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Central Court Apartments to undergo $2.5 million in renovations

TAMPA — It has been eight months since police shot Kethessa Fordoms' teenage son at Central Court Apartments.

Her eyes still water at the mention of his name. She still lives in the battered apartment complex where police say her son, Javon Neal, pointed a gun at the officers, who shot him dead.

In April, her son would have turned 17.

Instead, she will watch workers renovate her home with hopes of curbing crime in the complex at 2510 N Central Ave.

"I just wish I didn't have to lose my son," Fordoms said.

The multimillion dollar renovation will begin in April, city officials said Wednesday in the courtyard of the complex, just 20 or so steps from the stairwell where the deadly shooting unraveled.

"It was a tragic incident that took place that brought a lot of tension in this community," said City Council member Frank Reddick, whose district includes the apartments. "You will see a complete transformation of this complex, and it's going to be beautiful."

Workers will begin renovations, which will include upgrades in all 68 apartments and added security measures, within two to three weeks. Vaughn Bay Construction will oversee the project.

Renovation plans include new floors and kitchen cabinets in each apartment. Workers also plan to add more cameras and install new landscaping, a barbecue area and a new playground. They also will remove a large oak tree that is damaging the complex's sewer system.

Officials expect to complete the work by the end of the year.

The project, which will cost an estimated $2.5 million, will be paid for by outside funds, including from the Florida Housing Finance Corp. City funds will not be used in the project, Reddick said.

"There was a time and a place where you could walk in here and you could take your life in your hands. It was a bad place," said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn. "There is a renaissance taking place, not only in Tampa, but here in this particular project as well."

Vernette Jackson has lived at Central Court Apartments for 13 years.

"I've seen a lot," she said. That includes shootings, drug dealers and fights. "It used to be wild, wild West around here."

She was at home on July 22, the day Neal died.

Officers Gregory Pryor and Shannon Murphy responded to the complex after reports of a shot fired. They spotted Neal, who ran up a stairwell. When the officers followed him, the teen pulled a shotgun from his pants and pointed it at officers, police said last year.

The officers told him to drop the gun, but he didn't, police said. They then fired. Neal's family and some community members protested, saying the police officers overreacted.

But in August, Pryor and Murphy were cleared by the State Attorney's Office.

Reddick approached the complex owners in August to discuss plans to improve the apartments. Tampa police also developed a partnership with the complex's new managers, Cambridge Management, said Maj. Diane Hobley-Burney.

That partnership includes giving trespass warnings to people who are visiting the complex without "a legitimate reason," Hobley-Burney said. If they visit a second time, they are arrested.

"A lot of the problems came from people that did not live inside that apartment complex," she said.

Tampa police know Central Court Apartments well. In 2010, officers responded to 353 calls for service. In 2011, it was 255 times, records show.

This year, police have noted a 25 percent decrease in calls for service at Central Court. So far in 2013, 68 calls have been reported, compared to 91 during the same time in 2012.

Jackson, the longtime resident, has noticed the changes. The courtyard is quieter.

Property managers have replaced her stove, which used to shock her. They fixed her ceiling. "It's just sad," Jackson said. "You have to wait for something tragic to show you really care."

Times staff researcher John Martin and staff writer Jessica Vander Velde contributed to this report. Laura C. Morel can be reached at lmorel@tampabay.com or (813)226-3386.

Central Court Apartments to undergo $2.5 million in renovations 03/27/13 [Last modified: Thursday, March 28, 2013 12:15am]
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