West Tampa residents respond to InVision Tampa redevelopment plans

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After unveiling it's plans for redevelopment in West Tampa in a press conference earlier in the day, InVision Tampa presented it's plans to the public during a community open house held at Blake High School. The redevelopment will drastically change the neighborhood, with the North Boulevard Homes and Mary McLeod Bethune High Rise Apartments being destroyed and replaced by mixed income housing along with a connection between neighborhood and the Hillsborough River.

A crowd of more than 200 showed up to see the future of the neighborhood and voice their opinion. InVision has been holding regular meetings with the community for the past two years and took efforts to include their insight into the planning. While the presentation ended with massive applause, there were still several concerns by the residents, particularly on the topic of whether the historically black community will remain that way.

“What is going to be the economic impact of this black community? Are we going to get a piece of the pie? Federal dollars to build black businesses and employ black people?” asked resident Ryan Presley, referencing the $30 million “Choice Neighborhoods” grant offered by the federal government.

Sandra Moore of Urban Strategies made pointed out that 4.5 million of the 30 million will be given to the neighborhood for non-infrastructure use, which would potentially include low interest business loans.

Other issues included the relocation of several youth sports fields and the potential of adding a grocery store to the area. The city is currently in negotiation with Hillsborough County Public Schools on the fields and the grocery store will likely be based on the success of the plans, which have no official launch date.

By far the most vocal critic was Ali Muhammad, chairman of the New Black Panther Party. He took issue with what he perceived to be an effort to push the black community into Hillsborough County and the failure of the city to follow through on plans to commemorate the black community along Central Avenue, where the Central Park Homes once stood.

“We're not against redevelopment. Our issue is that we feel that we're being forced out. ... We've seen it in Central park, we've seen it in Belmont Heights. We feel like we're being pushed north to the county area. Will we have a say in the city history ever again? We've seen the Jackson house on Central Avenue, we see black history all around us. When will we have a say in our history? … How can we be represented on city council and how will we know for a fact that we will be welcomed back to the area after redevelopment? We've been through this too many times in the city of Tampa.”

“Everyone is entitled to come back if they choose to,” reassured Mayor Bob Buckhorn. “There will be a temporary dislocation, but we want this community to be as vibrant as it has always been”

Still, despite the issues, the general consensus was that something needs to be done to revitalize the community and replace the oldest housing projects in the city.

“I am a transitional resident of North Boulevard Homes,” said Theresa, who requested her last name not to be used. “That means I do not intend to leave my family at North Boulevard Homes forever, in the condition that it's in. Now I love Tampa, but based on the condition of the buildings, there is no way I will feel that a family should remain in those buildings. Do we need to keep the present structures for human capital dwelling when we know that we've been surrounded by crime? Why should we sit here and put local residents in the back? We want to be safe. We would love to return to this community, but I don't want to bring my kids back if it's still in the same condition that it is now. It's time for a change. We can live like a Huxtable, like the people in Hyde Park, like in Prince George's County, Maryland. We want a change and we want to be a part of this.”

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