Planning a Rebirth of Northern Tampa
Former county commission chairman spearheading efforts to revitalize downtrodden area.

AUTHOR: Daniel Casciato

Former Hillsborough County Commission Chairman Mark Sharpe sees so much promise in the area he once helped oversee. In fact, last fall Sharpe was named executive director of the non-profit Tampa Innovation Alliance, a group formed by Busch Gardens, the University of South Florida (USF), Moffitt Cancer Center, Florida Hospital and RD Management, which purchased University Mall in December, to revitalize the 25,000 acres in the northern part of Tampa these institutions share, centered on 30th Street from Fletcher Avenue to Busch Boulevard. It includes parts of Tampa, Temple Terrace and Hillsborough County.

As commissioner, Sharpe’s focus was to establish Hillsborough County as a bio-science/technology incubator. By working with both the city and county, he helped transform the district into a job-creating center. Now, as leader of the alliance, he hopes he can do the same for this neighborhood by attracting new businesses, developing housing, and creating a research and innovation zone where people would want to live, work and play.

Sharpe believes there is no reason why this downtrodden area cannot thrive. After all, this area is anchored already by a major university, a health care institution, and an entertainment center—all the ingredients that can transform this area into a powerful economic region and also a major draw.

Founded in 2011, the alliance struggled in the early years of its formation because there was no unified vision and plan for the new innovation district. That’s where Sharpe came in. He was approached by USF president Judy Genshaft and leaders of the other organizations to lead the organization.

Sharpe welcomes the challenge. “The area around these anchor institutions are still relatively poor, low-income, and transient,” he said. “The organization’s job is to form a partnership of businesses as well as other for-profit and non-profit organizations, and develop a master plan that would allow us to build a coherent and unified innovation district, similar to the models that you see with the Cortex in St. Louis, University City in west Philadelphia, and Tech Square in Midtown Atlanta.”

After starting with the four primary organizations—Busch Gardens, USF, Moffitt Cancer Center and Florida Hospital Tampa—the alliance has since grown to 70 member organizations, a feat that Sharpe is proud of. Some recent members include Florida Blue, Tampa Bay Rays, and Tampa Bay Lightening. Sharpe noted that anyone can join at different membership levels—as an individual, small company, large institution, or board of director members.

Sharpe and his team meet every other Friday morning for coffee with its members at University Mall. Known as TEC Coffees (Transforming, Enriching & Connecting), they discuss current initiatives as well as elicit open discussion regarding issues facing local citizens and businesses.

In addition, the alliance also holds industry-specific workshops focusing on the real estate development, bio-tech, medical, and educational fields to gain a better understanding of the challenges these communities face in the alliance area.

“I envision this to be a place where we can continue to attract businesses, but I also envision a place people elect to stay,” said Sharpe. “That will be a big difference. When people decide this is where they want to live and work, they treat it a little differently and look at it differently.”

The alliance is now working with the county and the cities of Tampa and Temple Terrace to start planning for the area’s revitalization. The alliance’s current initiatives include developing a master plan bringing together the anchor institutions, government partners and community to establish a diverse membership network. It also plans to establish a member-driven five-year strategic plan. The county has already pledged $2 million in its proposed fiscal 2016 budget towards the master plan.

Long-term goals include reworking the pedestrian crossings and the major corridors along Fletcher, Fowler and Busch; and potentially seeking state funding for neighborhoods in the district. The alliance is also analyzing the idea of using fixed transit to connect the innovation district and Tampa’s downtown.

As he looks ahead, Sharpe expects the district to make a significant impact on the healthcare community. In addition to being anchored by two healthcare stalwarts, Moffitt Cancer Center and Florida Hospital, USF leads the nation in patent production. Sharpe said its objective is to lead the nation in the commercialization and licensing of these patents. The alliance also wants to enhance the life sciences industry in the region.

“This area will contribute dramatically to the life sciences and healthcare field, and it’s because of our partners,” he said. “Healthcare is changing in only ways we can imagine and I want to make sure that this area is the center of that conversation and the people who live here are participating. We will engage and network with others near us and across the country and become part of that conversation. I would encourage people to watch us, join us and come to Tampa Bay because it’s beautiful here.”


Tampa Innovation Alliance