In campaign meetings with New Tampa community leaders and residents, former City of Tampa Police (TPD) Chief and mayoral candidate Jane Castor said the usual concerns were raised by those groups. But, along with traffic congestion, the conditions of roads and the affordability of homes, the topic of New Tampa businesses came up often.
“One of the main issues was concern over a lack of sustained retail along Bruce B. Downs,” Castor says.
Castor’s thought was that while no single reason was given for what might be causing what some see as an exodus of restaurants and retailers — although congested local roads, access and the growth of Wesley Chapel were mentioned — she also says New Tampa’s business climate was worth looking at. “I’m excited about the study,” Castor says.
In a chance meeting shortly thereafter with Karen Kress, the director of Transportation and Planning for the Tampa Downtown Partnership, wheels were put in motion for a study that is now being organized by the University of South Florida’s School of Public Affairs and director Ron Sanders, says Sam Becker, an intern for Kress, who attended one of Castor’s meetings with local groups. Afterwards, Becker had a discussion with Castor and Kress, and brought up the idea of a study to Sanders, who conducted a poll of graduate students working towards their Master’s degree in Urban and Regional Planning.
Four students volunteered to conduct the study, which also will include input from local business leaders, District 7 Tampa City Councilman Luis Viera and the North Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce.
According to Sanders, the study, which is still being defined, will take place this summer and in two phases — one will be a “listening tour” that will be conducted through meetings held with focus groups of citizens and business owners, and two, there also will be a field study.
“We’re still trying to find the parameters of the study, but the basic premise is to try to look at what is happening in New Tampa, the outmigration of some of the stores, and see if there’s anything that can be done about it,” Sanders says.
District 7 Tampa City Councilman Luis Viera has been pushing for some kind of study, and he says he was pleased to learn USF would be involved.
Too Much Ado About It?
While there are some who feel the issue is overblown and that the current outmigration is simply part of a national trend that’s the result of the cyclical nature of business combined with the ever-changing effect of e-commerce, Viera hopes the study will root out any potential underlying issues.
As we’ve reported in previous issues, the Market Square at Tampa Palms plaza has seen HH Gregg, Staples and Bed Bath & Beyond close; restaurants like Casa Ramos in Tampa Palms and Ruby Tuesday on Bruce B. Downs (BBD) Blvd just north of I-75, also have been shuttered.
The old Romano’s Macaroni Grill site has twice been reborn as a Mexican restaurant that failed both times, and even non-chain restaurants like the once-super-popular Spanish restaurant Café Olé have shut down.
There are signs of life, however. The old Dairy Queen on BBD is now a Jamaican restaurant (see ad on page 43), the Beef O’Brady’s on Cross Creek Blvd. is expected to reopen soon as an Italian eatery, and Las Palmas has re-opened in a different New Tampa location after the original location closed in 2018.
Also, The Village at Hunter’s Lake project will bring more than a dozen new businesses to New Tampa when it is completed.
“I think it is not clear how much (of the business closings) are consistent with national trends, or if it’s cyclical, or part of it is technology,” Sanders says. “If it’s part of a macro trend, or national, it’s not clear how much can be done about it. But, we’ll also look for local circumstances and conditions that may be driving it. Those are more addressable.”
Sanders also says the study will be ideal for his students, and that USF wants to be a good neighbor and lend a hand. If the study does produce something concrete, it could lead to the city conducting something “more extensive and sophisticated.”
The study is still being developed, so how long it will take and when results will be published are unclear.