses and four apartment units to be leased to artists at a low rate.

The city contends if it helps artists move in and they help fix up a neighborhood, grocery stores and cafes and more houses will follow.

The Wilson Co., which produces commercial and affordable residential development, doesn't expect to finalize plans for its downtown properties until the end of the year.

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