Over the past four years, Tanya Lukowiak, executive director of the Palmetto Community Redevelopment Agency, has overseen a revitalization effort attracting new attention, and new life, to the sleepy riverfront downtown.
Touting a relatively young population (median age 38), and the distinction of being the Tampa Bay region's fastest-growing city, Palmetto is in the middle of a big image makeover. Reasonable commutes to nearby metro areas and new housing options are drawing residents, while business owners and developers are taking advantage of façade improvement grants, enterprise zone initiatives, ad velorum tax rebates and infrastructure improvement partnerships with the CRA. Building permit construction value in 2004 totaled $48 million.
1) How are you preserving Palmetto's small-town charm while encouraging new business growth?
We're not having a lot of difficulty keeping those two things separate. We have historic areas where we're not looking for tall buildings, and we have other enclaves not intended to be historic. The waterfront development plan will provide distinct design guidelines, allowing for an old-fashioned district with shops and restaurants below and residential properties above.
2) What have been the most pressing redevelopment challenges?
The chicken and the egg dilemma everyone suffers: It's difficult to attract businesses without creating more residential rooftops. And it's difficult to bring people to live here if there are no restaurants or businesses. Also, we don't have housing for the labor pool. We have five miles of waterfront that the average middle class person does not have the opportunity to buy. But we are developing more options. Habitat for Humanity is replacing 40 disintegrating units with a 34-house subdivision with a homeowners association, and we subsidized the purchase of the land. We're looking at other ways to provide incentives, such as allowing variances to builders.
3) Who are the new residents and businesses?
Businesses are mostly local people who have started new businesses or people who have relocated altogether to Florida. More than half of new residents are full-time, some from Bradenton, and a good number who move from Longboat Key and Sarasota to Riviera Dunes. Some are from St. Petersburg.
4) What commercial projects are you particularly excited about?
Riverside Plaza [which contains Evolve Spa, Smoking Martini and Jonathan's] has shown there's a clientele for every kind of business imaginable here, that the area is thriving and that people have faith in the city. Wal-Mart is coming to town and they really are being good neighbors. They changed the design on their building to match what we have in mind, and they're getting rid of an eyesore. And there are also a certain number of retailers who follow Wal-Mart. We've also got a hotel that signed a contract to build near the civic center.
5) What single new development do you think will most radically change the face of Palmetto?
Riviera Dunes [an upscale riverfront community offering homes ranging from $400,000 to well over $2 million]. It's increased the tax base and provided great homes in the city. So many people who've seen the ads didn't know you could buy a $2-million house in Palmetto. It's turned us into a hot spot.