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Floriland Office Center owner says no way to homeless shelter proposal

TAMPA — The owners of the former Floriland Mall have told Hillsborough County that they will not let it be used as homeless shelter.

George Heaton, manager of the office park's owner, Centermall LLC, left no room for negotiation in a letter to the county's real estate department, which leases a portion of the center.

"I am writing to you in order to save you from any unnecessary time, effort or expense that would result from this proposed change in use of the premises," Heaton wrote. "The landlord will not consent to the use of the premises as a homeless shelter as such use would be inappropriate in a project of this nature."

One of the two commissioners who hatched the idea last week said, as a result, the proposal is a no-go. Already it faced strong opposition from nearby neighbors, some of whom staged a protest outside County Center Wednesday.

"The owner has said no. The community has said no," Commissioner Al Higginbotham said. "So we don't go there. We look somewhere else."

Higginbotham and Commissioner Kevin White separately floated the idea during a meeting last week. Both had come under some heat for voting against a proposal from Catholic Charities to open a tent center for the homeless near east Tampa.

White did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Heaton's letter was penned the same day the commissioners put forth their Floriland proposal.

The county leases about 30,000 square feet at what is now called the Floriland Office Center on North Florida Avenue. The clerk of the circuit court has already vacated the property and is looking to break its lease, and Tax Collector Doug Belden is looking to do the same.

So White and Higginbotham suggested converting the empty space into temporary dormitory-style housing for the homeless. They reasoned that the property is centrally located and on major bus routes, and provides access to nearby social service agencies.

They also touted the notion that it was not adjacent to any neighborhoods.

But residents of Forest Hills and a nearby mobile home park pointed out that they are close by and already dealing with high crime rates that could get worse with an influx of homeless people. A majority of commissioners had indicated that they would be unwilling to try to force the issue if the property owner and nearby residents and business owners aren't interested.

Heaton's letter points out that the county leases specify that the property can be used only for governmental office use, and that no other use is permitted without the landlord's prior written consent.

Bill Varian can be reached at varian@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3387.

Floriland Office Center owner says no way to homeless shelter proposal 10/28/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 28, 2009 10:55pm]

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