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Mayberry flavor fades away in New Tampa

Curtis Stokes, 41, says neighbors look out for one another in his New Tampa neighborhood.

KERI WIGINTON | Times

Curtis Stokes, 41, says neighbors look out for one another in his New Tampa neighborhood.

Curtis Stokes moved to New Tampa in 1996, when there was just a two-lane road, a handful of subdivisions and about 10,000 residents. Many kept their garage doors open all night and left car doors unlocked.

Today, an estimated 40,000 live here. The extraordinary growth has brought more stores, restaurants, traffic — and some degree of crime.

Compared with other parts of the county, New Tampa is still relatively safe. Though serious crimes are not an issue, the Mayberry atmosphere with unlocked car and garage doors is fading. Thieves open car doors and steal personal belongings.

Stokes, 41, is married with an 11-year-old son and is the former head of the Hillsborough County NAACP. He sat on the Tampa Palms taxing district board for three years.

A vice president for Fifth Third Bank, he talked recently about life in New Tampa.

Why did you choose New Tampa?

My wife and I looked at Brandon, it was too crowded, we looked at Westchase, it was too expensive. We looked at East Tampa, but we couldn't find a house. We liked New Tampa because it was real quiet, real nice. It still is.

Do you feel unsafe at all?

I don't feel unsafe, no. I usually walk at 5:30 in the morning, about 4 miles. I've never been stopped by the police, asking who you are, that kind of thing … I walk with a golf club.

Why?

Just in case. (laughs)

Of what?

Dogs, a person, the bogeyman, alligators.

Here you are at 5:30 in the morning, walking with a golf club and no one has ever stopped you. Do you think it's because they recognize you're a neighbor?

No. 5:30 in the morning, I'm a black figure. Nobody is going to know who I am.

How do you feel about that?

It shows that we've come a long way as a society. Although there's crime out there, profiling does exist at some level. I wouldn't say it's nonexistent out here. But the more people of color who move out here, the more tolerant the police are about seeing them around, which makes it better. When we moved out here in 1996, there weren't a whole lot of African-Americans. Now there's a lot more, you see them around. There's no need to pull them over.

Do you think people watch out for each other out here?

If someone unknown rides around, that person is definitely going to get a once-over. We all use two lawn guys up and down the entire street, me and Joe use the same pool person. They know when you get a new car. (They'll say) "Hey! So your car is in the shop, huh?" ... It's just everyone looking out for each other.

The Tampa Police Department does a lot of traffic enforcement out here. Have you noticed it?

I've gotten a ticket on Bruce B. Downs (Boulevard) before.

For what?

Speeding. You don't expect the police to be out at 7:45 in the morning. I was coming back from the barbershop on a Saturday morning. My son and I go every Saturday. I just wasn't thinking, just automatic. Speed limit was 55, I was going 65.

• • •

Ten minutes after the interview ends and Stokes leaves, the reporter's phone rings.

"You know how you said the police really enforce traffic out here?" he asks.

"You were right. I just got pulled over."

Dong-Phuong Nguyen, Times staff writer

Mayberry flavor fades away in New Tampa 04/08/10 [Last modified: Thursday, April 8, 2010 3:20pm]
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