City Manager Kim Leinbach never envisioned he'd be standing at a podium on Thursday welcoming folks to the new downtown Temple Terrace.
"It was just 17 months ago when we began tearing things down," said Leinbach, referring to the city's ceremonious wrecking-ball celebration on July 2, 2010, that marked the beginning of the 600,000-square-foot, 30-acre multi-use downtown redevelopment project south of Bullard Parkway and 56th Street.
The undertaking is one city leaders and other residents had at the forefront of their wish list for more than a decade prior to selecting developer Vlass Temple Terrace LLC in 2009 in an effort to upgrade the antiquated shopping plaza into a vibrant center with office, retail, restaurants, residential and cultural components.
Leinbach was among several dignitaries, including County Commissioner Ken Hagan, and former mayors Joe Bondi and Fran Barford in the crowd of close to 200.
They were there to help dedicate the completion of the complex's main street from Bullard Parkway to Chicago Avenue and a park in the center of the project anchored by a 540-square-foot gazebo reflecting the city's 1920s Mediterranean Revival architecture. A series of newly planted oak trees outline the structure.
These features are part of the project's second phase, which also will include a 214-unit luxury townhome complex, expected to get under way by March, and a 16,800-square-foot arts and education center slated to begin sometime in the spring. In recognition of the cultural center, the main street was recently named Arts Center Drive.
"We were impressed with the city's vision to make this a place and also impressed with how many citizens were involved," said Michael Vlass, principal of Vlass Temple Terrace LLC, who also commended them for their foresight in wanting a center where people can live, work and play.
Vlass said the project would not have been possible if not for the hard work of Grant Rimbey, whose architectural expertise and desire to better the city in which he was raised resulted in his founding of the Citizens for the Revitalization of Temple Terrace in 2001. Rimbey has chaired the grassroots committee since its inception.
"It's nice to see these amenities. It's all good," said Rimbey, who noted the importance of seeking residents' input at the project's onset.
Vlass also gave accolades to officials associated with Sweetbay Supermarket, located within the center, who during first phase of the project invested $3 million to renovate the building, both inside and out.
"We could not have done this project without them," said Vlass, who also made mention of the significance of having a new post office open in the complex during the project's initial fphase.
At the conclusion of the ceremony, Vlass singled out one man he believes is most responsible for seeing the project to fruition during a surprise unveiling of a life-size, bronze statue of Mayor Joe Affronti at the gazebo's entrance.
The tribute, Vlass said, was in recognition of Affronti's unwavering support of the downtown redevelopment initiative and his years of service to the city.
"He promotes the city continuously and faithfully, never for any personal recognition, and always with a smile on his face," Vlass said. "Mayor Affronti's approach to problem-solving is like a cool drink of refreshing water in the desert."
The mayor said he'd never before had such a humbling experience.
"We just do what we have to do," Affronti said.
But former City Councilman Frank Chillura said while Affronti is not one to bring attention to his good deeds, there is no one more deserving than him of the honor.
"He is Mr. Temple Terrace," Chillura said.