Turn Failed Development Into Urban Waterfront Park
March 3, 2009
Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio is right to target a 160-acre Tampa Bay tract for public acquisition. City and county officials should seize this opportunity to save a rare slice of undeveloped city waterfront.
Hillsborough County Commissioner Rose Ferlita, fortunately, is pushing for county support.
Developers promised to pay $125 million for the property and planned to transform the former 600-unit Georgetown Apartments off West Shore Boulevard into a subdivision with 1,200 homes, a project that generated fears its traffic would overwhelm the mostly two-lane road.
But the crashing economy killed that controversial proposal. The property now is in foreclosure. Georgetown stands empty and desolate.
The Bank of America soon will solicit bids for the property. It will likely be sold for far less than what the developers agreed to pay. This gives local governments a rare chance to save this land as a coastal park.
Not all the land needs to be preserved. About half - where the apartment complex stands - could be redeveloped. But the rest is wetlands and shoreline, much of which would have been developed if the failed project had proceeded.
So Iorio and Ferlita want to make sure the land is preserved while the public has the chance. This will help buffer Tampa Bay from pollution and provide public access to the bay.
"This is land that is undeveloped and has never been developed," Iorio says. "You could have boardwalks. You could have docks and an opportunity to offer boating facilities."
Local officials are discussing the acquisition with the Trust for Public Lands, a nonprofit conservation group that can move far more quickly than local governments to buy environmental lands when they come up for sale.
The trust could partner with a developer interested in building on the Georgetown site to buy the entire tract when the bank offers the land for sale. The trust would hold the shoreline acreage until the county could arrange to buy it under its Environmental Lands Acquisition and Protection Program. ELAPP levies a small - up to a quarter-mill - property tax for the acquisition of environmentally significant lands.
City and county officials alike should recognize the value of saving a beautiful piece of waterfront property that will protect Tampa Bay and give citizens a much-needed urban waterfront park.
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