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Neighborhood Profile: Davis Islands, Tampa

The Davis Islands Bridge transports visitors over more than just a body of water. It transports visitors out of the city's urban area onto an island oasis with a hometown feel and some of the most expensive waterfront property in Tampa.

The late developer D.P. Davis would be happy to hear it described that way, because it was exactly what he had in mind in the 1920s when he built the islands by dredging up fill to enlarge two small natural islands: Big Grassy Key and Little Grassy Key.

Almost 100 years later, the community has not only survived, it is thriving. It is the home of some of Tampa's most famous residents — including Derek Jeter — and most properties are holding their value in the current housing crisis.

Realtor Jeanne Wolfe, with Smith & Assoc. Real Estate, is a top seller there, perhaps because her love of the islands is contagious. She has lived there for 38 years.

"I like the fact that it is diverse. It's not all retirees or all families. It's a mix. People are laid back and accepting. People want to live and die on Davis Islands," Wolfe said.

But it's not inexpensive to live and die on Davis Islands. While there are some affordable apartments for rent, a house selling for less than $300,000 is a rarity — or a teardown.

In addition, the whole community is in a flood zone, some even in a high-velocity flood zone, which makes insurance expensive.

There are about 1,700 single- and multifamily homes housing about 5,500 residents on the islands.

In 2006, the Hills tore down a 2,500-square-foot house on Suwanee Circle and built a home nearly twice the size on the old footprint.

Walter Hill, who was born on Davis Islands and who has owned Walter's Press Box Sports Emporium and Eatery in South Tampa for 22 years, bought the house with his soon-to-be-wife, Beth Ann, in 1992. They always had dreams of rebuilding.

They now live on a double lot — they bought and tore down the neighboring house — in a 4,500-square-foot home that they designed themselves. Decks and porches add 1,500 more square feet of living space.

"We picked a good year to rebuild. A lot of people were looking for work," Beth Ann Hill said.

Patti Ewald is a freelance writer who lives in Gulfport.

Walter and
Beth Ann Hill

Their home: 5 bedrooms, 4 1/2 baths, 4,496 square feet

When they bought: 1992 (rebuilt in 2006)

Current value (from $1.25 million

Why they love it: Teenage daughters Kelsey and Kaley said they like living close to lots of their friends and the water. "We swim in the canal and tube out to the bay," Kelsey said. Walter, who is president of the Davis Islands Civic Association, said, "We live right in the heart of the city but it's peaceful and quiet."

Unusual features about the house: It has three staircases, one in the front of the house, one in the back and a wrought-iron spiral staircase on the back porches. The double lot had two houses in the past, but the only remnant of the second house is the brick patio on which the Hills built an orchid shed.

>>fast facts

Davis Islands by the numbers

834 acres in original development

875 acres including Peter O. Knight Airport

11.5 miles of waterfront

27 miles of winding streets

89 million cubic feet: amount of sand that was dredged from the bay to create the islands

$350,000: how much developer D.P. Davis paid for the islands in the 1920s

306: number of lots the islands were split into

3 hours: time it took to sell the 306 lots

$1.68 million: how much developer D.P. Davis got from the sale of the 306 lots

Sources: Realtor Jeanne Wolfe,
Davis Islands Civic Association

Neighborhood Profile: Davis Islands, Tampa 09/16/11 [Last modified: Friday, September 16, 2011 6:40pm]
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