TAMPA - Tampa's plans to use high-speed rail as an impetus to transform the city received a $1.2 million boost from the federal government Thursday.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Department of Transportation jointly awarded a planning grant during a media conference at Union Station that included U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Melbourne, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, and Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio.
Dubbed the "Sustainable Communities Challenge Grant," the funds will be used to create a master plan for transit-oriented development in an area running north from a new high-speed rail station at the old Morgan Street Jail site along Nebraska Avenue.
The master plan also will include a stretch east of Nebraska along Hillsborough Avenue.
Construction for the station is set to begin at the end of 2013, and it would began operating in 2015.
Iorio, who has campaigned for passage of a county transportation tax initiative on the November ballot, crafted a vision of what the station would look like when the initiative wins voter approval.
"That high-speed rail station is going to be a true multimodal station of high-speed, light rail and buses," Iorio said. "It's going to be something that people talk about all over the state. When they come to the city of Tampa, they're going to say, 'Have you been to their transportation station downtown? Wow, they've got it all.
"But in the city, we know how important it is to properly plan because we're not just building rail lines, we're building new communities."
City officials will study how to foster development in the target area that doesn't require heavy car traffic, such as office towers, hotels, condominiums and mixed-income housing.
They also will look at how to mesh the new development with the Encore Project, the ongoing remake of Central Park Village.
Another key aspect of the plan will involve integrating the arts. Tampa Theatre and the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts are listed as project partners because the planning will examine how best to deliver rail passengers to those venues.
The planning also will study expanding walking, bicycling and electric cars as viable transportation options in the area.
Tampa beat out 586 other applicants to win one of the 44 grants, and was the only city in Florida to receive one.
HUD Southeast Regional Administrator Ed Jennings said the grant serves as the first step in creating a transformational movement for the targeted area.
"Take your pictures today because a decade from now, two decades now, you won't remember this site and how it looks today," Jennings said.