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Housing Authority makes new Central Park proposal

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Housing Authority makes new Central Park proposal

Officials say they want to sell part of their land in the area and create new public housing on the remainder of the property.

By JANET ZINK, Times Staff Writer

Published October 6, 2004

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TAMPA - The Tampa Housing Authority unveiled plans Tuesday to redevelop Central Park Village, a public housing project northeast of downtown.

The proposal calls for selling nearly half of the housing authority's 28 acres at the corner of Cass Street and Nebraska Avenue. Public housing units would be built on the remaining land.

Housing Authority executive director Jerome Ryans sketched out the concept for board members at a workshop Tuesday. Later this month they plan to give it more formal consideration.

Last year, Central Park was at the center of a proposed 157-acre master-planned community envisioned by Civitas, a for-profit developer. Hillsborough County commissioners crushed the idea in January, refusing to grant tax incentives to get construction going.

The Housing Authority pursued a backup plan, applying for a $20-million federal grant to tear down and rebuild the aging, dilapidated neighborhood, but federal officials rejected that. Now, the authority is taking matters into its own hands.

"We cannot afford to wait," Ryans told board members Tuesday.

The plan would increase the number of public housing units in Central Park from 482 to 590. Renderings of the project show five- and six-story buildings with canopied windows at street level and wide landscaped boulevards.

"It cannot look like affordable housing," said Leroy Moore, chief development officer for the housing authority. "It has to look like well-done housing that's occupied by people paying affordable rates."

The parcel developed by the private sector would contain market-rate housing, Moore said.

The Housing Authority hopes to pay for the $56-million project with $20.9-million in low-income tax credits; $28.7-million from the Hillsborough Financing Authority; $5.8-million acquired through a Housing and Urban Development program that issues $1,100 for each public housing unit demolished; and $1-million in Housing Authority capital funds.

Current residents would be relocated at no cost to themselves, and would be first in line to move into the new buildings.

Some board members questioned the wisdom of forcing more low-income people onto less land and selling valuable real estate.

"Once we sell the land we don't get it back," said board member Hazel Harvey. "That's probably some of the most valuable land in the city."

But Moore said the sale was necessary in part to create a community of mixed income levels and to generate cash for future projects. The Robles Park and North Boulevard communities also need upgrades, he said.

Board member Toni Riordan also expressed frustration about trying to come up with a plan for Central Park while city officials are in the middle of a "visioning process" for Ybor City and downtown Tampa that doesn't include Central Park, which sits between the two areas.

She said it's important for Central Park to fit into the neighborhoods around it.

Mark Huey, economic development director for the city, said Central Park is being considered as a an "area of influence" in the downtown plan.

"Many people misunderstand what we're doing. They think we're doing a master plan for downtown and we're not," Huey said. "Really we're looking for specific next-step catalytic projects for our downtown."

The downtown plan focuses on the business district, he said, but "I think you will see some recommendations coming out of the process related to Central Park because they're an influencing area for downtown."

The visioning process includes opportunities for people from the community to offer their opinions, he said.

Board members and Housing Authority staff said they're open to suggestions from county and city officials as well as the private sector. They're making a strong push to get the word out about their plans, which some people believe caused the downfall of the Civitas project.

At Tuesday's board meeting, Ryans talked about taking out two-page newspaper ads describing the project. Housing officials have already hired a consultant to inform the public of the plan. The authority will outline a timeline for redeveloping Central Park later this month.

Mary Williams, president of the Central Park resident association, said the sooner construction begins, the better.

"The residents are tired of the rats, the roaches, the leaking roofs, the dirt, the crime," Williams said. "It needs to be gone."

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