TAMPA — The Encore Tampa urban redevelopment project got a $30 million boost Thursday from the Obama administration.
Tampa was one of only four cities in the nation — along with Seattle, San Antonio, Texas, and Cincinnati — to receive a Choice Neighborhoods grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Awarded to the Tampa Housing Authority, the grant was the maximum amount HUD could give through the program and was the largest grant given to any of the four cities.
U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, said the grant would boost Tampa's economic recovery, create jobs and give residents a chance to live near where they work.
"The award will uplift this neighborhood and everyone who will call it home," she said.
The money will help transform what used to be Central Park Village, a crime-ridden public housing complex with 483 concrete block apartments that were bulldozed five years ago.
In coming years, the Encore project is expected to cover 28 acres just north of downtown — a total of 12 city blocks — and to generate $450 million in development.
It will include some public housing and apartments with affordable rents, but also apartments and condominiums rented or sold at market prices.
In all, plans call for 794 apartments, from about 300 to 700 condominiums, and up to 268,000 square feet of offices and stores, including a hotel, museum, school and grocery store.
Along with its co-developer, the Bank of America Community Development Corp., the housing authority has been laying the groundwork for Encore for years.
Brick sidewalks, intersections paved with rectangular stones, stylish streetlights and landscaping — all are already in place.
Last week, the authority broke ground on an apartment building known as the Trio.
This week, officials celebrated the completion of the Ella, a seven-story building with 160 apartments for residents 62 and older. Next week, they will break ground on the Reed, another apartment building for seniors.
Encore's street and building names reflect the area's history as a hothouse for jazz and rock 'n' roll. Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles and James Brown all played nightclubs on Central Avenue.
With the Choice Neighborhoods grant, the housing authority can proceed with a fourth apartment building, the 203-unit Tempo.
"In the next five to six years, you'll be looking at about three to four more buildings down there either under construction or close to being completed," housing authority CEO Jerome Ryans said. The Trio and Reed buildings, for example, are expected to take nearly two years to build.
Of the $30 million grant, $14 million will go to build the Tempo. In all, the building will have six sources of funding, including the grant, money from the housing authority, money borrowed through the use of tax-exempt bonds and money raised by selling tax credits that come to the authority through the bond financing.
If that sounds complicated, consider this: The Ella, just completed, had 13 funding sources.
Overall, federal officials said the involvement of community partners and the private sector in Encore will allow the housing authority to leverage the $30 million grant to bring in another $78 million in funding for a total impact of $108 million.
Some of the grant will enable the housing authority to put solar panels atop the Ella, Trio and Reed buildings.
But millions more will go to a variety of community projects meant to help develop neighborhoods adjacent to Encore. They include:
• Improvements to Perry Harvey Park.
• Landscaping, better lighting and other improvements to make Scott Street going east to Ybor City more pedestrian-friendly and thus a better connection from downtown to Ybor.
• Preservation of the historic St. James Episcopal Church, which will initially be a computer learning lab and community center and one day is planned to be an African-American history museum.
• A job training center next to the GTE Federal Credit Union headquarters, with a curriculum tailored to the needs of the local labor market by Hillsborough Community College.
After being a runner-up for a Choice Neighborhoods grant last year, local officials this year made Tampa's application more well-rounded and holistic with more community partners, Mayor Bob Buckhorn said.
"It wasn't just development," he said. "It was about the social services and wrapping the job training into it."
This is the second big boost the Encore project has received from President Barack Obama's administration. In 2010, HUD gave the housing authority $28 million in federal stimulus funds to help build Encore's infrastructure.
"This administration has been very, very helpful to the city," Buckhorn said.
In addition to the money for Encore, Tampa is getting a $10.9 million federal transportation grant to help finish the Riverwalk and has received $105 million in stimulus money to help build an elevated connector bridge between Interstate 4 and the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway.
Buckhorn was in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday to attend a White House Christmas party and sat in, with other mayors, on a conference call that Obama made to local officials nationwide about negotiations on the fiscal cliff.
"I had a chance to talk with the president, and he's excited about the future of this community," Buckhorn said. "He's appreciative that Florida went his way, very appreciative that Tampa went his way. He asked whether or not we were going to be able to count the votes quicker."