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Neighborly businesses share vision, anticipation


Published June 8, 2007

It's not that often you hear big corporate types refer to each other as "neighbor." Not neighbors in the sense that they actually live near each other, but neighbors because they own businesses on the same street.

Developers along downtown's N Franklin Street apparently have this degree of closeness.

"We're a neighborhood, " says Brenda Dohring Hicks, whose company the Dohring Group is renovating a retail and office complex called 514 Franklin.

Of course she knows Harry Hedges, she says when asked.

(For those not in the 'hood, he's the guy who owns the Fly restaurant property and plans to build an apartment tower on the street.)

And Hedges, of course, can tick off the names of nearly every Franklin Street developer with a vision and a rendering.

Could be the anticipation of change. Or maybe big profit. But something has triggered a sense of camaraderie more typical of people with homestead exemptions.

For those keeping score of Franklin Street happenings:

Element, the condo tower, is still under construction.

People are expected to move into the nearby Skypoint highrise this summer.

New townhouses and condos farther north on Franklin have already taken shape; offices are slated to open at the Arlington complex across from Fly.

Then again, the neighborly inspiration could come from the brick pavers along the north stretch of Franklin or the old- fashioned street lights that set this place apart from the cold stately buildings along Ashley Drive and Kennedy Boulevard.

"The whole north area is going to become like the neighborhood, " Dohring Hicks said.

There's even a "neighborhood association" with about 40 property owners, she pointed out.

Hedges talks with the same lingo. "Eclectic" and "charming" are the words he uses to describe Franklin Street.

"This is not Channelside, " he said.

No multiplexes, chain restaurants and valets here.

And like any community, you have your good neighbors and your bad neighbors.

A bad neighbor - an empty, three-story building at Tyler and Franklin - burned in March, leaving a gaping hole in the emerging landscape.

No one was hurt, so Hedges' chief regret was that it hadn't been either cleaned up or torn down sooner.

Of course, he's already complained to the suits in City Hall about streetlights damaged by the blaze.

"Let's just say I have some regular contact with Harry Hedges, " said Mike Chen, Tampa's community redevelopment manager.

He didn't refer to Hedges and friends as neighbors, though.

"Part of the city's role is frequent and constant interaction with stakeholders."

Chen says the city is working with TECO to repair the streetlights, but it will take time because the damage was so severe.

He's even looking into whether the city should open one of its employee lots in the evenings so people can use them for businesses along Franklin. (Hedges has mentioned the need to officials.)

Improvements are on tap for the grounds of Herman Massey Park, once a lush mattress for the city's homeless. The renovations, estimated to cost about $1-million including design, could be in jeopardy because of the state's efforts to cut property taxes and force cities to trim their budgets, Chen said.

The Franklin Street transformation is at least a few years old. The city paid about $1-million to reopen Franklin between Fortune and Scott streets, connecting downtown to Tampa Heights, where new housing developments have taken shape. There was a ribbon-cutting ceremony in 2005.

Tonight, Dohring Hicks' company will join business neighbors and the Tampa Downtown Partnership to host a street party open to the public. Franklin will be closed between Madison and Twiggs.

The Red Elvises band will perform from 5 to 7:30 p.m., after which, people are invited to walk down to Fly and hang out on the restaurant's patio.

As I left Fly one recent evening and walked back to my office on Ashley, I noticed that Franklin Street did feel a little like a neighborhood.

A few people chuckled at the tables outside the restaurant. A guy in shorts jogged along, a white poodle trotting beside him, until they disappeared north toward Tampa Heights, perhaps headed home.

11,263 Posts
Thanks for posting that article, Quegiebo.

Good to here that The Royal is still alive. That is one of my favorite projects in downtown. Also, it is good to see that Franklin is slowly morphing into a neighborhood. I think once we get Franklin and Ashley really popping everything else will begin falling into place downtown.

It's nice to hear there are people investing their lives downtown, and not just their money. (flippers)
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