Oldsmar Mayor Doug Bevis (r) works with his teammates, including City Council member Dan Saracki (c), on their new downtown development concept plan they nicknamed “The Edge” during a work session with USF students on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016.
A recent partnership between the City of Oldsmar and the University of South Florida led to the first public art project in the city, with art school grad Lakeema Matthew set to begin painting her meaningful mural at R.E. Olds Park next week.
So when it came time to breathe new life into Oldsmar’s long-gestating downtown development project, the latest version of which was killed off last summer, officials thought, who better to turn to than the creative young minds at USF?
Thanks to a new $55,000 research agreement between the city and the Tampa university’s School of Architecture and Community Design, the scope and the direction of the former Market Square project, which is centered on a $50 million mixed-use complex located next to City Hall, has drastically changed.
On Tuesday afternoon, representatives from the city and the school met in the Oldsmar City Council Chambers for a workshop designed to produce a unified vision of what is essential to the redevelopment of downtown, and it was clear that the focus of the project had changed from prioritzing the mixed-use development to encompassing the entire Community Redevelopment Area (CRA).
USF Professor Taryn Sabia (l) points out something in Team Norris’ plans during the workshop on Tuesday.
“The reason we’re here today is because what we were doing wasn’t working,” Mayor Doug Bevis told the group, which included Taryn Sabia, who runs USF’s Community Design Research Center, plus about a dozen of her students, City City Council members, city staff, and a few downtown business owners.
“But this partnership with USF has really opened our eyes, and given us a new perspective on this”
Soon after gathering in the expanded chamber room, Sabia turned what normally is an official meeting space in to a de facto classroom.
The group was separated into three teams of 6-7 each and seated at tables stocked with Sharpies, Post-It notes, and large copies of aerial views of the entire downtown district.
A look at one of the category boards that played a role in shaping the team’s visions for the downtown project.
After instructing the teams to come up with short, descriptive terms for the city as well as problems and solutions for the project, Professor Sabia then instructed her new “students” to come up with concept plans based on their vision of what they want Oldsmar’s new CRA to be.
“I’ve always used this charrette format for these types of projects, and then I customize them as needed for each job,” Sabia said, referring to an architectural teaching method that utilizes teamwork in a low key environment to solve the problems that every project faces.
“Working in teams promotes competition and brings out the best in them. It’s a very inclusive and participatory way to help us come to a consensus on what needs to be done.”
At the end of the two-hour brainstorming session, the elected leader of each team presented their concept to the room.
Mayor Bevis’ team “tried to look at the overall area and identify things that bring people here,” such as the racetrack, the flea market, the new BMX track and the impending zipline adventure park, and the group decided a comprehensive bike trail would help tie the entire area together.
He said they nicknamed the area ‘The Edge’, because its going to be “cutting edge, on the forward edge and it gives the area it’s own unique identity. Plus it’s edgy!”
Vice-Mayor Gabby McGee presents her team’s plan during the workshop.
Vice-Mayor Gabby McGee’s group focused on transforming the center of the 25-foot-wide medians on Park Boulevard into vine-covered walkways, connecting Sate Street to the city’s scenic waterfront.
She said they could call the mixed-use development the Vines on State Street, or something similar, to play up the natural beauty of the city while evoking thoughts of old-world Italy.
“We want to transform Oldsmar from a pass-through to a destination,” McGee explained.
The third team, led by outgoing City Council member Linda Norris, decided they would like to construct a monument that would welcome visitors to Oldsmar, as well as implement a shared bike system to help visitors get around downtown.
“We’d like to see some kind of monument built so people can really say, ‘This is Oldsmar,’” Norris said.
City Council member Linda Norris works on her descriptors for her team’s concept design.
“And we want to connect “Market Square” with the waterfront, so how do we get them there? Bike-sharing,” she said. “A bike-sharing system like they have in St. Pete will help people get around the whole area.”
All three concepts were met with cheers and applause from the competitive yet collaborative groups.
And the fact that the three plans shared one main similarity—connecting the entire downtown—was not lost on those involved.
“Our goal is always to try to get everyone on the same page when we do these projects, but this group already had a lot of common goals,” Sabia told Oldsmar Connect.
“This was a very hard working group, very enthusiastic and optimistic, all looking to move the city forward in a way that’s respective of, and unique to, Oldsmar,” she added. “That really helped them be successful and come together on this.”
While the teacher may have been impressed, Mayor Bevis wasn’t surprised with the results.
Oldsmar Mayor Doug Bevis (r) poses with his team in front of their downtown design concept plan, nicknamed “The Edge”.
“One of the unique things about our city is the collaborative effort of our council and staff,” Bevis said. “We share one brain when it comes to this.”
Sabia said the next step in the process includes pooling all the information and suggestions supplied at the workshop and coming up with a preliminary concept design, which will be presented at an open house sometime in March.
She said they plan to present the final design to the council by the end of April.