Tampa, FL -- A renaissance is in the air for the University area of North Tampa. While you might have a negative feeling towards it now, the stretch of Fowler Avenue from Interstate 275 to Interstate 75 is on the brink of total revitalization.
The Tampa Innovation Alliance is spearheading a movement to transform the northern part of Tampa inside the perimeter of Busch Boulevard, Bearss Avenue, Interstate 75 and Interstate 275. These communities recently received nearly $4 million in federal funding for new job opportunities.
"We want this to be the most inviting innovation district in the world," said Mark Sharpe, Executive Director of Tampa Innovation Alliance. The group has support from five globally-recognized institutions that call North Tampa home including The University of South Florida, Busch Gardens, Moffitt Cancer Center, Florida Hospital, and RD Management.
To kick start the innovation movement, the Alliance chose to concentrate on the Fowler Avenue corridor first. The busy roadway is home to some of the biggest influencers in the state like USF and Moffitt Cancer Center. Sharpe's team is working with local and state leaders to improve safety and mobility on Fowler Avenue, one of the most dangerous roads in Hillsborough County.
"It's the one area that has suffered from a lack of attention to the types of street engineering that can make it more inviting and there is a way to do it," said Sharpe.
Sam Schwartz Transportation Consultants, a worldwide engineering company, has been hired to upgrade Fowler Avenue so that it is a safe place for drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists.
"It's a challenging project for sure. You just notice it is more like you're driving down a rural part of Florida. What we're looking to do is make the road more urban in the next five years and make it more amenable to pedestrians," said Jeff Trim, Executive Vice President of Sam Schwartz.
Trim and his team of engineers will address issues like speeds, crosswalk timing, bicycle safety, and bus stop safety. Right now, it takes pedestrians almost seven minutes to cross a Fowler Avenue intersection from a hotel to the University of South Florida. The intersections along the corridor are extremely wide making it difficult for pedestrians and cyclists to safely cross. Traffic also moves too fast for a walkable community. In the next five to ten years, Fowler Avenue could have fewer or narrower lanes, separate bicycle and pedestrian pathways, a ride sharing program, and even autonomous vehicles.
"We have engineers that say if you want to change the world, change the streets and that's what we need to do with Fowler," said Sharpe.
The Tampa Innovation Alliance is holding a Fowler Avenue Streetscape Workshop on Wednesday at University Mall. The information meeting is from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on the 2nd floor of the mall across from Studio Movie Grill.