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Seminole Heights tries nonprofit approach to neighborhood improvements

SEMINOLE HEIGHTS

Trailblazers in this historic section of central Tampa have big ambitions:

They're eager to embrace form-based zoning, a method of planning that values design. They're excited about half a dozen new restaurants moving in.

They feel they're on the verge of a neighborhood renaissance, even under the cloud of this pesky economy, which has forced the city to tighten its budget and discontinue its neighborhood minigrant program.

Instead of sitting back and waiting for the city to give them park benches and sidewalks and traffic-calming devices, neighbors are establishing a private foundation to do it themselves.

The Seminole Heights Foundation is in the process of applying for its nonprofit status as a 501(c)(3) organization.

Shannon Edge, the city's director of neighborhood services, said she's never heard of any other Tampa neighborhood establishing its own foundation.

But she said she isn't surprised the first would be Seminole Heights. "They are trailblazers," she said.

She's sure others will follow.

Right now, the Seminole Heights Foundation is just an idea, conceived a few weeks ago by former neighborhood presidents Susan Long and Randy Baron and neighborhood leader Christie Hess.

As a nonprofit organization, residents would be able to make tax-deductible donations for improvements in their own neighborhoods. Baron says these donations could be made to the general pot of money, or for specific projects.

"We are open to any and all ideas," Baron said. "There is no bad idea."

For example, if someone comes forward who wants to spearhead the renovation of the historic Seminole Theatre on Florida Avenue, the foundation would step in and try to find grants, and start collecting funds through charity events.

"A lot of giving these days is given to some large charity," Baron said. "This is a little more closer to home."

Donors will have the benefit of seeing the tangible fruits of their contributions, he said.

They'll get a chance to leave a lasting mark on their neighborhood.

So far, the wish list includes more historic streetlights, trees and neighborhood markers to give the place character — in other words, things that say, Welcome to Seminole Heights.

Unlike the area's three neighborhood associations, the foundation won't enforce hard boundaries. In fact, one project idea involves improving the park surrounding the Sulphur Springs water tower.

"Anything we can do to promote this whole area," Hess said.

Edge says she has been telling the city's 126 neighborhood associations that they need to be more proactive about getting the improvements they need.

"Money is tight everywhere," she said. "I think anyone right now who's searching and doing things to help is to be commended."

Alexandra Zayas can be reached at azayas@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3354.

A wish list of changes

Residents hope a nonprofit foundation would raise money for improvements
in Seminole Heights and the surrounding area. Some items on their list include:

Seminole Theatre

The theater on N Florida Avenue needs renovations.

Sulphur Springs Water Tower

Just outside Seminole Heights at Florida Avenue and Bird Street, the 214-foot tower was built in 1927. Money is needed for improvements.

Street lamps

Residents want to preserve a sense of the past. More historic street lamps would help, they say.

Welcome signs

More signs welcoming people might raise Seminole Heights' profile as a destination point.

Seminole Heights Garden Center

The garden center has long been a neighborhood park and meeting place. Neighbors have ideas to spruce up the land around the building.

Sidewalks

Adding sidewalks throughout the community could create a more urban and neighborhood-friendly atmosphere, some say.

Want to know more?

The Seminole Heights Foundation is in its early stages. Three founders will hand-pick board members with specific talents to round out the leadership and are soliciting input from others in the community.

If you live in Seminole Heights and have ideas, call Christie Hess at (813) 237-8808 or visit www.seminoleheightsfoundation.org.

Seminole Heights tries nonprofit approach to neighborhood improvements 04/02/09 [Last modified: Thursday, April 2, 2009 1:47pm]
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