SOUTH TAMPA: Modest, middle class homes are disappearing under a tide of well-to-do newcomers.
By RON MATUS
Published February 15, 2004
TAMPA - When John and Helga Kenny moved to South Tampa in 1974, they found a concrete block house in a neighborhood with gorgeous oaks and a name as sweet as the location: Bayshore Beautiful. A block from Hillsborough Bay, they raised five kids on an airman's salary, next to nurses, teachers and police officers.
"Our house was the nicest on the block," Helga Kenny said.
But 30 years later, many of the smaller houses are gone, replaced by 3,500-square-foot stunners and sculpted lawns. Among the Kennys' new neighbors: four lawyers, two doctors, an architect and an insurance executive. The president of the local Krispy Kreme franchise is building a two-story house on the lot behind them, just beyond the Kennys' above-ground pool and their shed with the rusty tin roof.
In a rising tide of affluence, the Kennys are a sand bar of modesty.
"I don't begrudge them," said John Kenny, 69, who worked for the city wastewater department after 20 years in the military. But in a few years, "nobody like me is going to be here anymore."
Kenny is right, experts say. As soaring property values rapidly transform South Tampa into a bastion for the well-to-do, working-class families are all but out of the picture and middle-class families are increasingly squeezed.
Deputy Hillsborough County property appraiser Warren Weathers used two words to describe the trend: "normal" and "scary."
Normal, because demand pushes prices up.
Scary, because a lot of people are getting priced out.
"For the new home buyers, the young home buyers, those prices are frightening," Weathers said. "It's downright depressing."
When it comes to property values, few places in the Tampa Bay area have rocketed as wildly as in South Tampa, the area south of Kennedy Boulevard (State Road 60) that sticks out like a giant thumb between Hillsborough and Old Tampa bays. Of the 10 Hillsborough County neighborhoods with the biggest jumps in median housing prices between 1998 and 2003, eight are in South Tampa, a St. Petersburg Times analysis found.
"We're a peninsula . . . there is no more land," said Mary Esther Parker, a real estate agent with Smith & Associates in South Tampa. "You either go north and suffer with the traffic or stay here and pay the price."
South Tampa offers the sweeping vista along Bayshore Boulevard and the historic feel of some of Tampa's oldest neighborhoods. It's minutes from downtown.
Bern's Steak House is here. So is Old Hyde Park Village, a European-style outdoor mall that reels in stay-at-home moms with disposable income.
With money comes influence: Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio lives in South Tampa; so does her predecessor, Dick Greco. And South Tampa is nothing if not trendy: Popular restaurants line S Howard Avenue, offering everything from tapas to po'boys, while the Channelside entertainment district and International Plaza are just around the corner. There as many Starbucks (five) as there are McDonald's.
of living (here): Research home prices
The kicker: good schools. Last year, seniors at Plant High in South Tampa earned more than $10-million in scholarship offers.
For all that, people are willing to pay a premium.
Some condos at one South Tampa high-rise, One Bayshore on Platt Street, have already been sold and resold - and they haven't even been built yet. The sellers made $50,000 to $60,000 each. At another proposed complex, the Bellamy on Bayshore Boulevard, 36 of 37 units are reserved - despite a starting price of $650,000.
Houses are hot, too.
In 1998, the median sales price for a home in the Bayshore Beautiful neighborhood was $160,000. In 2003, it was $330,000.
In five years, a solidly middle-class neighborhood became an exclusive one.
And still, they come.
Of the Kennys' 10 closest neighbors, six bought their properties after 2002, county records show. Houses are under construction on three adjacent lots; the house next door is for sale.
If the Kennys decide to sell, they'll make a killing.
In 1974, they paid $26,500 for their 1,200-square-foot house, which remains as pink as the day they bought it. Today, the lot alone would bring $300,000.
They say developers hound them at least once a week, calling, sending come-ons by mail, wanting to know if they're ready to cash out. Neighbors - the new ones - hint at it, too. John Kenny, prickly and proud, suspects they don't like his jungle of a lot, lush with flowering vines and unruly stands of lady palm.
"They say, "You're sitting on a gold mine there, aren't you?' " he said.
But Kenny said he and his wife can't bring themselves to sell - not when they know they can't afford to come back.
"Why should we not be here?" he said.
South Tampa's hyper housing market has spawned some bitter ironies.
Sue Lyon, president of Bayshore Beautiful Neighborhood Association, said she and her neighbors have been trying to find a house in South Tampa for the police officer who patrols their neighborhood. So far, no luck finding anything he can afford.
Even in the neighborhoods south of Gandy Boulevard - an area of modest homes next to MacDill Air Force Base - real estate prices are swelling. Houses that sold for $60,000 five years ago sell for $110,000 now. Meanwhile, $180,000 townhouses are being built by the scores.
Land owners love the uptick in value, even if some grumble about paying more in taxes.
For others, the down sides are more dramatic.
Last August, Susan Mulhern and her family found out they couldn't stay in the mobile home they own in a mobile home park south of Gandy. A North Carolina developer plans to replace 100 aging coaches with 200 luxury apartments.
Mulhern, 41, makes $12 an hour at a milk processing plant and wanted to stay in the area. The plant is walking distance from her home; her two daughters go to nearby Robinson High School. But Mulhern couldn't find a house in a working mom's price range.
In South Tampa, "you can't touch them," she said.
Next week, Mulhern will close on a new home - in Polk County, a 50-minute drive to her job.
In Bayshore Beautiful, the Kennys will stay put, despite the hassle of construction noise and the surreal sight of so many nannies.
So what if the neighborhood is rebuilt around them, John Kenny said.
"This is home."
- Times staff writer Susan Thurston contributed to this report. Ron Matus can be reached at 813 226-3405 or firstname.lastname@example.org