Wednesday, April 25, 2018
News Roundup

New homes bringing buyers to Tampa's Sulphur Springs

TAMPA — Four years ago, when Joannie Melendez-Alicea last lived in Sulphur Springs, just walking to the coin laundry could be frightening.

She often heard gunshots as she lay in bed at night. Men hung out on street corners drinking beer.

"It was just not an environment I would want my kids in," she said.

But now she and her husband are going back. The couple has purchased a new home in Sulphur Springs, encouraged by a city housing program and efforts to improve the neighborhood.

"I've been down there several times, doing little drive-throughs, and I'm telling my husband, they cleaned up this area good," she said.

Melendez-Alicea, 34, and her husband, Angel Millan, 36, are buying a home there, becoming pioneers in the housing portion of the city's Nehemiah Project, which also includes neighborhood cleanup and safety measures such as new street lights.

The city began demolishing abandoned homes in Sulphur Springs last year. Contractors are building homes in phases, 10 or 12 at a time. They will build more depending on how quickly the new homes sell.

The hope is that an infusion of new homeowners, with a stake in the future of Sulphur Springs, can help rejuvenate an area long overrun by blight.

Melendez-Alicea and her husband are first-time home buyers who began looking a few months ago. They are currently renting in Ybor City.

They will pay a little over $600 a month on the $87,000 home, less than the $700 or so they're paying for rent now, she said.

"We put offers on different homes and got (outbid) by people paying in cash," she said. "It was frustrating. I was just having the hardest, hardest time."

Then they got a packet in the mail about the program in Sulphur Springs. From what she remembered, it wasn't an area where she ever thought she would want to raise her four daughters. But her mother and husband's parents live nearby, so she decided to at least take a look.

Sulphur Springs used to be a destination. People spent their summers there along the Hillsborough River. Tourists flocked to the Sulphur Springs Tourist Club, later called the Harbor Club, for its restaurant, shops and shuffleboard courts.

But then came the interstate, allowing tourists to bypass one of Florida's once-notable roadside attractions for newer, glitzier destinations. The springs themselves, reputed for healing properties that drew international visitors, were overcome by pollution and shuttered in the 1980s. The sickness seemed to spread to the neighborhoods around them.

The foreclosure crisis of recent years created a "perfect storm" of vacant homes, drugs and gang activity, Mayor Bob Buckhorn said.

People abandoned their homes and mortgages in Sulphur Springs. Many of the abandoned homes the city marked for demolition were owned by banks out of state, Buckhorn said.

"Sulphur Springs, but for some serious intervention, was on the verge of collapse," he said.

Now he sees a place where families can establish roots, and take pride in their property and their neighborhood, he said.

Nine home builders are working on different sites. The city plans to continue identifying abandoned lots for demolition, with no firm goal on how many homes will be built.

Several buyers are working on completing the process to be eligible for a contract, including taking a home buyer education class, city spokeswoman Ali Glisson said. Four homes are under contract and more will be soon, she said. The city also is offering down payment assistance to those who qualify.

Qualified buyers must earn no more than 120 percent of the median income based on family size — $68,880 for a family of four, for example. Buyers can't own another home at the time of purchase or closing, and owners must live in the homes as their primary residence for at least five years.

"How many paycheck-to-paycheck families do you know who are able to buy a brand new home? Not many at all," Melendez-Alicea said.

She and her husband have worked hard the last few years to save for closing costs and establish good credit, she said.

"We scrounged up the money to save for closing fees," she said. "This is sort of like a dream come true."

Keeley Sheehan can be reached at [email protected]

Comments
Clearwater looks to move out of City Hall to speed up Imagine Clearwater waterfront redevelopment

Clearwater looks to move out of City Hall to speed up Imagine Clearwater waterfront redevelopment

CLEARWATER — Elected officials have talked about relocating City Hall from the downtown bluff for a good 30 years. Now there’s a jolt of urgency to actually do it.Voters backed a referendum in November that essentially greenlighted the $55 million re...
Updated: 2 minutes ago
We tried the new restaurants at Tampa International Airport, and we're full

We tried the new restaurants at Tampa International Airport, and we're full

TAMPA When Tampa International Airport debuted in 1971, each terminal had a newsstand and a snack bar, called something kicky like Snack Bar. This was an era when people still dressed up to travel, when flight attendants were glamorous creatures in ...
Updated: 16 minutes ago
He spent 17 years in prison. Now he’s a free man.

He spent 17 years in prison. Now he’s a free man.

TAMPA — Dwight DuBose walked out of the Orient Road Jail on Tuesday night after trading an orange jumpsuit for a brand new polo shirt and slacks.It was about 9 p.m. He flashed a broad smile and hug staff members of the Innocence Project of Florida wh...
Updated: 18 minutes ago
The Daystarter: Another day in the 80s; Clearwater looks to relocated City Hall; The Most Interesting Man in the World visits Tampa

The Daystarter: Another day in the 80s; Clearwater looks to relocated City Hall; The Most Interesting Man in the World visits Tampa

Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what to know today.• Today’s high temperature tops out about 80 degrees, according to 10Weather WTSP. Our next rain chance is Friday when a weak front moves through. And next week brings the heat. Expect ...
Updated: 21 minutes ago
Pennsylvania women guilty of golfing while black; 13 trucks line up in Detroit to stop suicide; Puerto Rican anger grows over lack of basic services; more in U.S. news

Pennsylvania women guilty of golfing while black; 13 trucks line up in Detroit to stop suicide; Puerto Rican anger grows over lack of basic services; more in U.S. news

PennsyvlaniaGuilty of golfing while blackBlack people have long complained about getting pulled over by police for "driving while black," or being eyed suspiciously by security guards for "shopping while black." Now, five women say they got into trou...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Toronto attacker likely hated women; 3 murdered film students had stumbled into Mexican gang battle; more in world news

Toronto attacker likely hated women; 3 murdered film students had stumbled into Mexican gang battle; more in world news

CanadaToronto attacker hated womenThe suspect in the deadly van attack in Toronto posted a chilling Facebook message just before plowing into a crowded sidewalk, authorities said Tuesday. The post indicated the computer studies graduate and ex-milita...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Hillsborough’s Eakins gets high praise for finances, mixed reviews on other issues in his annual School Board evaluations

Hillsborough’s Eakins gets high praise for finances, mixed reviews on other issues in his annual School Board evaluations

TAMPA — Hillsborough County Public Schools Superintendent Jeff Eakins is proud of his record in boosting high school graduation rates and inroads he has made in marketing the nation’s eight largest school district.His seven bosses on the School Board...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Shrinking supply of Tampa Bay condos and townhomes drives up prices

Shrinking supply of Tampa Bay condos and townhomes drives up prices

Sales of condos and townhomes in the Tampa Bay area jumped 9.5 percent in March, hitting a median of $156,000. The price gain was prompted in part by a supply shortage, with sales down 7.5 percent amid a dwindling inventory. Statewide, sales also lag...
Published: 04/25/18
The best airports around the country for food and drink

The best airports around the country for food and drink

It was a revolutionary idea: Have travelers’ experience of a city begin when they land at the airport. Instead of McDonald’s and Panda Express, why not have restaurants that reflect the culture and breadth of a city’s offerings? San Francisco Interna...
Published: 04/25/18
Top places to hang with your dog in Tampa Bay, from breweries to baseball games

Top places to hang with your dog in Tampa Bay, from breweries to baseball games

Dogs are more welcome in public than ever these days. Bars and restaurants are making themselves more pet-friendly, and you can find weekly "yappy hours" happening at spots all over Tampa Bay. Add to that a healthy number of dog-approved events and ...
Updated: 10 minutes ago