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Hyde Park Village evictions bring surprise

HYDE PARK — Eviction notices sent recently to eight Hyde Park Village stores were as much a surprise to neighbors watching the center's revitalization as to the business owners themselves. Many who live near or work in the village knew changes were inevitable after the City Council approved rezoning plans in January, but they thought work on the new retail and condo buildings was at least a year or more away. The southeast building on Dakota Avenue welcomed new shops as late as this past summer, and at least one business owner said she was told she'd be secure in her spot through the holidays. Then came the sudden 30-day notices, signaling a potentially faster pace than most anticipated.

"We're getting ready to move toward the beginning stages of construction," developer David Wasserman said. "That means time to go."

It also means that people soon may see signs of the most controversial portion of the $100-million redevelopment: the mixed-use condo towers. More permitting has to take place before actual construction can begin, but the project is moving ahead, beginning with renovations that could start as soon as evicted tenants are out. They have until mid October to leave.

"Basically, we have a new, improved plan for both the retail and the residential portions of the project," Wasserman said. "Some of the retail space will stay, and some will be renovated."

The eight evicted businesses, which include anchor boutique Georgette's and the Tampa Artist Emporium, will be the site of renovations slated to become the ground floor of a nine-story retail, parking and residential building.

Shocked

Hyde Park homeowner D. Jay Feldman, who leads a citizens group opposed to Wasserman's plans, was shocked by the recent developments. He has been on the lookout for a public notice from the Architectural Review Commission, which must review the development plans as part of the final permitting process. He said he hasn't seen or heard anything.

Dennis Fernandez, who manages the city's architectural review boards, also had not heard anything new about Hyde Park Village before the evictions. The ARC hearings are booked until January 2009, and Hyde Park Village isn't on the agendas.

"They (the village's developers) can begin with site issues and planning and stuff like that," Fernandez said. "But as far as beginning construction, they would have to go through us first."

Wasserman was uncertain this week of specifics regarding the project's time line. He wasn't sure if the condo towers' construction would start at the same time as the base-level retail renovations or not.

His project manager, Richard Seges, did not return calls regarding the phases of construction. Wasserman said he hoped to start applying for permits by the end of the year, and that new village tenants will be announced soon. They will either move into vacant space elsewhere in the village or into the new buildings when they are constructed.

As for the current tenants of the southeast building, they should have known this day was coming, Wasserman said. They were given discounted rent in exchange for their uncertain lifespan in the village. "That was the deal," he said.

Unprepared

Still, business owners said they were unprepared for the evictions.

Feranda Jeans owner Gerry Freitag was preparing a TV ad campaign for his Hyde Park Village clothing store. Green Fish Greetings owner Charlie Purcell, who moved into his space on Dakota in May, was looking forward to a holiday rush of greeting card and gift buyers. Tampa Artist Emporium owner Shelby Boggs said she thought she would have at least through the end of the year to display artwork and hold art events in her Snow Avenue space.

All knew they were on monthly leases in anticipation of upcoming construction, but many said they didn't think they'd get such a short notice to close their doors, especially so close to the holidays, their most profitable time of the year.

"We were verbally told we'd have until the beginning of the year, so we thought, 'Great. We've got the holidays' " to sell inventory, Boggs said.

Many of the businesses, including Georgette's and longtime tenant Nature's Table Cafe, were offered the opportunity to negotiate new leases for other spaces in Hyde Park Village.

Georgette's owner Georgette Diaz did not return calls to the St. Petersburg Times, but Boggs heard that the well-known clothing store would likely move into one of the largest spaces offered. None of the spaces were big enough to house another Tampa Artist Emporium, however. Boggs plans to move to a new location at MacDill Avenue and Bay to Bay Boulevard. At least a few other affected business owners are also looking to move to other South Tampa neighborhoods.

Excited

Not everyone is dismayed by the sudden Hyde Park changes. The thought of a bigger and better shopping center excited Shandra Lennox, who recently shopped there with friends.

"I don't want to see some of the shops that have been here forever go, but I think this place could use a little facelift," she said. "I'd like to see more shops here in the long term."

Enza Aiello, president of the Hyde Park North Neighborhood Association, who also works at Hyde Park Fine Arts, said that she felt bad for a lot of the evicted business owners but that the village's revival has been in the works for months.

"We're all pretty sad," said Aiello, "but we knew it was coming sooner or later."

Emily Nipps can be reached at nipps@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3431.

Hyde Park Village evictions bring surprise 09/25/08 [Last modified: Thursday, September 25, 2008 4:31am]

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