Byron Dixon eyed the shiny swing set. "It looks awesome," he said, his 6-year-old voice full of wonder. By the swings, a new red, blue and yellow play structure waited for kids to flock to the caterpillar ladders, clamber across monkey bars and rocket down slides. The kids' playground paradise installed by volunteers last week in Simmons Bower Park boosts new life into the neighborhood, residents say.
"It's about time they had something out here," said Byron's mom, 40-year-old Lucrecia Dixon of Riverview.
The project, unveiled Wednesday, comes from an effort by Rebuilding Together Tampa Bay, Hillsborough County, Lowe's and Carter's Kids. The groups aim to revitalize Progress Village and fix up homes ravaged by a tornado and intense storms in March.
"The houses are safer, cleaner, more up-to-date," said HGTV star Carter Oosterhouse, who hosts the home-improvement program Carter Can. The new playground built by his organization, he said, sets up a home base where "everybody can rally around."
He started Carter's Kids to combat childhood obesity and contribute to early cognitive development by building playgrounds.
"Look," Oosterhouse said, "when there's play spaces, kids will play."
The partnership of organizations also showed off four renovated homes near the park, along 86th Street and Ash Avenue.
They were just a few of the 43 houses that Rebuilding Together Tampa Bay aims to revamp. Home repairs cost an estimated $10,000 to $15,000 each, according to Rebuilding Together Tampa Bay executive director Jose Garcia.
Lowe's donated materials, and employees from its bay area stores volunteered to mend roofs, paint walls and install disabled-accessible ramps and toilets. The county's affordable housing department contracted with Rebuilding Together Tampa Bay to provide $200,000 in matching grants for Progress Village homes.
Their houses still under renovation, residents thanked volunteers.
"It really needed to be done," said Mary L. Turner, 79, sitting outside her house while volunteers replaced her kitchen cabinets. "I didn't have no help, and I couldn't afford to do it myself."
County Commissioner Les Miller, who represents Progress Village, praised the turnaround from the area being "in bad shape" after the storms to now being "a tremendous asset."
"This," he said, "is a shining star."
On Wednesday, volunteers finished spreading wood chips around the new playground and waited for students from Progress Village Academy to scamper over.
"The more the kids are out here, the less they're in the house playing video games," said April Bonner, a volunteer from the Lowe's in Brandon. "Oh, they're going to have a blast."
Just to be sure, a few volunteers tested parts of the jungle gym first.
Stephanie Wang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 661-2443.