What makes a community a good community?
For decades, it’s been the downtown that has served as a primary draw for Zephyrhills. And now, in just a few short years, that downtown will expand to include a large chunk of Gall Boulevard between North and South avenues.
But what will it take to transform Gall Boulevard from highway meant to take you to a destination, to actually become a destination itself.
“We are looking to you to help us identify what a great street is,” said Tammy Vrana, a Safety Harbor consultant working with city officials on Gall Boulevard. “We have some plans and things to look at. Whatever you say won’t hurt our feelings. We just want to make sure we get it right.”
Todd Vande Berg, Zephyrhills’ planning director, is spearheading the project for the city. The initiative began soon after the Florida Department of Transportation agreed to hand over control of the thoroughfare, and instead take on the one-way pair of Sixth and Seventh streets instead.
The switch has given the city a chance to turn Gall into a main street, and the city wants direct input from residents and business owners. Vande Berg has planned a series of meetings to help make that possible. The first session, at Alice Hall on Nov. 14, attracted more than 30 people. They came to find out what could come to Gall and suggest what they would like to see.
“We’re starting off with the creation of a great street, and that is the goal,” Vande Berg said. “Considering our design options, we are going to be looking at different ways that we can transform Gall Boulevard. And we’re not just stopping with the street and the infrastructure related to the street, but future development as well.”
One aspect of this first community workshop was the use of real-time audience polling to gauge opinions on what should be placed on the streets, what kind of sidewalks, what kind of businesses should be encouraged, and the like. People were guided through a series of questions by Shilpa Mehta, a consultant with Renaissance Planning that included what kind of businesses should front the street, what parking should be like, and types of pedestrian and transit options.
However, consideration has to be made for users of all ages, especially teenagers —a group often overlooked by a community dominated by retirees. That’s where a new youth council led by Mayor Danny Burgess is going to become very helpful, Vande Berg said.
Councilwoman Jodi Wilkeson said the existing Main Street Zephyrhills organization could be a big help as well.
“We have all these events downtown, and what came to mind for me is the Main Street director, Gina Granger,” Wilkeson said. “She recruits and attracts hordes of young people to come downtown. The more activities here in our downtown the better within walking or bike-riding distance of these young people’s homes.”
These changes won’t happen overnight, consultant Vrana said. But the project’s success hinges on the participation of as many people as possible.
“We need to plan, and stick with all of it along the way,” Vrana said. “It will be a long process. It will be a long journey. But where it ends up will make this a happy community.”
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