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Reviving Tampa Heights

Bertha Glover has watched her Tampa Heights neighborhood drastically change in the last 25 years. She moved to the area because it seemed to be a nice place to raise a family _ and it was for several years until many of the old mansions were rented out and drugs and crime crept in.

"When I first moved here it was a nice, quiet neighborhood, but it's gone down a lot because there were so many rental properties and people who didn't take good care of them," said Glover, a member of the Tampa Heights Civic Association.

Many local residents who remember Tampa's oldest neighborhood as it used to be wanted to turn their negative despair into positive action. Tampa Preservation Inc., a local non-profit agency, is helping to restore the old neighborhood and build new houses there that will be sold to buyers who otherwise might not be able to afford home ownership.

The first Tampa Heights Home Fair was held Saturday as a chance for residents and others interested in the community to take tours of the new houses and offer information on the neighborhood.

"This is Tampa's most historical, but most blighted neighborhood," said Harriet Plyler, a member of Tampa Preservation whose grandfather was born in Tampa Heights. "We wanted to give the neighborhood a chance to look good again and give people a chance to buy houses here that they can afford. Our job is to put our money where our mouths are."

Tampa Preservation is responsible for the restoration and construction of 21 houses in Tampa Heights and 13 new houses under construction. The new homes will retain the charm of tin roofs and large porches characteristic of the area and will be sold through Tampa's Community Redevelopment Agency. Tampa Preservation hopes to restore about 20 blocks of the neighborhood, bordering Palm Avenue, Columbus Drive, Florida Avenue and Interstate 275.

Houses sold through the program have ranged in price from $26,000 to $110,000. Maurice Hayes took a tour of one of the new homes at the fair Saturday and is considering buying in Tampa Heights.

"I'm looking here because I want to make an investment in a community that has a lot of potential, and I really see that here," said Hayes, 25. "I like the family atmosphere, and I wouldn't make a substantial investment if I didn't think it was a good one. I think Tampa Heights could be the next Hyde Park or Palma Ceia of Tampa."

Many of the neighborhood's residents say the level of crime there has decreased with the new building and interest in the area.

"This is the best neighborhood I've ever lived in. There's a lot more sense of community here than most places," said Russ Bomar, who bought a vacant house to restore four years ago. "I don't think the crime here is any worse than anywhere else in town. And we all watch out for each other."

The fair featured do-it-yourself demonstrations by employees of Home Depot, which also sponsored the fair and Tampa Preservation's efforts. The Tampa Heights Civic Association explained neighborhood watch programs and the Tampa Police Department gave demonstrations.

Said Tampa Preservation housing director Anne Nelson: "The neighborhood has felt downtrodden for so long that we're hoping this will get some new blood and enthusiasm in here."