tampabay.com

Kennedy may soon lose its life as divider

By Lisa Greene
Published February 16, 2007


Kennedy Boulevard is a vital artery for thousands of people every day. It carries them from one end of Tampa to the other, from downtown to the bay, from jobs to homes.

But Kennedy means more than transportation.

On one side are families who cherish their homes, relish their proximity to downtown, West Shore and Tampa Bay itself and value the boundaries that allow them to send their children to some of the county's best public schools.

On the other side are more of the same families.

Yet those families' homes sell for thousands of dollars less.

For years, Kennedy has been an invisible snob line. It's a standing joke that denizens of South Tampa didn't venture north of Kennedy.

Or at least, they did so only for the really important stuff - like a huge sale on designer duds.

Take a turn around West Shore Palms, Oakford Park, or some of the other neighborhoods just north of Kennedy, and you can see that something else is going on.

Even with the recent cooling of the real estate market, rows of new townhomes have sprouted in West Shore Palms. It was probably to be expected.

For a few years now, buyers priced out of South Tampa have been snatching up quaint old bungalows and ranch homes in the blocks north of Kennedy.

But now, in Oakford Park, some of the older brick ranches are making way for brand-new homes, all dressed up in sage and taupe, with big garages and Palladian windows.

They look just like what you might find in ... South Tampa.

On one stretch of Gray Street, there are four such homes all in a row, all built in the past year or two. I talked this week with Melissa Mosser, marketing manager for Castillo Housing Corp.

Castillo built two of the four houses, and Mosser is selling the newest one for $399,000.

It's a house that's out of reach for many Tampa residents, and it's priced far above the median county home price of $245,000.

Still, it's cheaper than South Tampa.

What if you took the exact same house, I asked her, and plunked it down on the same-size lot a few blocks south of Kennedy, instead of north?

It would sell somewhere between $500,000 and $600,000, Mosser figured.

"There's nothing left in South Tampa you can touch for under $300,000," said Jeff Gould of Kings Realty.

Gould is selling a bungalow on Bradford Street for $259,000. He figures it would go for at least $350,000 south of Kennedy.

"There's some sort of prestige to being in South Tampa, and somewhere along the line, somebody decided the line was Kennedy," he said.

Mosser and Gould both think change is in the air.

The area north of Kennedy has a lot of potential, Mosser said, and her company plans to build more homes there.

"That area is also in the Plant High district, so sometimes we can get a little more," she said.

Mosser also sells homes farther north, in West Tampa, as well as in South Tampa.

Families looking in West Tampa will come south to the north of Kennedy houses, she said, but she still sees South Tampa home buyers who are reluctant to cross Kennedy.

Gould remains puzzled by the whole divide.

"I'm not sure why there's a stigma north of Kennedy," he said. "I think that area's eventually going to take off. It's got to."

One afternoon this week, a young couple strolled down an Oakford Park street.

Both wore sweatshirts, hers from the Gap. They walked matching dogs with fluffy fur, glistening like they'd just come from the groomers.

They could have been walking along a street a few blocks south - especially since they were walking past an empty lot.

The oak trees had already been fenced off, the concrete blocks already piled high, just waiting for the builders to arrive.

It makes it easy to believe that one way or another, that line is fading.