Tampa won't get $30 M neighborhood grant, but West River plan to go ahead without it
Tampa has been knocked out of the running for a $30 million federal grant that local officials had hoped to use on the West River redevelopment project.
Instead, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's finalists for this year's round of Choice Neighborhoods grants are Boston, Denver, St. Louis, Louisville, Ky., and Camden, N.J.
Tampa was among 34 communities that applied for one of the grants, which are expected to be awarded in December. The grants are intended to help replace older housing for the poor with mixed-income neighborhoods, create conditions for reinvestment in distressed areas and enhance services for young people and families.
Not making the cut came as a “total surprise,” said Mayor Bob Buckhorn, suggesting that HUD’s evaluators didn’t read the city’s application carefully and could have cleared up any questions with a single telephone call.
“We are not only profoundly disappointed,” he wrote in a letter to HUD deputy assistant secretary Dominique Blom, “we are troubled by the rationale provided in your letter.”
In its notice to City Hall and the Tampa Housing Authority, HUD said Tampa’s application lacked detail about which members of the local team would be responsible for different parts of the program. As a result, Tampa’s application was disqualified without being considered on its merits.
In his response, Buckhorn offered a point by point rebuttal of how the application outlined the roles of the city, housing authority and Hillsborough County school district and how those players would work together.
Buckhorn said he wasn’t sure whether Tampa could appeal HUD’s decision, but “I’m not going to let this die without asking the question.”
“I thought we had we had put together one of the most competitive proposals that they were going to see this cycle,” Buckhorn said. “To get knocked out on a technicality that could have fairly easily resolved is a disappointment. … It had nothing to do with the substance of the proposal.”
Local officials had expected it would be tough to win one of the grants this year, partly because Tampa received a $30 million Choice Neighborhoods grant in 2012 for the Encore Tampa redevelopment project at the northern end of downtown.
Getting the grant this year would have been expected to give the Tampa Housing Authority and City Hall more ability to raise money for the West River plan. For example, officials leveraged the $30 million grant at Encore Tampa to bring in another $78 million in funding for a total impact of $108 million.
But not getting the grant does not doom the West River plan, officials say.
“We’re full steam ahead,” Buckhorn said. “We knew there were always going to be multiple entities in this project. This just means the federal government will not be a part of it. …We’re just going to have to go back to the table and sit down with our private sector partners and figure out how the rest of it’s going to work.”
Encore Tampa put in its roads and infrastructure and started work on three buildings before it won a Choice Neighborhoods grant, housing authority senior vice president Leroy Moore said. So starting West River without the HUD grant “is of course feasible.”
"We have several state funding applications in the hopper and will likely be the lead off development activity at West River with no (Choice Neighborhoods grant) for this year," Moore said. "That said, we believe HUD's decision to not shortlist the our application is shortsighted and just wrong. I don't believe there is a city or a project more deserving" or "with more leverage than West River."
And Tampa is likely to apply again, assuming the Choice Neighborhood program continues. Buckhorn noted that it took two tries to win the grant for Encore Tampa.
The West River plan entails demolishing 820 public housing apartments at North Boulevard Homes and the Mary Bethune High Rise Apartments. About 2,000 public housing residents have been getting relocation notices and help finding new homes since late 2014. North Boulevard homes is largely empty, and Buckhorn said demolition of the buildings is expected to begin the first quarter of 2017.
Residents have left for other housing authority properties or privately owned homes they can rent with Section 8 vouchers. If they continue to comply with their leases, they’ll have the option of returning to new subsidized housing when its built in the West River area.
But the West River plan includes more than public housing.
In place of the cinderblock, World War II-era apartments at North Boulevard Homes, officials aim to create a more traditional, walkable and shaded street grid with twice as many homes. The new West River neighborhood would include a mix of both subsidized housing and apartments or townhomes that would rent or sell for prices set on the open market.
Bringing in more residents and an infusion of working- and middle-class residents would be expected to create demand for shopping, services and restaurants along W Main Street, officials say.
As part of the West River plan, City Hall is moving public works trucks off 12 acres it owns a block from the Hillsborough River south of Columbus Drive. Buckhorn wants to sell that land, which is between Rome and Oregon avenues, to a developer who would build mid-rise apartments. The city's $35.5 million project to redevelop Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park also is expected to make West River more attractive to new residents and businesses.
The plan also envisions:
• Creating commercial anchors at key intersections such as Rome Avenue and Main Street.
• Replacing Hillsborough County’s West Tampa Neighborhood Service Center on N Rome Avenue with a new community center a few blocks to the southeast.
• Relocating baseball diamonds and a quarter-mile track that now overlook the river behind Just Elementary and Stewart Middle schools. That way, Willow Avenue could be extended all the way north to the river. The schools would stay where they are. The sports fields and track would end up south of Spruce Street where part of the North Boulevard Homes now sits. No ballfields would be eliminated.
• Making Willow Avenue a better connection between West River area, the waterfront and the evolving residential and commercial area south of Cass Street west of the University of Tampa.
Various government entities own 80 percent of the land in the 120-acre West River study area. Ultimately, building everything in the plan could cost an estimated $350 million.