By Tammy Sue Struble
Zephyrhills is working on putting its best face forward, and landscape enhancements such as new palm trees along US 301 are just the beginning.
In meetings and workshops during the past year, the City of Zephyrhills is getting closer to more revitalization projects in conjunction with Pasco County and the Florida Department of Transportation.
In the last of the public input workshops regarding the Community Redevelopment Plan, consultants from Kimley-Horn and Associates Inc. of Sarasota spoke with members of the community at the noon Zephyrhills Rotary meeting on Thursday, January 6. Then, Kimley-Horn representatives packed up and moved over to City Hall for a 3 p.m. workshop.
At the Rotary meeting, Martin “Marty” Black with Kimley-Horn reiterated information from past workshops yet solicited new ideas and solutions to problem areas from city residents and other members of the surrounding community.
Black suggested in the improvement plan — expected to span the next 10 years — that Zephyrhills include ideas that create noticeable gateway entrances into the city from several directions. Gateways that would be eye-catching improvements that identify one’s arrival into the city.
Something like that could help attract more attention for a city renowned for its bottled water and other businesses, including the strongest Village Inn and Golden Corral restaurants in the state. Yet, with 80,000 full-time and seasonal residents (58–60,000 without the seasonal) within a five-mile radius, people are still going elsewhere like Wesley Chapel, Tampa and Lakeland for office and retail services.
Kimley-Horn officials said Zephyrhills needs to better market itself as a viable place to receive those services.
“Just start the discussions,” Black urged at the Rotary meeting, “None of these solutions are perfect answers.”
Five areas have been identified for possible improvements with this Community Redevelopment Area (CRA) plan. The current CRA boundary is a hub at the intersection of US 301, Fifth Avenue and SR 54 and extending out from the hub in each direction approximately five to six blocks.
Four other areas earmarked for CRA improvements are Hercules Park area extending north from the hub area, Shepard Park area extending south from the hub, Zephyr Park area extending west from the hub, and the Historic area extending mostly east from the hub.
“Look at vacant areas that can be of better use,” Black continued. “Maybe new facades without tearing down existing buildings.” Other ideas were discussed with the Rotary group: like, improvements in the Zephyr Plaza (ABC Pizza) area, revitalizing the theatre on Fifth Avenue, possible outdoor dining, and changing the look of the Tires Plus area at 301 and Fifth Avenue.
Any improvements in the proposed plans do not include residential areas and are restricted to the downtown corridor, not the whole city.
In another question-and-answer session at City Hall where about 50 community members gathered, Marty Black summarized the CRA plan and mission again. Roughly three-fourths of the group were tennis players concerned with the improvement or possible status of the tennis courts at Zephyr Park off SR 54. Consensus in the crowd was that there were not enough courts in the city; there needs to be about two times as many more courts with some possibly being at another location.
Information was gathered about the current courts’ conditions, which are deemed poor because of, noise and dirt from SR 54 traffic, damage caused by vandalism, the courts being too close to each other and bad design of the parking lot.
All solutions, ideas and recommendations presented by the members of the public were gathered and written down by Kelley Klepper, one of the consultants from Sarasota. Suggestions from the community were better lighting for the courts, resurfacing with clay or rebuilding and a possible set of tennis courts near the south end of Hercules Park on city owned Tyson property, where trees would not have to be removed.
Zephyrhills High School tennis player, Stephen Belles, was at the workshop. He explained that it would be helpful to have more tennis courts at the Tyson property as it would be within walking distance from the high school. Currently, if the girls tennis team is playing on the school’s tennis courts, the boys have to travel to the Zephyr Park courts to practice.
“All ages play tennis at the Zephyr Park location.” We need to “get more tennis courts for Zephyrhills; right now there are not enough courts, only five,” Belles explained.
It was also suggested that the city consider adding additional activities such as basketball, another skateboard park, a running field, a place for cyclists, baseball, softball, another dog park, a BMX bike park and a snack bar.
Discussion and banter continued on each subject. Black from Kimley-Horn explained how Zephyrhills was in a better position for redevelopment than many other cities as they set aside funds for such purposes and do not take out loans. When the city has enough money for a project, they work on it. Other financial factors to consider were that certain community redevelopment funds cannot be spent without a plan in place; and, income the city receives from real estate taxes is projected to decline over the next two years.
Klepper from Urban Resource Group, a division of Kimley-Horn, explained that they (the consultants and the city) were about 60 days out from wrapping up planning.