Complex's makeover wows residents
By ADRIENNE P. SAMUELS
Payback is sweet for Danica Mathis, a 12-year-old resident of the North Greenwood Apartment complex in Clearwater.
"People used to call it raggedy and call it 'the projects,' " Danica said while playing Candyland, a board game, in the complex's air-conditioned and newly built activity center.
"Now they all want to live here."
Danica refers to the newly renovated apartments, with their pastel exteriors, grassy front yards, Stainmaster carpeting and new Whirlpool appliances.
It's a sharp change from the slumlike appearance of the units awaiting renovation. In those old units, tiny windows keep heat in and breezes out while dozens of coats of lead-based paint and asbestos-based windows release poison into the air of bathrooms so ancient that none have shower heads.
The difference between the old and new was on parade Wednesday, to coincide with the grand opening of the "Make a Difference Center." The center, at 1001 N Greenwood Ave., is a place where residents can use computers, wash laundry, play in a private park or just hang out in an air-conditioned area.
The center also offers personal finance assistance and job help.
Close to 300 people came out to see what all the fuss was about. None left disappointed, and many came close to crying for joy.
"It does not look like the same place," said Theresa Bynum, who used to live in Unit 1203.
Bynum joined others who oohed and aahed during a walk-through tour of a renovated apartment model. She touched the walls, inspected the closets and felt the cushy carpet spring beneath her feet.
"My God! They did a miracle," she said. "If anyone complains about this apartment, they are silly."
That "miracle" was aided by $14-million in donations and grants.
Bank of America is a major investor in the renovation.
"A bank is only as strong as the communities that it serves," said Katie Pemble, the bank's Pinellas County president. "We would hope that through our investment that we would be able to help attract additional investment to the area. We'll all look at the Greenwood area in five years and just be astounded."
Phase 1 of the renovation is complete and the first set of residents have moved into renovated apartments. The buildings, instead of being a drab, government green, are being painted in Florida pastels. Crime has dropped to virtually nothing, and residents eagerly await moving into their new apartments.
Clearwater kicked in $700,000, said City Manager Bill Horne.
"Doing a project of this size and scope is not your everyday occurence," Horne said. "We've learned that sometimes talk is cheap and what (people) really want to see is action."
Residents, bank officials and city employees point to Isay Gulley as the woman with the vision for improving North Greenwood.
"The intent for me personally was to change the negative stigma of North Greenwood," said Gulley, executive director of Clearwater Neighborhood Housing Services. "Without a change in the appearance, North Greenwood would remain blighted. This project, when completed, will be a catalyst for the community."
-- Adrienne Samuels can be reached at 445-4157 or email@example.com
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