From left to right: Sam Becker, a USF graduate student in the School of Urban and Regional Planning, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor and City Councilmember Luis Viera.

A standing-room-only crowd packed Compton Park in Tampa Palms on Feb. 3 for the unveiling of the initial results of a New Tampa business study, and while the presentation did seem to assuage some of the concerns of those in attendance, the results of that survey are far from conclusive.

In fact, because many of the area businesses along Bruce B. Downs Blvd. south of I-75 — meaning Tampa Palms — have not reported data, like earnings and number of employees, to the City of Tampa, the study was only based on businesses along BBD from the I-75 interchange north to County Line Rd.

University of South Florida School of Public Affairs director Ron Sanders said the data the study did find south of I-75 “looked funny.”

That meant that the closings of Staples, HH Gregg, Bed Bath & Beyond and Casa Ramos, which played a central role in triggering the study, were not included in any conclusions by the USF study, which included input from New Tampa (morning) Rotary Club and North Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce members, as well as other local business leaders. 

“You have to take some of the quantitative analysis (from the study) with a grain of salt,” Sanders told the crowd, which included Tampa Mayor Jane Castor and Tampa City Council member Luis Viera. “It’s limited by the data, and it is what it is. It had to be balanced by some of the real-life observations and anecdotal (evidence).”

While the study was spurred by community concerns about business closings in Tampa Palms that were pointed out to Viera (as well as to Mayor Castor while she was running for office),  at least north of I-75, seems to paint a rosier picture.

According to Sam Becker, a USF graduate student in the School of Urban and Regional Planning, a total of 57 businesses closed in New Tampa north of I-75 between 2015-18, losing an annual sales volume of roughly $122 million.

However, in that same period, 94 new businesses opened, generating nearly $181 million in sales.

That produced a net gain of 37 new businesses, $59 million total sales volume and 1,651 employees.

But without data from south of I-75, Sanders says “it is hard to draw any conclusions” about the New Tampa area as a whole.

And, since the study began, the once-vacant HH Gregg and Staples spaces in the Market Square at Tampa Palms plaza have new tenants, and a handful of new restaurants have opened or will be open by the summer, including more than a dozen new businesses in the Village at Hunter’s Lake development.

The study made a host of recommendations, including creating a chamber of commerce-esque Business Retention & Expansion committee, attracting non-chains and marketing and branding New Tampa.

A community slogan — “Something For Everyone” was floated as an example — as well as signage would let people passing through know they are in New Tampa.

“I still think it comes down to having a community identity that is amenable to everybody here in New Tampa,” Viera said. “It’s something we should work on, as the study pointed to.”

The study’s results, while inconclusive, seemed to be met with enthusiasm by most of the 100 or more people in the crowd at Compton Park. 

“I still miss my Bed Bath & Beyond, but I do feel better about the business climate,” said longtime Arbor Greene resident Noreen Luetteke. “I think it’s improving. I just hope it stays that way.”

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