InVision Tampa unveils its plan to redevelopment the West Bank of Tampa



A hugely ambitious master plan to transform 140 acres of mostly public land in West Tampa was unveiled Wednesday morning by Mayor Bob Buckhorn and officials involved with the InVision project that originated in 2012. Buckhorn's concept is to transform the west bank of the Hillsborough River into a mixed-use community that will include the demolition of two venerable public housing buildings, North Boulevard Homes and Mary McLeod Bethune High Rise Apartments, and the relocation of those residents.

"We recognize there will be people who will object to this plan, " Buckhorn said. "But this plan will change neighborhoods, and by extension change lives."

But there is no timetable for when it might happen, or how much it will ultimately cost. The most crucial element is a federal "Choice Neighborhoods" grant that the city and Tampa Housing Authority will apply for later this year, which could yield up to $30 million.

The region of the west bank that the plan would involve runs north of I-275, south of Columbus Drive and west from the river to Rome Avenue.

The proposals include relocating sports fields (and possibly even Just Elementary School) to connect Willow Avenue all the way to Bayshore Boulevard in South Tampa. It would incorporate building a "Center for Working Families" to help those in the neighborhood with employment. There would be a "livable community senior building," as well as a comprehensive health care clinic.

But it all starts with demolishing the two public housing complexes (which currently total 820 units), temporarily relocating those tenants, and then offering them the chance to move back into the neighborhood, where 1,600 units of mixed housing will be created (i.e., both public and market housing).

Tampa Housing Authority Director Jerome Ryans spoke confidently that the issue would not be a problem considering that the THA has had lots of experience in moving similar communities in College Hill and Central Park in Tampa (In 2001, USF researchers Susan Greenbaum and Cheryl Rodriguez wrote a much talked-about report about those relocations).

In March of 2012 when InVision Tampa was initially announced, a protest was held in West Tampa by neighborhood citizens concerned about that the plan might deleteriously affect the neighborhood. Later that year some members of Occupy Tampa took up the cause, at least for a while.

Ryans said total relocation costs for the residents of public housing would be around $1-2 million, with another $2 million needed to pay for the demolish of the two buildings.

Those concerns seemed to be underlying many of the comments made by Sandra Moore of Urban Strategies, the St. Louis-based non-profit that plans and coordinates community revitalization projects.

Moore began and ended the news conference by emphasizing that everyone involved in the process respected the deep roots of the African-American and Cuban communities that have lived in the west bank region for decades. She emphasized that the plan revolved around community involvement. "People have to be at the center of it," she repeated.

There were also officials from St. Louis-based developer McCormack Baron Salazar and AECOM at the news conference. The former group often works with Urban Strategies, whereas AECOM has assisted the city in writing the InVision plan.

There have been extensive neighborhood meetings with members of the public over the course of the past two years. Buckhorn said he could not recall anything in his 25 years of public life that involved so much public involvement. He and others stressed that the plan wouldn't be finished (if it in fact ever gets started) for a long time, probably not until after the mayor's second term in office (if he is re-elected next year, meaning not until at least 2019).

"It's exciting. It's big. It's expensive. It will not be done in one year. It probably will not be done in five years. I will probably not be the mayor when it's finished. But we've got to start. And this is where we begin to change those lives."

Members of the public can attend an unveiling of the plan tonight at Blake High School (1701 N. Blvd. Tampa) at 6 p.m.

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