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Bank to redevelop Tampa Heights

Tampa Heights, one of four areas Bank of America chose to renovate, is slated for a $50-million residential development.

By DAVID KARP, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 31, 2002


Bennie Benton has been looking out her front door on Palm Avenue, gazing at the same view of downtown, for 60 years.

For about as long, since she entered third grade, she's heard that the neighborhood would change -- homes would get cleaned up, new condos would get planted on the river bank.

"It's been going on for years," Benton said of the talks.

Finally, she has reason to believe that words will become reality.

Bank of America has chosen Tampa Heights as one of four neighborhoods across the country to redevelop, and the financial giant has won the right to build a $50-million condo and townhouse development across from Benton's home.

"Tampa Heights has a lot of things going for it," said Bank of America senior vice president Marybeth Storts. "It has been sitting there along the river waiting for someone to develop it." The bank expects to build a riverfront development with 250 to 300 condos and 40 to 60 townhomes for sale on a bend of the Hillsborough River north of downtown. Most of the homes would have a view of the river.

The condos would include units with two to four bedrooms, and cost between $90 to $120 per square foot. That means a 1,000-square-foot condo could cost between $90,000 and $120,000.

The condos could help spur residential living near downtown -- one of the mayor's longtime goals -- and jump start redevelopment of Tampa Heights, which is one of the city's oldest neighborhoods.

Storts said she expects professionals, tired of commuting, to buy up the units. One downtown worker from Tampa Palms has already been attending community meetings about the condos, she said.

"A lot of families and professionals are moving in closer to town as traffic gets worse and worse out to the suburbs," she said.

The condos on the Hillsborough River will be a two-minute drive to downtown.

Bank of America won the right to develop the city-owned property on the river earlier this year. The bank is still negotiating a development agreement with officials at City Hall.

Taxpayers might pay to restore the riverbank, which could mean replacing an aging seawall, and building a river walkway from the condos south to the Tampa Museum of Art.

Officials might present a site plan to the City Council by September. Storts hopes construction will be under way this time next year.

The project still faces some roadblocks.

"This is not a done deal," said Ralph Sculer, president of the Tampa Heights Civic Association, who was briefed on the project.

The city must buy Matassini & Sons Fish Company out of a lease to operate on city land on the river. City records show the fish market has been asking as much as $900,000 to get out of the lease.

The bank must still buy up individual lots in the area, Sculer said.

The waterfront, which could be the neighborhood's main lure, has scared many homeowners away. That's because downtown's homeless residents mingle around the water.

"Homeless people (are) there sleeping, eating and bathing," said Benton, the longtime resident.

"If you go down there," she told a reporter, "you be careful."

-- Times staff writer David Karp can be reached at 226-3376 or karp@sptimes.com.

Want to learn more?

You can attend another community meeting on the projects 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Central City YMCA, 110 E Palm Ave.

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