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County votes to explore idea of homeless shelter in North Tampa

Hillsborough County commissioners are exploring converting space inside the former Floriland Mall, at Busch Boulevard and Florida Avenue, into a dormitory for the homeless after plans for a tent city in eastern Hillsborough were killed.

STEPHEN J. CODDINGTON | Times

Hillsborough County commissioners are exploring converting space inside the former Floriland Mall, at Busch Boulevard and Florida Avenue, into a dormitory for the homeless after plans for a tent city in eastern Hillsborough were killed.

TAMPA — Hillsborough County commissioners voted Wednesday to explore the idea of using a North Tampa office park as a homeless shelter.

But the proposal may be dead in the womb.

Commissioners voted 7-0 to pursue discussions with the owner of the Floriland office complex, a former mall at Busch Boulevard and Florida Avenue. But a representative of the owner said a day earlier he doesn't think a homeless shelter is a fitting use.

George Heaton, a manager with Centermall LLC, the Palm Beach company that owns the complex, said in a letter to one its other tenants that his company will resist any such move.

"We are concerned about this because we feel that it will dramatically affect our business," said Linda Weldon, reading the letter to commissioners. Weldon works with for the Ultimate Medical Academy, a school for people looking to enter the health care profession.

The county already leases more than 30,000 square feet at Floriland, most of that for the Clerk of the Circuit Court, which vacated the property this summer to cut costs. The tax collector is also looking to leave.

Commissioners Kevin White and Al Higginbotham suggested this week that those offices be converted to dorm space for the homeless, as well as administrative and counseling areas.

Both commissioners were part of a board majority that last week rejected a plan by Catholic Charities to erect a homeless "tent city" just outside east Tampa near the state fairgrounds. Nearby residents strongly opposed the idea.

So White and Higginbotham floated an alternative. Both argued that Floriland was close to major transit routes and that the office complex houses other social service agencies that could aide the homeless.

They also argued that it was not adjacent to homes.

"I think it's imperative that we come together and find some kind of solution," White said.

Commissioners heard from some advocates for the homeless Wednesday praising the idea. But they also heard complaints from residents of a couple of nearby neighborhoods, as well as the medical training school representative.

Rose Ferlita noted the greater concentrations of residents and schools within 3 miles of Floriland, compared with tent city. And Jim Norman said White and Higginbotham should be reaching out to residents more actively from the start.

County votes to explore idea of homeless shelter in North Tampa 10/21/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 21, 2009 11:56pm]
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