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Looking forward and looking back

By ERNEST HOOPER
Published July 8, 2005


Efforts to revitalize east Tampa got another boost this week.

In a memo, Mayor Pam Iorio informed members of the East Tampa Partnership that the tax base for the area has increased 22 percent in the last year. The result will be a reinvestment of $2.7-million in tax credits for the area.

"This growth in east Tampa's tax base represents new construction and higher property valuation," Iorio said. "Most importantly, it represents investment on the part of the private sector in east Tampa's future."

The actual amount, according to Iorio, is $2,779,820. That trademark attention to detail is just another indication that Iorio is serious about bringing real change to east Tampa. While feel-good declarations might soothe longtime east Tampa residents, real change will come from private investment dollars. And those appear to be coming.

Last week, Iorio and other city and county officials celebrated two significant projects: a ribbon cutting for the Grande Oaks apartment complex on Hanna Avenue, and a groundbreaking for a mixed-use complex called Meridian Pointe on E Hillsborough Avenue. The projects, which are both being developed by the Richman Group of Florida, represent an investment of more than $55-million in the area.

An increased police presence and the addition of a new police station will only serve to give investors more confidence about east Tampa's future.

Earlier this year, some critics said Iorio's campaign promises had not borne any significant improvements in the area, which has gone neglected for decades. Complete change won't come overnight, but when Iorio makes her state of the city address next year, she will have tangible proof that life is getting better in those neighborhoods.

Meanwhile, City Council member Kevin White is proposing that a black history museum be included in the redevelopment of Central Park Village. Three developers are finalists vying to bring revitalization to the housing project, which is in a prime area between downtown and Ybor City.

During a council meeting last month, White asked the developers to include conceptual designs for a museum in their plans.

"We'll never have it if we don't ask," White said. "I thought this was an opportune time to ask, with developers redeveloping such a large part of the African-American community."

White concedes that his initial proposal raises more questions than it answers, but he wanted to get the ball rolling anyway. It's uncertain who would oversee the museum, how its day-to-day operations would be financed or what would be the museum's focus.

Though White says the community would have the most input on the museum's concept, he envisions an 8,000- to 10,000-square-foot facility that would include local and national history. He would want to see the museum double as a cultural learning facility for kids.

"And I also would like for it be on a main corridor," White said. "I think it should be accessible and inviting to anyone coming to Tampa."

To those who believe the neighborhood would be better served by a more direct economic investment, such as a job training center, White counters that people can be empowered by learning about their history.

"You can't move into your future until you know your past," he said.

Although the proposal is clearly in its infant stage, White said the feedback he has received has been positive.

Talk of some kind of black history museum has been in the mix since Bob Samuels proposed the idea in 2002. Samuels got a grant from then-mayor Dick Greco to do a feasibility study, and the results indicated the museum could be a success here if it focused on a blend of education and entertainment.

Samuels notes that 17 of America's 20 major cities have black history museums.

After the feasibility study, Samuels said he turned the project over to several political leaders and asked them to take it to the next level. White is attempting to do that, and while the museum is far from a reality, I appreciate his efforts.

As a father of three, I would love to have a place that can help my kids learn about the rich history of their ancestors.

That's all I'm saying.

Ernest Hooper can be reached at 813 226-3406 or Hooper@sptimes.com

[Last modified July 8, 2005, 01:01:05]


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