TAMPA — Before World War II, the V.M. Ybor neighborhood was a seamless part of Ybor City.
At a time when 200 Tampa factories made up to 700 million cigars a year, workers bought new bungalows in V.M. Ybor, took their kids to Cuscaden Park and bought loaves of Cuban bread at La Segunda Central Bakery.
Then the construction of Interstate 4 cut V.M. Ybor off from the rest of Ybor City, isolating the neighborhood, which has more than 200 historic structures.
Now homeowners and city officials are working to undo that damage by expanding the boundaries of the local Ybor City Historic District to include much of V.M. Ybor.
"It would be a great shame if the city did not do all it could to save what is currently there and to promote future construction and development in our area that is in keeping with the existing architecture and historic fabric," said Kelly Bailey, president of the V.M. Ybor Neighborhood Association.
The City Council unanimously gave the expansion its initial approval Thursday. The expansion generally covers an area north of Columbus Drive to E 21st Avenue and east from Nebraska Avenue to 15th Street.
Residents began working on securing a local designation in 2009 after several fires and several demolitions, neighborhood activist Kim Headland said.
Parts of V.M. Ybor are inside a National Historic Landmark District that was established in 1990. But the national designation provides only recognition, not protection to keep historic homes from being torn down or altered beyond recognition. In contrast, the city's historic district requires a design review for exterior work to a historic building.
"Had this expansion been done earlier, the little home next to me, the old Spoto home, could not have been torn down at the whim of someone who tried to put a new roof on and blew out the wall and said, 'Ah, we'll just demolish it,' " said Vivienne Brown, the secretary of the V.M. Ybor Neighborhood Association.
Along with promoting alternatives to demolition and options for rehabilitation, residents say, the designation will boost property values and help homeowners qualify for grants and tax credits that will help them restore their homes.
A second public hearing and final vote is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. March 7.