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Franklin Envisioned As Hub For Downtown

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Franklin Envisioned As Hub For Downtown

By ELLEN GEDALIUS [email protected]

Published: Feb 13, 2005

TAMPA - The number of yellow and green ``condemned'' stickers along North Franklin Street easily rivals the number of ``open'' signs on the once- bustling shopping strip. City officials, Tampa Downtown Partnership, developers and business owners envision something more.

The musty smell would vanish. The boards on shop windows would come down.

People would work on Franklin, and they also would live in condos there. After work, they would grab a drink, eat at a midpriced restaurant, see a flick at Tampa Theatre, admire the arts on Ashley Drive and walk - not drive - home to their urban lofts.

Today's sleepy and desolate Franklin would be tomorrow's hip and hopping place to be.

Why North Franklin Street? Why now?

Last week, representatives of the consulting company Hunter Interests Inc. told about 200 people gathered at Tampa Theatre of their plan to revitalize Tampa's urban core. Part of that vision plan centers on North Franklin, loosely between Kennedy Boulevard and Interstate 275. Company President Don Hunter proposes turning the corridor into an outdoor cafe district that would lure people to the streets after dark.

``You've got red brick, narrow lanes, landscaping,'' Hunter said. ``It's the kind of environment where if I was opening a cafe with umbrellas, it's exactly the kind of street I'd want to be on. A lot of the steppingstones to do this are in place.''

Consider:

* Franklin is home to Tampa Theatre, a historic movie house. People often look for a place to eat before or after the movie.

* TECO Plaza sits on Franklin, with the utility employing more than 700 people. Much of Franklin's revival depends on pedestrian traffic - people spilling out of the offices after work into restaurants nearby.

* Condos - and people - are coming. The condo project called Residences of Franklin Street will break ground in a few weeks. Construction is slated to begin on The Arlington, where condos sold out in a day and a half. Pradip C. Patel purchased the Maas Bros. department store buildings and, although he has no specific plans, residences and retail are options.

Those projects are in addition to the proposed Trump Tower Tampa, a condo project along Whiting Street and Ashley Drive.

The Forgotten Area

Franklin, a pedestrian mall between Jackson and Twiggs streets, has been ``Tampa's sort of forgotten area,'' said Stephanie Ferrell of Arlington Partners, the group converting the Arlington Hotel into 11 condos and eight offices. ``We're just beginning to do those interesting and exciting things that make a city vibrant and vital.''

In the cafe district, Hunter envisions a sushi bar next to a Greek restaurant next to an Italian eatery.

They don't have to be large restaurants, he said. Most could be mom-and pop places, although he speculates that some of the area's bigger restaurants might be interested in opening smaller spots on Franklin.

Large chain restaurants wouldn't be ideal, Hunter said. There's not enough room to park. Keep them in the suburbs, he said.

Retail also would be an important part of the mix, Hunter said.

Again, he doesn't anticipate high-end chain clothing stores. Rather, there would be art galleries and specialty shops, perhaps a florist or shirt and tie store.

To make that happen, Hunter would create a downtown development corporation, which would be charged with setting up a storefront office in the North Franklin area. The agency would try to lease five retail properties in its first year and another five a few years later. Old buildings would be rehabilitated and leased.

A foundering economy could jeopardize these dreams, said Rodney Kite- Powell, a historian at Tampa Bay History Center. Interest rates would climb. People would be less likely to invest in new condos. Banks would lose their ability to finance projects.

Besides renewing Franklin, the Tampa Downtown Vision and Action Plan outlines ways to boost the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center area and the city's proposed riverwalk along the Hillsborough River. area.

Christine Burdick, president of Tampa Downtown Partnership, hopes those districts play off one another: People could head to a restaurant on Franklin after watching a show at the performing arts center or walking their dogs along the riverwalk.

Past And Present

The Franklin corridor was at its business peak in the 1940s and early 1950s, Kite-Powell said. But by the 1960s, it had fallen victim to the suburbs. As people moved to Town 'N Country and Carrollwood, businesses and malls opened.

By the 1980s and early 1990s, more malls opened. With little population growth downtown, Woolworth's and other stores along Franklin struggled, Kite-Powell said.

With the influx of residences downtown, though, the historian predicts a revival.

``The key is people,'' he said. ``If people move into downtown Tampa, businesses will follow. There's not a Publix on the Pasco County line because cows want to shop there. People do.''

Current business owners look forward to more vibrancy on Franklin.

Leland Cool of the Nature Shop wishes Franklin would resemble lower Manhattan. When Tampa residents see boarded-up businesses on Franklin, he said, they steer clear. His flower store relies heavily on Internet and phone orders.

``It affects us because people don't come into the area,'' Cool said. ``If there's just one or two businesses, there's no reason, no destination point'' for shoppers.

`A Good Time To Get In'

When Elliott Acosta laid the groundwork for opening his casual eatery, Mr. Empanada, on Franklin, he noticed a strong, moldy odor and water leaking from the Maas Bros. building next door. The problem was mostly fixed, although a smell lingers.

``You can't put a table out there because they'd get dripped with moldy water,'' Acosta said. But, of opening a restaurant on Franklin, he said, ``It's a good time to get in.''

Ferrell, when talking about her condo and business plan for The Arlington, feels the same way.

``We want to do something that's very good and make money at it,'' Ferrell said.

Having a downtown development corporation coordinating efforts should help spur revitalization, Burdick said. Until now, landowners have been operating independently, she said.

``It's difficult for a single retailer to go in there and be successful,'' Burdick said. ``And I'm not sure they've all been trying. Successful retail requires synergy.''

Before long, she and Hunter hope, Franklin will thrive the way it did when people shopped at Woolworth's and Maas Bros.

``There's no reason some of this community development can't happen in Tampa,'' Hunter said. ``We think that's a reasonable thing.''

Researcher Diane Grey contributed to this story. Reporter Ellen Gedalius can be reached at (813) 259-7679

http://www.tampatrib.com/MGB2MGMM45E.html

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