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bobliocatt

Linked By Streetcar (photo tour included)

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By SHANNON BEHNKEN [email protected]

Published: Oct 18, 2003

TAMPA - Promoters for Ybor City and the Channel District used to be in competition. Each would market themselves and ignore the other. But when the TECO Electric Streetcar debuted last year, linking the areas, the two learned they could attract more customers by playing off of each other's strengths. ``It has brought us closer together and helped us crosspromote,'' said Annette DeLisle, president of the Ybor City Chamber of Commerce. ``We used to be ill-informed about what was happening across Adamo Drive. Now, if Channelside is doing something, we can advertise to ride the streetcar to Ybor afterward.'' The streetcar line celebrates its first anniversary this weekend and will feature free rides today and Sunday. There will be a ceremony at 10 a.m. today in Centennial Park and several retailers along the line will offer specials.

Talks continue of expanding the tracks to the downtown arts district and Tampa Heights. Merchants in the entertainment districts hope the yellow streetcars will keep bringing shoppers.

With the economy slow, business owners had hoped the streetcar would help revive the areas. While everyone does not agree that it has helped sales, most say it has increased foot traffic. ``It's slow all over, but people are coming and hopefully they'll come back and tell others as well,'' DeLisle said.

HARTline spokesman Ed Crawford said the streetcar had 420,000 riders in its first year, 20 percent more than predicted.

``It hasn't been a good business year'' for the entertainment districts, Crawford said. ``But it could have been a lot worse without the streetcar.'' Most of the riders are tourists, Crawford said, noting that people attending downtown conventions or waiting to board a cruise ship are attracted by the streetcars. ``Our business drops off when the cruise ship business does,'' Crawford said. The streetcar ``is a good way to see Tampa without getting too far away from the ship.'' On a recent weeknight, Laura Kanske and two co-workers in Tampa for a work conference caught the streetcar from their Tampa Waterside Marriott hotel to Ybor. ``We would have had to take a taxi and this is a lot better,'' Kanske said. ``It's a good way to get around. We might get lost without it.'' On the same streetcar, Geovanna Krusch and co-workers from T-Mobile were on a scavenger hunt. Part of the exercise required taking their photograph with the streetcar conductor. Krusch is from Tampa but her fellow employees were visiting for work. It was Krusch's first time on the streetcar. ``This is pretty cool,'' she said. ``I'll have to try this again another time.''

But there are critics.

``It's OK, I guess,'' said Walt Coolidge, riding with his wife, Chris. ``But there really isn't a lot to do. Ybor looks like a dirty, gritty city.'' The Coolidges were visiting from Miami Beach and said they would enjoy the streetcar more if it stopped at other places or if there were more to do in Ybor City. Raul Rodriguez, manager of La Ultramar Jewelry on Seventh Avenue, said he hasn't noticed a difference in the number of customers but likes the streetcar fine. ``It's just a slow time for everyone,'' Rodriguez said. ``It's been slow for more than a year.''

As apartments and condominiums are planned for Ybor and the Channel District, HARTline and the city are looking at possible routes for expanding the streetcar. ``Ultimately, everyone sees this going to Tampa Heights,'' Crawford said, noting that a steering committee is meeting monthly to come up with the best route. The streetcar will first expand north to the Fort Brooke parking garage in the Channel District. This will happen in one to two years, Crawford said. From there, it may expand to the arts museum and then to Tampa Heights.

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Great photos, Lakelander! I was surprised that Tampa had such a great streetcar system. It's good to hear the the city is looking at possible expansions, and that ridership was greater than expected.

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Another good thing about the streetcar system is that it was designed to become a part of the city's future light rail system whenever it gets build.

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Wow very nice. They even have brick streets. Streetcars are a good tool for attracting more development.

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