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North Boulevard Homes demolition, relocations to proceed as Tampa officials get ready to pursue federal grant

North Boulevard Homes is the oldest public housing complex in Tampa.
Published Jun. 6, 2015

TAMPA — With demolition expected to start in late 2016, the first resident has moved out of North Boulevard Homes, with about 2,000 more to follow over the next 18 months.

But for the moment, City Hall and Tampa Housing Authority officials have decided this isn't the time to seek a $30 million federal grant to help pay for the sweeping redevelopment of the area around Tampa's oldest public housing complex.

"We didn't feel we were in a position to be competitive yet," Mayor Bob Buckhorn said. "We needed to be more shovel-ready."

Applications for this year's round of federal Choice Neighborhood grants were due in February. One reason local officials decided to take more time was that McCormack Baron Salazar, the St. Louis-based urban planning firm hired to create a master plan for the West River area, had indicated it would need tens of millions of dollars in public subsidies to proceed as the master developer for what's being called the West River area.

"Great developer," housing authority chief operating officer Leroy Moore said of McCormack Baron, but "their sweet spot is cities that have resources that far exceed the resources that we have here in Tampa."

The housing authority paid McCormack Baron $350,000 to create a plan for the West River, but Buckhorn said there was no guarantee the firm was going to be the master developer.

"We got from them what we paid for, which was a great blueprint," he said. "Our job is to go execute it."

To do that, the housing authority and city plan to look for other partners.

In the next 60 days, the housing authority is expected to look for different partners for different parts of the project, such as residential firms for housing and others with experience in office or commercial development for other parts, Moore said. That's similar to what happened at Encore Tampa, the big mixed-used project being built where the old Central Park Village public housing apartments used to be. There, the Bank of America Community Development Corp. is a co-developer, and individual building projects have a dozen or more sources of financing.

"Either model works," Buckhorn said. "As we proved with Encore" — the winner of a $30 million Choice Neighborhoods grant in 2012 — "either model can be a winning proposal."

The next application cycle for Choice Neighborhoods grants could open in the fall, and Buckhorn said the time until then "will give us the ability to build and to bring in more partners, just not financial partners, but social service providers and academic institutions, because a big part of this is not just rebuilding public housing, it's the job training, the educational opportunities and the social services that are wrapped around the project."

Unveiled last year, the West River plan focuses on transforming 120 acres west of the Hillsborough River and north of Interstate 275.

Instead of block after block of public housing, the plan calls for a rebuilt community with walkable streets and twice as many homes, both subsidized and those renting or selling for prices set on the open market. By increasing the population and bringing in residents with a broader mix of incomes, Main Street is expected to become a more diversified and busier shopping district.

First, however, that means tearing down the 820 apartments at North Boulevard Homes and neighboring Mary Bethune High Rise Apartments.

The first relocation notices went out late last year. Current residents will either leave for another housing authority property or a privately owned home they can rent with a Section 8 voucher. Later, they'll also have the option of returning to public housing in the West River area as long as they continue to comply with their leases.

The housing authority is holding meetings every Wednesday about the relocation process, which includes counseling, bus tours of other apartment complexes and classes on Section 8 housing, housekeeping, financial literacy and life skills.

Generally, residents don't mind the idea of leaving their cinder block apartments, built in 1941, for something newer, residents council president David Gallon said.

"They're ready to move and make that change," he said.

Richard Danielson can be reached at rdanielson@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times

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