Downtown’s Hyde Park United Methodist Church was asked by the Florida Conference of The United Methodist Church to determine the best use for an abandoned downtown church property under its ownership. The abandoned property was the First United Methodist Church (UMC). The UMC, which was established in the mid-1800s, ministered to those in Downtown Tampa until 2011, when the Conference voted to close the doors following a steep decline in attendance.
The former UMC—which includes a sanctuary building, a chapel, and a fellowship hall—is located in an area of Downtown Tampa that was recently identified by the Urban Land Institute Advisory Panel as a focal region for new development activities and housing offerings.
As an initial step, Hyde Park developed a committee of Downtown Tampa stakeholders who would be tasked with developing a plan for a property use study. The committee then set up a meeting with HCP to build a methodology. Upon attending a number of meetings with contractors and the committee as well as receiving building tours, the research team developed a preliminary outline of questions, which subsequently became the survey.
The survey utilized an online methodology, mixing open- and closed-ended questioning to gather information from those living and working within a five-mile radius of Downtown. Respondents included a representation of both active church members and inactive/unaffiliated individuals living and working within the Downtown footprint. It was critical to ascertain their perceptions of the larger-scale need within Downtown Tampa, but also ensure that the need could be fulfilled within the scope of the existing property.
Distribution was executed through email notifications to a Downtown panel, posts to Downtown affinity groups, entries in a Downtown trade newsletter, handout cards with the survey link printed, direct mail postcards, and more. Respondents were encouraged to share the survey link with friends, co-workers, and neighbors to capitalize on word-of-mouth exposure.
HCP collected the results, reported on the findings, and offered recommendations to the committee. The respondents showed strong affinity toward the idea of a gathering space. Open-ended comments from a majority of participants expressed the lack of a mixed-use space in Downtown Tampa.
Throughout subsequent years, the committee has proceeded with property improvements and repairs. Now branded as The Portico, the property is taking major leaps towards filling the need for a gathering space on the north end of Downtown Tampa. There are weekly worship services and meditations, art shows, happy hours, film nights, and dialogues and debates.
Plans for the space include a café, event space, office space, and more. HCP continues to work with The Portico’s leadership, analyzing the market of potential visitors to the Portico and offering recommendations regarding how to continually offer programming that minister to the population.