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Public housing's new style -- fancy

Colonial Revival and Craftsman-style duplexes and triplexes will replace the old Jordan Park public housing units.

By LEONORA LaPETER

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 20, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- Architects for Jordan Park have worked for two years to find a look for the rebuilt public housing development.

They've driven up and down streets in the Old Northeast and other popular neighborhoods. They've measured streets and sidewalks. They've received advice from local residents.

The final designs, though, look decidedly like another community in another city: Disney's Celebration in Orlando.

"It does have the same feel as Celebration," said Elton Jones of Rosier/Jones Associates Inc. And that's because Urban Design Associates, the Pittsburgh company that came up with the style for the new Jordan Park, also helped design Celebration.

The new village of buildings will look nothing like the isolated complex of gray military barracks-style structures that stood at 22nd Street S and Ninth Avenue S for more than 60 years.

In their place: Colonial Revival and Craftsman-style duplexes, triplexes, a few apartment buildings, even homes -- all on a series of crisscrossing streets that will feed into the surrounding community.

The stucco buildings will be painted in a dozen different color schemes, including Hathaway peach, Odessa pink, Downing Straw, Potomac blue or robust red. Even the shingles on the roofs will come in different colors: slate, brown, green. Alleys will run behind the structures for parking and garbage pickup.

But the drawings haven't drawn universal praise from everyone. St. Petersburg Housing Authority Commissioner Rev. Mayjor Mason Walker thinks Jordan Park's new look more closely resembles St. Petersburg's Old Northeast than the African-American community that surrounds it.

"I have a concern about placing Colonial Revival architecture in the middle of an African-American community," Walker said recently. "I didn't want round columns. That represents slavery."

Don Kaliszewski, associate architect with Urban Design Associates, said the Colonial Revival style found throughout St. Petersburg was typically built in the 1920s and 1930s, not in the antebellum South.

"I can understand the reference he's making," Kaliszewski said. But, he added, "we've always seen Colonial Revival as a very optimistic, happy style. You won't find one good American neighborhood that doesn't have it."

The $30-million community of 94 buildings will be mostly made up of triplexes and duplexes, but it will also include five houses and three apartment buildings.

Construction on the new buildings, financed with a $27-million federal Hope VI grant, is to begin possibly as early as June. The work is to finish in the spring of 2003.

In the meantime, renovation has been progressing on a small section that will be known as Historic Village, 31 apartments mostly for seniors. Already the first six residents moved into the Craftsman-style triplexes, which come in Renwick rose beige, Newport blue, English ivy and gold buff.

This week, Veola Brown, who has lived in Jordan Park for 30 years, worried about how she would get her pictures and shelves on the walls of her new home. The 89-year-old woman, who uses a walker to get around, now has a carpet, a dishwasher and a garbage disposal.

"I got more room now," she said.

Brown is one of 51 individuals and families who remained on the site as the demolition went on around them. Only they are guaranteed spots in the new Jordan Park. Others will be placed on a waiting list to fill the 237 one-, two-, three- and four-bedroom units as they become available. The waiting list for a Section 8 voucher, a rent subsidy, has 1,384 names on it right now.

And while the former Jordan Park public housing complex accepted only the poorest of the poor, the new Jordan Park will take residents with higher incomes to provide a mix.

So some families of four will pay nothing and others will pay as much as $659 a month for the housing. All residents will earn less than the area's median family income of $47,700.

"The whole Hope VI program is based on mixed income communities," said St. Petersburg Housing Authority executive director Darrell J. Irions. "We are the only Hope VI program in the country that I know of that is going to be all public housing. You're supposed to have home ownership and market units, but people raised such a stink in community forums and we caved in."

The Housing Authority will turn over the administration of Jordan Park to the developer, possibly as early as next month. Landex Corp., known on this project as the Jordan Park Development Partners, will earn a $2.2-million developer's fee and provide management for Jordan Park. The Housing Authority will own the land on which the buildings rest.

The development, which will have a community center, a library, an exercise room, a computer room with 10 computers, a park with picnic tables, even a lake with water sprouting from the middle, represents a new approach in the construction of public housing.

"There was a different philosophy on low-income housing 10 to 15 years ago when the emphasis was on warehousing people," said Jones, who lived in a housing project as a youth. "A lot of projects were very boxy and frankly they were inhumane, the way they were designed. Now there is more of an emphasis to make low-income housing like any other neighborhood."

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