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Residents want a new name for a fresh start

Image can mean everything.

That's why public housing residents in Condon Gardens want the complex's name changed to Bayside Gardens, in keeping with the nearby bridge that spans Tampa Bay.

For residents, it's a way to help rid the pink cluster of apartments on Drew Street of a bad reputation for crime and drugs.

"The residents are interested in letting people know the image in Condon Gardens has changed and improved over the years," said Wanda Ricks, program coordinator for a neighborhood family center in Condon Gardens.

The Clearwater Housing Authority will consider the residents' request at a meeting at 8:30 a.m. Friday in the housing authority's offices, 210 S Ewing Ave.

Resident Chantilly Johnson applauds the idea.

"It would be very nice," she said. "It's a new atmosphere, everything is starting to be a little better and changing for the better."

Deborah Vincent, housing authority executive director, likes it too.

"We appreciate the residents taking the lead role in this," she said. "Lots of folks hear "Condon Gardens,' and they'll remember a very troublesome area."

Things are different now, Vincent said.

More than a dozen social service agencies now have offices in Condon Gardens and a police substation there has helped rein in crime, she said. Before the substation opened in 1987, Condon Gardens had been nicknamed Rock City because of the volume of crack cocaine dealing that went on there.

Condon Gardens is home to more than 1,200 people, who live in 284 one- to five-bedroom apartments. Rents can range from $0 to $350 a month. The average tenant pays about $86 in monthly rent and all of the apartments are occupied.

The complex was named after Maurice Condon, a founder of Condon-Meek Insurance and former president of Clearwater Federal Savings and Loan, which financed public housing construction.

Over the years, the racial makeup of Condon Gardens has changed too, Vincent said.

What had been a predominantly black community is now 20 percent white, 44 percent black, 20 percent Asian and 16 percent Hispanic.

"Just like any other neighborhood you'd find," Vincent said.

The proposal also includes renaming Chesapeake Villas, a 35-unit complex across from Condon Gardens, to Bayside Villas.

"It'll hopefully have a big social impact about how people view the community and don't target it as a public housing or a troubled area," Vincent said.