Downtown Zephyrhills could get a little louder and livelier in the next year or so — if a proposed project pushes through.
The City of Zephyrhills is considering the creation of its own entertainment backyard featuring food trucks, vendor carts, games, live music, public art installations and various seating areas. Picture it as a scaled-down version of the popular Sparkman Wharf waterfront venue in downtown Tampa’s Channelside.
The Zephyrhills concept, called “Little But Loud,” would be developed on a 150-foot by 60-foot city-owned vacant lot at the corner of Sixth Avenue and Eighth Street. The site was once home to a Disabled American Veterans chapter building, and is situated just a block north of Fifth Avenue and adjacent to Zephyrhills City Hall.
Gail Hamilton, director of the Zephyrhills Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA), presented two concept renderings at a CRA meeting in January.
The first concept shows semi-rigid covered seating, covered seating area, food cart court, game lawn/overflow seating, outdoor seating and food truck access.
The second concept shows an event stage/elevated seating area, mobile high-top seating, food and vendor stalls, a semi-rigid overhead structure and raised concrete deck, food truck access and a versatile event lawn.
As for parking, eventgoers could use the nearby City Hall parking lot on nights and weekends.
Main Street Zephyrhills Inc., would likely be tasked with managing Little But Loud, and with arranging the venue’s programming.
The scope of work and budget are not yet final.
No start date has been determined, either, but it’s possible the project could be completed by the end of the year, if the initiative gains the CRA Board of Commissioners’ approval.
Hamilton said the new venue would generate downtown foot traffic and “create a sense of community,” by giving locals and visitors a multi-use entertainment space on weekends.
It also gives the city an opportunity to use “a beautiful lot” that is currently vacant.
“People would want to come, especially in the spring and in the winter when we have beautiful days, to sit out, listen to some music, have something to eat, come downtown. The idea is to create an attraction to get people to come downtown,” said Hamilton.
She thinks the project also would encourage residents and visitors to explore other areas of the city, including the historic downtown business district through Fifth Avenue.
Hamilton observed: “This is not to exclude any of the businesses on Fifth Avenue. It’s not to cut them out, it’s to get some activity going here, so that everybody who comes here goes to the restaurants and stores that surround it. You get up, you walk around — it’s a way for people to explore downtown Zephyrhills that maybe have never been here.
“It would bring people in that would go and shop, and try a craft beer that didn’t even know there was a microbrewery down here (at Zephyrhills Brewing Company).”
The intimate property — purchased by the city in 2017 — was originally anticipated to be developed into some type of retail/office space — which remains a future option.
However, Hamilton noted that option is not feasible yet, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The lot also could be reserved for some type of apartment or residential concept, but Hamilton doesn’t believe that’s a best use.
“If we wanted to do apartments, we could probably do apartments, but in the long run, that’s not what’s best for downtown, that’s not what’s best for the core of the city,” Hamilton told the CRA board.
If and when the time comes to redevelop the small lot, Hamilton said the Little But Loud concept could simply be relocated to another area of the city, perhaps Zephyr Park on Fifth Avenue.
“It’s a way for us to engage that lot without spending a tremendous amount of money, and when the market gets to the point where we want to build a building on that space, all of it can be picked up and moved somewhere else,” Hamilton explained.
Members of the CRA board expressed interest in the venue concept, with several more tweaks and details to be hammered out and finalized in coming months.
Board member Ken Burgess called Little But Loud “a good idea to get something going,” but advised the project be done in sections or phases, instead of all at once.
Board member Lance Smith said the concept would create an “inviting” atmosphere to downtown, pushing for other accents such as artificial turf and a large-sized television or projector to broadcast movies and sporting events.
Alcohol sales should be another consideration, he said.
“I think it’s interesting,” Smith said of the plan. “I think you need to look at the budget for it, too, because I’ve looked at these (venues) and they’re way more expensive than you think they are, but I think it’s a great concept to take a look at.”
Board President Jodi Wilkeson, too, was keen with the project, but expressed concerns about potential vandalism and possible impacts on surrounding take-out and sit-down restaurants and businesses.
“If we’re doing this to help promote businesses downtown, I think we should make an effort to ensure that they’re not producing food that’s in competition with any other businesses,” Wilkeson said.
She suggested that Little But Loud food trucks and containers stick to offering snack items, such as flavored popcorn and other treats “so that it gives people something to eat, but when they’re really hungry (for a meal), they’re going to go somewhere else.”
Overall, though, she likes the concept. “I think it’s a great idea. I look forward to seeing it a little fleshed out, but I’m in support of it as well.”
Board member Charles Proctor also offered his support: “I think it’s a good idea as well. We’ve gotta do something with (the lot).”
Published February 24, 2021