For nearly a decade now, the South Howard Avenue area in Tampa has exploded with new bars and restaurants, which has made it a destination spot for local and visiting millennials in particular. However, it’s also created various stresses in the neighborhood regarding parking, noise and other issues that affect local residents and the merchants.
Earlier this summer the SoHo Business Alliance was formed with the goal of coordinating improvements and expansion in the area. Jeff Gigante of Ciccio Restaurant Group and Barry O’Connor of MacDinton’s Irish Pub incorporated the alliance of over 30 restaurants, bars, shops and hotels.
Speaking for the Alliance, land-use consultant Steve Michelini told the Tampa City Council on Thursday that there is a wish list of improvements that the group is hoping the city can help with, such as building wider sidewalks, improved landscaping and lighting, providing more trash cans, fixing potholes, moving a taxi stand, and doing something about Uber and Lyft drivers picking up riders in the middle of the street.
“We are having difficulty with unlicensed taxis,” Michelini said. “They’re creating traffic congestion in an area that can ill afford it.” Specifically, he said the problem was with ridesharing drivers picking up fares in the middle of the street. If a licensed cabbie does that, he said, that driver is easily identified and can be cited. But since Uber and Lyft drivers have no identifying attributes on their vehicles, it’s not the same situation.
“TPD is aware of it,” he said, but bemoaned the fact that there is no central office to complain about such drivers and say, “tell your guys to cut it out.”
“It’s not a safety issue, it’s a popularity issue,” Lt. Barry Moskowitz of the Tampa Police Department said in reference to dealing with what everything that happens in the area, especially on weekend nights. Moscowitz said that the Tampa Police Department is caught in the situation of trying to deal with concerns of the local residents and the business establishments. He said the worst situation involving noise is when the bars close and people blast music out of their cars as they leave the scene.
Tom Haines, general manager of the Epicurean Hotel, said that he fears that SoHo could become the next Ybor City unless the city intervenes, and he wasn’t saying that positively.
“I’m astonished how many times we get comments from people who ask ‘why did you put a beautiful hotel in such a terrible part of town?” he said.
Jean Duncan, head of Transportation and Stormwater Services in the city, said that a comprehensive “holistic” study is underway to examine many of the items that Michelini and the SoHo Business Alliance have been complaining about.
There was little discussion about the parking situation. It’s almost impossible for a motorist to find a spot to park on weekends, hence the concerns about taxis and ridesharing services.
Councilman Mike Suarez, who chairs HART, said that agency has been working for a while to attempt to have some sort of shuttle service available in the area.