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Not in Ybor City

The community defends its reputation, often a victim of fuzzy boundaries.

By ALEXANDRA ZAYAS, Times Staff Writer
Published January 11, 2008

YBOR CITY - Fran Costantino's phone rang the afternoon of Nov. 28, as it usually does when something happens in her neighborhood.

Workers installing telephone poles had hit a pipe, she was told. Twenty-five people evacuated from Seventh Avenue after flammable gas rose in a cloud 50 feet high - over Ybor!

Costantino, president of East Ybor's neighborhood association, turned on the news. The gas leak was on Seventh Avenue, but at the intersection with Central Avenue.

That's in Tampa Heights.

But flashing on the TV screen, and in bold on newspaper Web sites, the dateline read: Ybor City.

Not again, she thought.

A week later, Tony LaColla, president of the adjacent Historic Ybor Neighborhood Civic Association, fired off a press release.

"Negative press due to inaccurate reporting and trying to link crime to Ybor City is killing the reputation of our neighborhood and historic district," LaColla wrote. "THIS MUST STOP!!!"

Boundaries are serious business for Tampa's neighborhood presidents. These are the streets they patrol with their crime watch groups, the homes that make theirs go up in value. So when crime happens outside their limits, and their neighborhood's name is invoked, they get mad.

With 106 neighborhood associations in the city, many civic groups have identity problems. Shannon Edge, of the city's department of neighborhood and community relations, often gets calls from people who don't know which neighborhood is theirs. Some even learn they live outside the city, in county territory.

But Ybor City may be the most common victim of fuzzy boundaries. Why?

For one, because it's so well known. It's the landmark you pass from downtown to East Tampa, looking off the Crosstown Expressway and Interstate 4. It's so familiar, people think it's a lot bigger than it really is.

And because the district has varying sets of boundaries, making it hard for even people in Ybor to distinguish between neighborhoods.

One official definition of Ybor City is the Community Redevelopment Area: the 409 acres roughly from I-4 south to Adamo Drive and Nebraska Avenue east to N 26th Street. The CRA includes the East Ybor and Historic Ybor neighborhood associations.

But officials sometimes refer to Ybor City as the area's historic district, which includes the CRA and about 200 more acres north to Columbus Drive.

"We're confusing the press, because we had so many different boundaries," said Ybor City Development Corp. president Vince Pardo.

Legal boundaries for Ybor City started to evolve in the 1970s, almost a century after its establishment.

At some point, two neighborhoods to the north decided to share a namesake: V.M. Ybor and Ybor Heights. But only a few blocks of V.M. Ybor fall within the historic district, and none of Ybor Heights does. They're not part of Ybor City, technically speaking.

- - -

Despite the boundaries, people already have personal feelings about what Ybor City means to them.

Take the 1937 Cuscaden Pool in V.M. Ybor, for instance. It's a historic landmark that Cuban, Spanish and Italian cigar workers frequented with their kids. Many with deep roots in Tampa would no doubt associate it with Ybor City, but it's not, Pardo said.

Media, including the St. Petersburg Times, have incorrectly attributed crimes to Ybor City in the past. A Yahtzee game that ended with a stabbing last summer and the discovery of a bloody body in a vacant storefront in October both happened in Ybor Heights, although news reports said Ybor City.

"There's always some type of drug bust or incident north of Columbus that seems to happen that's 'in Ybor City' or 'near Ybor City,' LaColla said, adding that "near" is just as bad.

TV live shots outside the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office headquarters in Ybor also irritate LaColla. A crime may have happened in Brandon or Wimauma, but news stations report with the Sheriff's Office as their background.

"Come on," LaColla said. "Do you really need to mention Ybor City in every crime report?"

- - -

Crime is down in Ybor City and is decreasing more rapidly than the rest of the city, said police Capt. Marc Hamlin.

He cites statistics for Ybor City's epicenter, the area including many retail stores, entertainment outlets, new condos and old shotgun homes.

From 2004 to 2005, serious offenses including murder, assault and robbery decreased 37.2 percent in the area. Crime in Tampa decreased 16.8 percent that year.

From 2005 to 2006, those crimes decreased 22.4 percent here, compared to 9.4 percent in the rest of the city. It's still too early to tell what the citywide decrease was in 2007, but crime in Ybor's core continued to decrease by 8 percent.

Hamlin attributes that success to stepped-up enforcement and community involvement. In his experience, neighborhoods with tight associations and crime watches tend to alert police and keep crimes out of their communities.

"They have more eyes and ears," Hamlin said.

So the police understand why neighbors get upset when outside crimes are lumped in with Ybor City.

Police spokeswoman Andrea Davis said the Tampa Police Department educates officers about Ybor boundaries so that reports and incident logs are accurate.

When sending out a media alert about a crime near, but not in, Ybor City, Davis writes a note: "This was not in Ybor City." She also attaches a map with Ybor's boundaries.

To sort out the city's many neighborhood associations, the community relations department recently launched a "my address" tool on its Web site. People can plug in an address and instantly get its neighborhood designation.

But some stories still slip through.

"I've been on this platform for - I can't tell you how long," Costantino said. "It hinders and discourages tourists and even natives of this famous 'cigar capital of the world' from wanting to live, work, dine, shop or just hang out."

Alexandra Zayas can be reached at or 226-3354.

Yahtzee slaying, June 2007

A man allegedly stabbed another in a fight that began with a game of Yahtzee.


Dead body, October 2007

Kenny Love Washington's bloody body was found stabbed in a vacant storefront.


Gas leak, November 2007

While installing telephone poles, workers hit a pipe. Twenty-five people had to evacuate after a leak sent a cloud of gas up more than 50 feet at Central and Seventh avenues.

[Last modified January 10, 2008, 07:33:43]

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