Council members praise USF students for downtown development concept

A group of USF students tasked with coming up with a new vision for Oldsmar’s downtown redevelopment project presented their final design concepts to the City Council on Tuesday night.

Students from USF's School of Architecture and Community Design presented concept designs for Oldsmar's downtown district during Tuesday's City Council meeting.

Students from USF’s School of Architecture and Community Design presented concept designs for Oldsmar’s downtown district during Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

A group of USF students tasked with coming up with a new vision for Oldsmar’s downtown redevelopment project presented their final design concepts to the City Council on Tuesday night.

Three teams, led by Taryn Sabia, a professor with USF’s Center for Community Design and Research, demonstrated the results of months of hard work that was funded by a $50,000 grant and included a trip to Washington D.C. to research downtown areas similar to Oldsmar’s.

And while officials initially expressed reservations about the ability of the city to adapt many of the student’s concepts in a real-world development scenario, the council members wound up praising the group for their hard work and for providing the city with a new vision for the development of the downtown district.

Mayor Bevis gets down low to inspect some of the more intricate details of the USF group's concept.

Mayor Bevis gets down low to inspect some of the more intricate details of the USF students’ design concepts on Tuesday night.

“I love the way you guys broke it all apart, but tied all the different aspects of our city together—the waterfront, the library, State Street,” Mayor Doug Bevis said after the presentations were completed.

“I never expected to have 100 percent of everything. That would be a pipe dream,” he added. “But now we have something visual that maybe we can take to partners…that might be interested in buying into the idea, because now we’ve got a bigger vision.”

The students’ came up with the vision through workshops with city officials as well as members of the community, which helped provide ideas that would form the basic framework of the concepts.

Rather than focus on one piece of property, as previous versions of the project had done, the USF students included a number of different sections of the downtown district in their designs, including State Street, Tampa Road, and the area around the library as well as the waterfront and R.E. Olds Park.

The USF students' vision for Oldsmar's downtown redevelopment were showcased on Tuesday night.

The USF students’ vision for Oldsmar’s downtown redevelopment were showcased on Tuesday night.

Key elements of the three concepts included wide, walkable medians; outdoor amphitheaters; roundabouts; covered walkways and shelters; a variety of transportation modes, including bikes and trolleys; and plenty of shops, restaurants and residential options interspersed throughout the area. Walkability and connecting State Street to the waterfront were the two overarching themes threaded through all three presentations.

After everyone in the council chambers had a chance to look at the models and hear the students’ presentations, the council members offered more feedback, and praise, to the group for their efforts.

“All of you all did an amazing job, Council member Dan Saracki said. “I’m really impressed, especially how you did your homework by going to Washington, D.C.”

“I don’t know if this is going to happen in the next five years. I’m not sure,” he added. “But you should all be proud of yourselves for all the hard work you put into this. Great job.”

Even Vice Mayor Eric Seidel, a self-described critic of the project at the start, came around to the students’ concepts at the conclusion of USF’s involvement with the project.

“I think one of the challenges we’ve always had with the project and why it failed before was we were so focused on developing this set number of acres here on State Street and not having a bigger picture,” Seidel said during his council comments later in the meeting.

“We’re more interested in building something that lasts and that fits our community,” he added. “I really think that’s the difference in working with (the students)…and I think it will hold a lot of value moving forward. I really do.”

The USF students pose with, and get photobombed by, Oldsmar City Council members following their presentations on Tuesday night.

The USF students pose with, and get photobombed by, Oldsmar City Council members following their presentations on Tuesday night.

After the meeting, Sabia said she was extremely pleased with the council’s comments and how her students rose to the challenges the project presented.

“It’s a great feeling when they’re really receptive to the ideas that the students work on,” Sabia told Oldsmar Connect. “A lot of research goes into it, a lot of work, a lot of effort, a lot of trial and error.”

“We wanted to do something that was really unique to Oldsmar, and something that the city can utilize and implement in certain phases over time, and I think we were able to accomplish that.”

City officials will next discuss which parts of the students’ concepts they want to begin to implement, with talks centering around the expanded medians along Park Boulevard that connect City Hall to R.E. Olds Park.

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