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Central Park Plans Need New Formulas

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By ANDY REID

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TAMPA - Feuding city and county officials could not agree in January on a plan to redevelop dilapidated public housing north of downtown.

Now, after federal officials on Thursday turned down a $20 million backup proposal, the city plans to try again to reach a deal with the county for incentives intended to lure developers to Central Park.

This time, the proposal to establish a community redevelopment area wouldn't specifically support Civitas - the company behind a Central Park redevelopment plan derailed in January.

But that doesn't mean Civitas couldn't re-emerge as a key player in bringing new homes and businesses to an area riddled with crime and blight.

The city has had some discussions since January with Civitas as well as other development entities interested in investing in Central Park, city Economic Development Administrator Mark Huey said.

By designating Central Park a redevelopment area, tax money generated there could be tapped to pay for road repairs, water lines and other infrastructure required for new development.

``All we can do is put tools in place and provide a certain level of public leadership,'' Huey said.

Without federal help, it's up to local government to determine how to improve Central Park, said Ed Turanchik, the former county commissioner who heads Civitas.

``I feel really bad for the people in Central Park. They deserve better,'' Turanchik said. ``There may be a role for us, there may not be.''

The Tampa Housing Authority lost its bid for $20 million from a federal Hope VI revitalization grant to help replace the Central Park Village public housing complex.

Original Plans

The housing authority intended to team with Civitas to pursue the grant as part of a larger proposal to reshape 157 acres between downtown and Ybor City.

Civitas in December unveiled plans to topple public housing and build more than 3,500 homes, including $125,000 lofts and $600,000 town houses.

Mixed-income apartments and other rental units were proposed as replacement housing for residents.

The plan also called for a redevelopment area that could have used tax money generated in Central Park to help pay for an estimated $80 million in infrastructure.

Iorio didn't sign on until the day the plan went before the county commission - less than a week before the grant deadline.

Commissioners complained the city left them out of the process and said they didn't have enough time to consider the plan. It didn't pass.

Iorio said she took the time she needed to consider the plan and that the grant deadline doomed the deal.

``That was the big mistake ... rushing through such complexities,'' Iorio said.

A new redevelopment designation proposal should fare better because it doesn't face a time constraint, Iorio said.

That allows for a more open discussion about what area to target and how to coordinate efforts with the housing authority, Iorio said.

The city and county have already agreed to move forward with redevelopment designations for east Tampa, Ybor City, the Channel District and Drew Park.

County Commission Chairman Tom Scott said this week that he would continue talks with the city about creating a community redevelopment area for Central Park.

Master Plan For Downtown

Pursuing the redevelopment designation would be part of a city effort to include Central Park in a master plan to revitalize downtown with new homes, businesses and arts attractions, Iorio said.

Civitas hasn't decided whether it will get involved again in Central Park development efforts, Turanchik said.

His partner, developer Bill Bishop, said in January that Civitas would continue planning up to the point when a Hope VI grant was awarded or not.

Civitas representatives have said they preferred to deal with the housing authority free from federal restrictions that come with a grant.

One alternative was to team with an apartment developer and use state tax credits with other federal housing money and private investment dollars to build replacement homes for toppled public housing.

After the Central Park deal fell apart in January, Civitas continued building model homes on Columbus Drive.

Work nears completion on prefabricated steel homes built as examples of what Civitas billed as a pioneering affordable housing alternative it planned to use in Central Park and beyond.

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