More than 40 residents of downtown Tampa gathered Thursday night at the John P. Germany Library to talk about making Herman Massey Park a more desirable place to frequent.
Surrounded by trees — and rarely used by the non-homeless — the 29-year-old half-acre park on North Franklin Street is a rare wooded space in the concrete jungle that is downtown Tampa.
For most residents (at least those who’ve lived in the city for longer than the past decade), the only time they may have ever heard of Herman Massey Park was in 2004, when former Mayor Pam Iorio ordered Tampa police to arrest activists feeding the homeless.
While Iorio was on hand in 2008 when the park was refined, Herman Massey never really quite caught on with local residents.
Now, with more people than ever living in the area, the Downtown River Arts Neighborhood Association is taking the lead on getting the city to clean the park up and make it more accessible.
“You can’t have people living in high-rises or living in townhouses in an urban area without some type of place where they can enjoy walking their dog or playing with their children,” said City Councilman Mike Suarez. “It is essential for everybody that is in the downtown area.”
Suarez explained that there is a CRA (Community Redevelopment Agency) in the downtown area that collects property taxes in the area specifically to put back into the area, and that is where the residents could find funding to improve the park.
Though there will be more meetings to come up with a consensus on what a new Herman Massey Park will look like, the early consensus is a downtown version of Washington Street Park in Channelside.
“It is a hub, it is a commune, it is a place where people can go and connect at Channelside,” said Mike Paonessa, the vice president for the Downtown River Arts Neighborhood Association (DRANA). “And one of the really interesting things about Channelside is to watch it go from rundown warehouses to what it is now, and it’s amazing the sense of place that’s been created there. But one of the key focal areas of that development is that park, and how central it is to everyone’s daily life, especially the dog people.”
Neighborhood officials say that they want to see some immediate and long-term change in the park, and had assembled local officials to explain how they could accomplish that goal.
If the city and CRA were to buy into the idea of hiring a consultant to devise a plan to change the use of the park, the entire process usually takes about 15 months, said downtown CRA manager Rob Rosner. That could be whittled down to nine months, he said, if everything works just right.
“Once everybody here knows what they want in Massey Park, it’s much easier for him (Rosner) then to go say, ‘we want this in the budget,'” said Suarez.
Two members of the Tampa Downtown Partnership were on hand for guidance.
Ashly Anderson, place-making and urban design manager with the Partnership, told the audience that as a group they could apply for a $2,500 grant for “public space activation” to hold an event in the park that could bring people together to strategize about what programming needs they’d like to see in a new park.
“Spend a little time in the park thinking about what you want because, should the process move forward to actually get a consultant, the vision that’s going to be set by you all is going to reflect what you do from an activation side that you can start tomorrow,” she said. “So while you want it to look and feel like the caliber of Washington Street Park, you want it to like Herman Massey Park, you want it to feel like your version of it, so start thinking about that.”
“I think there’s definitely a discussion to be had here with everyone who has been living in this district for ten plus years, three years, or the 300 units that will open in six months,” said Shaun Drinkard, Director of place-making at the Partnership.
The next downtown CRA meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. July 11 at the Tampa Municipal Office Building next to City Hall, 306 Jackson St.
DRANA President Jeff Zampitella invited everyone to meet at the park on Saturday, July 15, from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. as the next site for residents to talk about their aspirations for the park.