Thursday, November 29, 2012

North Tampa's revival is slow, but that's OK

Just a few hours after Mayor Bob Buckhorn's announcement Tuesday of a large-scale plan for the transformation of downtown Tampa, I was riding with City Councilwoman Lisa Montelione in a part of the city that could use a little love.
While Buckhorn touted a rebuilt urban core with new high-rises, a completed Riverwalk, festivals and upscale places to live, Montelione couldn't wait to show me the new drainage project not far from the University of South Florida. It will help ease chronic flooding problems in the area.
As we drove over streets badly in need of repaving, past several abandoned homes with weed-choked yards, she would occasionally point at daisies popping up through the blight.
"See there?" she said, pointing at a well-kept house. "That looks nice. And that one over there looks nice, too."
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It has to start somewhere, and in areas like Terrace Park and the neighborhoods around Busch Gardens it might mean something as basic as flood control and streets that don't wreck your car's suspension."Having infrastructure in place for any community is the foundation of success," she said. "If the streets flood, the roads deteriorate. If the roads deteriorate, housing values fall. If housing values fall, people move out and abandon the area."
Besides the basic neighborhood necessities of better streets, parks, sidewalks, streetlights and flood control, there has to be a long-range plan to lift the area. Leaders have been talking about that for a while, including the creation of high-tech jobs around USF.
From 6 to 8 tonight, Montelione and Buckhorn will hold an open house at the Gwazi Pavilion at Busch Gardens to talk about those plans. The planning commission has been talking with neighborhood residents and business leaders about what they want. Tonight, they'll reveal the results of those surveys.
* * * * *
There is no quick fix, though. That much became clear as we continued our drive before stopping at 15th Street and Linebaugh Avenue when Montelione spotted sheriff's Deputy Steven Donaldson. He was outside a two-bedroom home where workers were busy hammering, nailing and generally fixing up the place.Donaldson's job with the sheriff's office involves reaching out to the homeless. That's how he found the men working on this house. One was in a cold-weather shelter, another was begging by a roadside. The house they were working on had been abandoned.
The deal is the men do the work, under supervision of another formerly homeless man who has construction skills. They use donated material and when the job is done, they can live there rent-free for a year as they transition back to the workforce. It helps the men and removes an eyesore from the neighborhood.
There isn't a magic wand that will make it better overnight, but revival is starting. 
It's a slow-go that will take years to complete, but it's starting. Think of it as a mosaic, being stitched together one street, one house and one life at a time. 
That's the way it works in North Tampa.

Deputy Steven Donaldson
Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office
Homeless Initiative
District III Office: (813) 247-033

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