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East Ybor residents say their neighborhood is ready for big things

A boarded up home in East Ybor. Residents of the area believe it is ready for a development boom. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]
Published Jul. 23, 2018

Ybor's Bread Basket was what the late Domenic Giunta called his East Ybor neighborhood.

East Ybor once produced food for the tobacco workers of adjacent Ybor City, which earned renown in the early to mid-1900s for hosting the world's largest cigar industry.

The other nickname Giunta gave his neighborhood was Forgotten Ybor because few in the modern era know it is even part of the district. Traffic-heavy 21st and 22nd streets cut it off from the tourist area of Ybor City and, in a way, have kept it concealed.

But today's East Ybor residents say their section of Tampa — bordered by Interstate 4 to the north and Adamo Drive to the south, from 22nd Street to as far east as 28th Street — is shedding that moniker.

Crime is way down, statistics show. Old homes have been restored. New developments are coming.

"Welcome to East Ybor," said Jose Cayon, 46, president of its neighborhood association. "We're homier than the other side, so people are moving here. There are areas on the other side that feel like natural residential neighborhoods but not nearly as many as we have. I can take quiet walks, know all my neighbors and still enjoy party central on the other side."

West of 22nd Street, or Ybor proper, as the city calls it, is where the Seventh Avenue business and entertainment district lies. That area's residential options are mostly condominiums and apartments.

The northern end of East Ybor is lined with blocks of casitas that are up to a century old.

"East is the best Ybor," said Staci Roland, 45, a new resident of that area who once lived above a bar west of 22nd. "You get the fun of Ybor but the authentic Ybor neighborhood."

It is also an affordable place to buy. Over the past six months in the 33605 ZIP code that includes East Ybor, there were 86 sales under $150,000 and 42 under $100,000, according to real estate website MLS.com.

Of East Ybor's 361 buildings, 211 are "contributing structures" that add to the district's historic integrity, said Dennis Fernandez, the city of Tampa's historic preservation officer. And because East Ybor is part of the larger Ybor City Historic District, these can't be demolished nor can exteriors be modified without city approval.

The casitas provide visitors a glimpse of how the immigrant founders lived.

"You just have to be willing to put in the time to fix up a lot of what is for sale," said James Wilson, 50, who lives in East Ybor .

When he bought his first East Ybor home 12 years ago, it had a piece of plywood for a front door, and the tub had been stolen. "It was work but worth it," he said.

Cayon fixed up one home where he resides and a second he rents out. He plans to purchase more of the area's remaining boarded-up houses.

Mike Mincberg's Sight Real Estate rehabbed two 12th Avenue casitas and two are underway. "We have confidence in the neighborhood," he said. "We are creating a walkable community a short distance from the action. There is so much potential."

Only one East Ybor farm remains. Giunta's daughters, Tessie and Vicki Giunta, grow vegetables on their family property.

Empty land other farms left behind makes up of most of nine scattered East Ybor acres owned by Darryl Shaw, whose developments in Ybor proper are part of the residential renaissance there.

His Seventh Avenue land is zoned for commercial use. But lots in the neighborhood are residential.

"That's how we want it," said Fran Costantino, an East Ybor stalwart since 1999. In the early 2000s, she stopped the city from rezoning most of the area's residential lots to commercial and industrial. "If that failed, none of this is here. Now we can have stores on Seventh and strictly residences in neighborhoods."

Shaw could not be reached to discuss plans for his lots, but East Ybor residents should not be concerned, said Courtney Orr, manager of the Ybor City Development Corp. "His other projects in Ybor respect our heritage," she said. "I imagine he'll have a positive impact on East Ybor."

Historic district guidelines dictate that developments must seamlessly fit in with the area's century-old architecture, she said.

For that reason, not even the prospect of a Tampa Bay Rays stadium being erected on the edge of Ybor proper has the eastern residents concerned. Their neighborhoods are protected.

Still, admits landlord Wilson, living in East Ybor has not always been easy. When he first moved there it was "a war zone: gunfire, crack houses, prostitutes," he said.

But people moved in and pushed out drug dealers, he said.

The Tampa Police Department reports there were 60 violent and 209 property crimes in the East Ybor area in 2002. Last year, there were eight violent and 23 property crimes there.

Tessie Giunta, 66, who resides in the home where she was raised, said the neighborhood has come full circle.

In the East Ybor of her youth, nuns from the since-razed Most Holy Name parish strolled streets. Cows ventured into neighboring yards. Neighbors knew one another.

The nuns and cows likely won't return, she chuckled, but the friendliness already has.

"It is not beautiful here in the way of expensive homes," Giunta said. "But we have something special. This is home."

Times senior researcher John Martin and senior correspondent Susan Taylor Martin contributed to this report. Contact Paul Guzzo at pguzzo@tampabay.com.
Follow @PGuzzoTimes.

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