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Neighborhood report

University North: Veterans home extension okayed

By JOSH ZIMMER
Published October 22, 2004

UNIVERSITY NORTH - Strickland Manor, a boarding house for dozens of veterans, can move ahead with a major expansion near the James A. Haley VA Medical Center that may someday transform it into a 254-bed assisted living facility.

A recent decision by Hillsborough County Land Use Hearing officer Margaret Tusing modified a 1998 permit giving Strickland permission to open 70 assisted-living beds.

Owner Timothy Strickland refused to talk about the approval this week. But in an interview this spring, he said he wants to serve an aging population that will need on-site care. Veterans, many of whom rely on James A. Haley, will continue to comprise a "good portion" of the residents at Strickland Manor.

"There's a lot of need for people in lower income - like Medicare, Medicaid people - that are subsidized by the state, and also for veterans who are not 100 percent service connected," he said. "You're peaking right now into the Vietnam era (population). The veterans are starting to get older, the people are starting to get older."

Assisted living facilities typically involve some aspects of group homes, such as communal meals, and on-site medical care that is less intensive than a nursing home.

Approval of Strickland's plans followed months of delays as Strickland tried to satisfy county and community concerns about the location of the new buildings, and their appearance.

Julian Garcia, executive director of the University Area Community Development Corp., said the 4.3-acre project will provide a redevelopment boost to the neighborhood.

The University North area is slowly recovering from years of economic depression with the help of tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer money. Private investment is beginning to become a major factor in new construction.

The area is bounded by Bearss and Fowler avenues to the north and south, and Bruce B. Downs Boulevard and Interstate 275 to the east and west.

"It's a facility that's needed," Garcia said. "It will help increase the visibility and stability of the neighborhood."

He said Strickland improved upon his original plans, which were a little duller than what some people envisioned.

"We wanted a new development that had aesthetic appeal to the neighborhood," Garcia said.

The plan calls for a multipurpose building along 131st Avenue and a larger residential facility just south of 132nd Avenue. The existing units will get a $400,000 facelift with new roofs and carpeting, Strickland said. The plan sets aside another parcel for future expansion.

"When we get through with everything, we'll have roughly $4- to $5-million or more," in the project, he said.

Construction may not start for another two years, he added. The project could take another three years to complete.

From a business standpoint, Strickland should be well-positioned.

Central and South Florida remain a mecca for older people. Already this year, the state's Agency for Health Care Administration has approved more licenses for new assisted living facilities than all of last year, spokeswoman Connie Barnes said.

The number of retirement-age people is expected to explode around 2010, said Ken Preede, spokesman for the American Seniors Housing Association. He also predicted a major increase in the construction of independent living and senior apartment facilities, already an important industry in the University North area.

By 2010, "it's lights out," Preede said.

Josh Zimmer covers Temple Terrace and the University of South Florida area. He can be reached at 813 269-5314 or zimmer@sptimes.com

[Last modified October 21, 2004, 13:21:19]

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