Property flipper sold Tampa a historic Black cemetery for twice its value

He bought Memorial Park Cemetery by outbidding the city at a county auction.
A pedestrian is seen at Memorial Park Cemetery in 2021 in Tampa. The cemetery opened in 1919.
A pedestrian is seen at Memorial Park Cemetery in 2021 in Tampa. The cemetery opened in 1919. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]
Published May 10, 2023|Updated May 10, 2023

TAMPA — Last week, the Tampa City Council agreed to purchase a historic Black cemetery from a property flipper.

Nicole Travis, the city’s administrator of development and economic opportunity, told the City Council that the city negotiated the price following an appraisal from a third-party land valuation company.

The appraisal report, obtained by the Tampa Bay Times through a public information request, stated that East Tampa’s 18.79-acre Memorial Park Cemetery is worth $49,300.

The city paid $100,000, more than double that assessed value.

“The appraisal is one tool in the negotiating process for the city to buy or sell property,” said Michelle VanLoan, the city’s real estate director.

Added city spokesperson Adam Smith: “That’s what the two sides agreed upon.”

The owner of the segregation-era Black cemetery died in 2019 and it was abandoned. The city began caring for it but placed a lien on the 104-year-old cemetery for part of what they were owed for maintenance, knowing it would be foreclosed upon and then available to purchase at a public auction conducted by the Hillsborough County Clerk of Courts.

But the city did not pay attention to the online auction and lost to Alex Arteaga, who won with an $18,000 bid. He previously said he spent a total of $30,000 on the purchase, which included paying the city the $9,862 they were owed for the lien.

The cemetery cannot turn a profit because it likely has no room left for burials and cannot be developed. So, the land valuation company based its worth on the price per acre of four recently sold conservation properties throughout Florida.

The mean of those sales was $3,989 per acre.

Memorial Park was then assessed lower at $2,623 per acre because a buyer must have the financial means and ability to care for a cemetery in perpetuity.

“There are likely to be very few buyers,” the assessment report says.