TAMPA — Just nine months ago, Dan Jurman took the top job at University Area Community Development Corp., the agency charged with improving life for the 40,000 people in the impoverished neighborhoods known as "Suitcase City."
Already, he's talking about putting the 14-year-old nonprofit out of business.
"If you're fighting poverty, that should end at some point," said Jurman, 42. "You should be able to win."
That's an upbeat assessment of what can seem an intractable problem, especially in a part of the city where success has been measured by the number of young people who get out.
But Jurman said he's confident that a detailed "transformation" plan, plus a stronger emphasis on collaboration with other nonprofits, could turn the transient area near the University of South Florida into a place where people want to live.
"I'm tired of running on the treadmill," Jurman said. "I want to show you can affect poverty in a way that's effective and sustainable."
The plan, detailed in a recent, unsuccessful application for a $30 million federal grant, include turning an abandoned park into a 50-unit neighborhood of energy-efficient homes and building a Main Street-style complex with apartments on the second floor and social service agency offices or shops on the bottom floor.
The hope, he said, is to attract middle-class families.
"The criminals who are here aren't mostly from here. They come here because they know they can get away with it, it's a transient neighborhood and people keep their heads down," he said. "I think if I'm a nurse at (nearby) Florida Hospital and there's a house that's gorgeous and doesn't have an electric bill, five minutes from where I work, I might want to stop paying $4 a gallon for gas."
The application also called for an unprecedented coordination among other nonprofits, which offer specialties (health care or job training, for instance) that University Area Community Development Corp. does not. Jurman said he thinks of it this way: His agency is the general practitioner; the others are the specialists.
Though he just learned that federal officials had turned down the grant, Jurman said the act of writing the plan helped elucidate the agency's work and mission. Some parts of the plan are starting to spark the interest of businesses: Bank of America Charitable Foundation said recently it would give a $25,000 grant to University Area for training in developing energy-efficient neighborhoods.
University Area Community Development had a roughly $9 million budget in the 2010 fiscal year, about $8 million of which came from government grants, according to federal tax forms. Jurman, who is paid $120,000 a year, said he expects government funding to decrease and hopes the private sector will help pick up some costs.
Jurman came to Tampa from Pennsylvania, where he was chief operating officer and development officer for Southeast Lancaster Health Services, a federally designated community health center. He said a boss there taught him about digging beneath the surface of a family's problems.
For instance, asthmatic children came in, got treatment and were sent home — to mold- ridden apartments. So the health center turned over space to a legal aid agency, whose lawyers could help patients force their landlords to clean up their apartments.
Jurman said he wanted to head up a social services agency with that sort of willingness to work with other groups, something that can be rare as charities must so often compete for grants and donations. Looking for job openings in Florida, where he had family, he read the job posting from University Area.
"This organization was founded on a merger and I thought 'Well, collaboration is in its DNA,' " he said.
Jurman and his wife, Rachel, live with their three young children in a house they rent in New Tampa. He said he'd like to move his family to the University area one day but acknowledged that he needs to see vast improvements before he does.
"I don't think I'm going to be done," he said, "until my wife and my children can walk around this neighborhood."
Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Jodie Tillman can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3374.