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Feds award $88 million to Tampa Bay; stimulus money will boost rebuild of Central Park Village

TAMPA — Federal housing officials on Thursday poured $88 million in stimulus money into the Tampa Bay area to help build affordable homes and clean up neighborhoods struggling with foreclosures.

Most of the money — $38 million — is headed to the Tampa Housing Authority, which will use it to revive an ambitious plan to transform a crumbling public housing complex into a new community with affordable homes, restaurants, offices and stores.

Plans to rebuild Central Park Village date back at least seven years. More than 1,300 residents were moved out of the apartments on the edge of downtown in 2007. Workers completed demolishing buildings a year ago. But the difficult economy virtually halted progress on the project, now known as Encore.

When word of the award from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development broke, Housing Authority chairman Jerome Ryans raced to a Tampa City Council meeting to share the news.

"It's just one of those days when you really want to high-five everybody," he said, while choking back tears. "I'm really, really humbled."

The HUD award also includes $18 million for Pinellas County and $27 million for Pasco County (see Pasco Times for more details.) . Another $5 million will go to the nonprofit Neighborhood Lending Partners of West Florida to manage the grant.

In Pinellas and Pasco counties, the money will be used largely to rehabilitate and resell foreclosed or abandoned homes, build homes for low-income residents and provide down-payment assistance and financing for home buyers.

The Pinellas money will be spent in parts of Clearwater, Dunedin, East Lake-Oldsmar, Largo, Safety Harbor, Tarpon Springs and Palm Harbor. Those areas have high rates of foreclosures, subprime mortgages and loans that homeowners could have difficulty repaying, said Cheryl Reed, assistant director of community development for Pinellas.

Pinellas will use $10.5 million to rehab and resell single- and multifamily homes, and $3.8 million to demolish and redevelop other home sites. Nearly $3 million will go toward loan assistance and financing for the redeveloped homes, Reed said. The final $500,000 will be for other demolition requirements.

In Tampa, $10 million will be used to redevelop foreclosed properties.

The remaining $28 million will be used to build infrastructure for Encore. That should create 1,000 jobs, said Leroy Moore, the Housing Authority's chief operating officer.

It also will allow the Housing Authority and Bank of America, its partner on the redevelopment effort, to start construction on the first of five buildings included in Encore's master plan.

The four-story building, located at Central Avenue and the newly named Ray Charles Boulevard (formerly India Street), features ground-floor retail space and 143 one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments. Sixty percent of those will be rented to low-income residents. The award may also pave the way for construction of a second building, Moore said.

The grant is part of $2 billion distributed by HUD nationwide as part of its Neighborhood Stabilization Program. Florida received $348 million, more than any other state. California received $318 million and Michigan received $224 million.

"It is not lost on the Obama administration that Florida has been struggling. Our unemployment rate is higher than the national average, our foreclosure rate is higher than California," said U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa. "They're targeting these monies to the communities that need it."

Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough counties received $70 million through the first phase of HUD's Neighborhood Stabilization Program in September 2008.

Mayor Pam Iorio called Thursday's announcement the most significant occurrence during her time in office. "It's a complete shot in the arm for the Central Park project," she said. "Without this money, who knows when this project would have ever started again?"

Shortly after she was elected mayor in 2003, Iorio went to the Hillsborough County Commission to ask for help in redeveloping the dilapidated Central Park Village along with a swath of surrounding property. But commissioners rejected the request.

Several years later, after the project was shrunk from 157 acres to 28 acres, commissioners approved a special taxing district to help pay for the project.

At build-out, Encore will include 667 affordable and public housing units, 856 market-rate units, and 268,000 square feet of office and retail space, including a hotel, museum, school, grocery store and restaurants.

Times staff writers Jodie Tillman, David DeCamp and Cristina Silva contributed to this report. Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3401.

Stimulus funds

The Tampa Bay area is getting $88 million in federal funds. Hillsborough County is getting the biggest share.

CountyAward
Hillsborough$38M
Pasco$27M
Pinellas$18M

Feds award $88 million to Tampa Bay; stimulus money will boost rebuild of Central Park Village 01/14/10 [Last modified: Thursday, January 14, 2010 10:43pm]
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