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Picture Of Ybor Village Emerges

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By SHANNON BEHNKEN

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YBOR CITY - Since February, artists have heard that a village designed exclusively for them would rise out of dilapidated homes and buildings in east Ybor City.

The artists, city officials said, would be guaranteed low rent or mortgages, even as property values increase.

Monday night, artists wanting to be part of what city officials are calling an ``experiment,'' gathered at the Italian Club to hear more.

City officials were short on details about the East Village of the Arts, but one point came across clearly: ``What we're talking about today are quality projects, so when the entertainment district follows the arts district, it's still an arts district,'' said Paul Wilborn, the city's creative industries manager.

The idea is that if the city subsidizes housing for artists in Ybor City, the artists will help improve the area and attract services such as grocery stores. As the neighborhood gets better, more people will want to live there, Wilborn said.

When artists lived in Ybor City during the 1980s and early 1990s, they were priced out when bars and nightclubs took over Seventh Avenue. Mayor Pam Iorio has said she wants to make sure that doesn't happen again.

At Monday's meeting, consultants from Minneapolis- based Artspace showed pictures of similar projects in other cities and encouraged the artists to take part in Tampa's project. Earlier in the day, the consultants spoke with area developers.

``There may be some folks in your community already hatching ideas,'' said Chris Velasco, vice president for consulting and new projects for Artspace.

Iorio's administration doesn't necessarily want to limit such projects to Ybor City, Wilborn said, but it could be a good place to start.

Velasco, who toured Tampa this week and offered suggestions, agreed.

``It doesn't take an arts expert from out of town to see that Ybor has the right ingredients for artists,'' he said.

The city is paying the consultants $7,000 for advice.

Velasco showed colorful pictures of abandoned buildings renovated into beautiful apartments in such cities as Houston and Portland, Ore.

The audience applauded as Velasco went over some sample rents: $664 a month for a 2,000-square-foot live/work apartment in Minneapolis. A small apartment across the street, he said, goes for about $1,440 a month. In St. Paul, Minn., a 2,200-square-foot apartment went for $320 a month.

Velasco said these projects are worth the city's time because population increases and economic development follow.

St. Paul's downtown population was 50 people in 1987, Velasco said, compared with 5,000 in 1995. In 2001, the nonprofit arts industry had a $134 billion effect on the U.S. economy, he said.

The proposed East Village of the Arts needs Tampa City Council approval. The city wants to sell five renovated historic houses and rent some apartments to artists. It also is talking to other groups, such as the University of South Florida, that want to be included in the village.

The village would be north of Interstate 4, between 12th and 19th streets. The five homes were renovated by the Florida Department of Transportation, which bought most of them for about $30,000 each and spent $160,000 to $200,000 fixing up each one.

It then moved the homes to this section of Ybor City and deeded them to the city. The city is selling them for $96,000 to $150,000 and putting the profits into a revolving loan fund for other developments in Ybor City.

Reporter Shannon Behnken can be reached at (813) 259-7146.

This story can be found at: http://www.tampatrib.com/News/MGB8UUV2A0E.html

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