A dream house for Midtown hopes

In his old neighborhood, Deveron Gibbons shows off his financial success.

By CRISTINA SILVA, Times Staff Writer
Published January 9, 2008

ST. PETERSBURG - Deveron Gibbons wants you to look at his new house.

But most important, he wants your kids to look at his new house.

The luxury home with the glass entry door and wrought-iron gate stands out from the other modest homes that dot 18th Avenue S.

It is the exact kind of subtle opulence Gibbons, 34, was going for when he designed his dream house in Cromwell Heights, an up-and-coming neighborhood in the middle of the city's poorest, most crime-ridden area.

At a time when the luxury home market is taking off in downtown, Snell Isle and other parts of St. Petersburg, Gibbons, a board member of the St. Petersburg Housing Authority and St. Petersburg College and a longtime community organizer, chose instead to build his new house in Midtown.

"Kids need to see people who aren't athletes or who aren't doing bad things in the neighborhood who are successful," Gibbons said. "You want those kids to say 'I can live in this neighborhood and have a nice home.' "

The house, which is in the final stages of construction, is his contribution to a community that helped motivate him to succeed, he said.

"This is where I grew up. People who influenced me lived in this neighborhood," he said.

"This is about giving back to the community. It's about doing the right thing."

Already, the neighborhood has taken notice. Since construction began two years ago, it has become a popular attraction in Cromwell Heights, with pedestrians frequently stopping by to inquire about the property owner or construction.

"A house of that magnitude is something that a lot of kids never get a chance to see," said Jerome Smith, president of the Cromwell Heights Neighborhood Association.

"They are so used to seeing other individuals that they consider to be prosperous, but they prospered in the wrong way. Now they can relate to Deveron's hard work."

Gibbons won't say how much the house cost but concedes it was somewhere in the $500,000 to $800,000 price range. The 7,000-square-foot home has five bedrooms, three bathrooms, a formal entrance hall complete with two staircases, and a back yard and patio area that will include a swimming pool, an outdoor kitchen and an entertainment center with two televisions.

Security is not a concern, he said. His house will be outfitted with video surveillance cameras.

The elegant bachelor pad is a far cry from Gibbons' childhood home.

He grew up in a humble 1,100-square-foot house on Seventh Street S near Bartlett Park.

He was an only child until he was 22 years old, the son of a teacher and a preacher.

He spent his youth walking up and down 18th Avenue S visiting the homes of his relatives and friends who lived along the way.

After graduating from the University of Florida, Gibbons pursued government jobs in Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles.

Gibbons, who has a degree in international politics, began working for St. Petersburg at the age of 24 as a community liaison.

He now serves as vice president of public affairs for Amscot Financial in Tampa and is considering a run for mayor of St. Petersburg.

But he hasn't forgotten where he comes from.

When he first showed off his new property to his mother, she nearly started to cry. "This is where I brought you home," she said.

It turns out Gibbons' mother had been living in a garage apartment on a corner of the property when he was born. The family moved shortly after.

It was a coincidence, but for him, it only affirmed what he had known all along.

He was home.

Cristina Silva can be reached at 727 893-8846 or csilva@sptimes.com.