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Big plans and reality at housing complex

By SUSAN THURSTON
Published October 20, 2006


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The plans alone are pretty spectacular. Pedestrian plazas with lots of trees, cafes and tributes to a music legend. Low-rise buildings with rooftop pools and concealed parking. Shining skyscrapers with stunning views of downtown.

Then consider that all this revolves around Central Park Village, a blighted public housing complex on the northeast edge of downtown.

Work on the transformation began a few years ago but hit high gear this summer when the Tampa Housing Authority started relocating residents. Demolition is expected to start late next year.

Key players, including Roxanne Amoroso of Bank of America, which is putting together the project, spoke about the plans Tuesday during a Tampa Downtown Partnership event.

The 28-acre project centers on combining 1,200 for-sale condominiums with about 800 mixed-income rental units. The condos would be in four buildings seven to 28 stories tall. The rentals would be in five buildings seven to nine stories tall.

Retail and office space for the Tampa Housing Authority would round out the project.

The condos would sell for market rate. The rentals would range in price, depending on a tenant's income. Some people on government assistance would live there for free.

The concept is admirable. Create a community that embraces diversity and the area's rich history. The neighborhood historically was a hub for black businesses. Performer Ray Charles supposedly made his first recording there.

Time will tell whether the project comes to fruition as envisioned. I wish developers well. I expect it won't be easy.

Unlike the Channel District or even downtown, Central Park has an awful reputation that will be tough to shake. Sure, you can tear down a bunch of ratty buildings and redo everything from scratch.

But what about the stuff around it? And will young professional couples want to buy next to gussied-up public housing?

Developers say the market-rate condos will be affordable, citing examples such as SkyPoint and other residential projects going up downtown. Expect units possibly in the $200,000s, although no one is committing to prices quite yet and I suspect that's a low estimate.

That might not be enough incentive. For $300,000 people can get a house behind a big gate in the burbs. They also can get a very nice place in more established urban enclaves such as Tampa Heights and Seminole Heights.

And you can get a Domino's pizza delivered to your front door. Not so in Central Park.

A trip through Central Park underscores the enormity of the undertaking. In-your-face trash bins, dirt where grass once grew, junky cars.

Bank of America officials estimate the project will cost $750-million, which will come from a variety of sources, including future gains in property taxes generated on the site.

That's a wild amount of money, even if the investment ends up resurrecting the neighborhood and closing the development gap between downtown and Ybor City. Consider this: Buying a $300,000 home for every family in the nearly 500-unit housing project would cost about $150-million.

Of course, that wouldn't solve the bigger issue of transforming the area. But it certainly would be a lot cheaper.

The Last Drop: Plans for Central Park Village are far from final. Developers welcome public input. The next chance is Thursday, when the City Council is scheduled to vote on whether to zone the site as a planned development. The meeting starts at 5 p.m. at City Hall.

Susan Thurston can be reached at thurston@sptimes.com or 226-3394.

[Last modified October 19, 2006, 08:07:10]


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