TAMPA — With the downtown skyline and construction vehicles as a backdrop, officials broke ground Tuesday on a 30-acre redevelopment project funded in part with $28 million in federal stimulus money.
Encore is part of the remake of Central Park Village, an old public housing complex between downtown and Ybor City that has been in the works since 2003.
The economy stalled construction, but an influx of money from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has allowed work to begin on the first building. Dubbed Trio, it will hold 132 affordable housing units.
The final plan calls for housing for more than 1,700 people, a hotel, grocery store, offices, shops, a middle school, African-American history museum and park.
"It's a rebirthing of sorts," said Robert Shimberg, a board member of the Tampa Housing Authority, which owns the land. "It represents the beginning of many jobs coming into the area."
Among those at Tuesday's celebration was Aaron Cooper, 39, who was out of work for three years before being hired a month ago by Malphus & Son, the general contractor that received a $5 million piece of the stimulus money through a subcontract with Encore's developers, which includes the Tampa Housing Authority and Bank of America.
Cooper said he's grateful to have the work after struggling to make ends meet on unemployment checks and odd jobs.
"I love it, man. I get up every morning ready to go," he said.
He is one of eight people hired by Malphus & Son to work on early construction site preparation. Company president Wilbert Malphus said he expects to hire another 25 people once he gets permits to start grading the land, hopefully in 10 days. He said he will hire 100 more people in about 50 days when installation of pipes and other infrastructure begins.
Tuesday's groundbreaking represents one of the first major projects in a part of downtown that's likely to look vastly different in five years. It's just blocks from a planned high-speed rail station and, possibly, a light-rail stop.
The seed for Encore was planted about seven years ago, when for-profit developers sought to include an overhaul of Central Park Village in a massive 157-acre community on the edge of downtown.
The project, called Civitas, went down in flames in 2004. With the deadline for a federal grant application looming, Hillsborough County commissioners refused to create a special taxing district to help pay for construction.
The Housing Authority came back with a smaller concept just for its 30-acre property, and commissioners approved the special taxing district in 2006.
More than 1,000 people were moved out of blighted Central Park Village apartments and promised an opportunity to return to new homes. The apartments were razed in 2007.
As the economy faltered, the project ground to a halt.
It got new life in January when HUD said the Tampa Housing Authority would receive stimulus money for Encore.
Tampa City Council chairman Tom Scott has been advocating for the rehabilitation of Central Park Village since his days on the County Commission. He got emotional in 2004 when he was on the losing side of the commission vote that killed Civitas.
He got emotional again on Tuesday.
"Last time I cried over Central Park Village, it was because we lost by one vote," he said. "Today, I'm crying because I'm excited."
Mary Williams, who lived in Central Park Village from 1999 until it closed in 2007, said Tuesday's event marked the nearly final step in a years-long journey.
"The next time we will be opening somebody's door," she said.
Janet Zink can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3401.