EAST TAMPA — The neighborhood has seen change — not all of it good.
Drug deals, prostitution and other criminal behavior once were common from Chelsea Street to 30th Street. Sex for sale in a vacant lot across from a city retention pond at 29th and Cayuga streets was so blatant that Cynthia Few said she called Tampa police “every chance I got. It was like a motel.”
People showed up to buy illegal drugs as if they were walking into a convenience store, said Few, who is president of the College Hill Civic Association and Neighborhood Crime Watch.
It was not the neighborhood she recalls from her childhood. She holds onto those memories of scuffling along then-dirt streets with friends and feeling safe.
Nor was it the community Gloria Davis knew as a child in the 1940s and ‘50s, when she watched church leaders conduct baptisms in rainwater that filled a pond.
On Wednesday good memories trumped the bad ones.
In a gathering that had the spirit of a family reunion, a group of East Tampa residents watched as Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn unveiled a plan to turn the retention pond, along Osborne Avenue, into a park with a fitness trail.
Buckhorn said he has wanted to do something about East Tampa’s retention ponds since he was on Tampa’s City Council in the 1990s.
“I was out here a lot,” he said. “What I saw was retention ponds in East Tampa that did not look really a lot like ponds in South Tampa.”
They were closed off by barbwire fences and were eyesores, he said.
“I thought we could do better and people in East Tampa deserve better,” Buckhorn said. “We could turn it into an amenity for the community.”
The lot at 29th and Cayuga is just under 10 acres, with about 4 acres of water. It is bordered on four sides by Osborne, Cayuga, 29th and 30th Street. The Osborne Pond trail will be eight feet wide and one half mile long, with connections to adjacent sidewalks. There will be eight fitness stations in four locations. More than 110 trees, including palms and cypresses, will be planted.
Egrets, ducks and moor hens waded through tranquil waters and the pond’s plentiful cattails Wednesday.
Construction on the project, which will cost about $500,000, is scheduled to begin in December with an anticipated completion in April. Funds are from the city’s community investment tax revenues.
“It’s really, really nice to see it’s happening,” said Denese Meteye-James, who can point to a nearby house where her baby-sitter lived.
The Padgett Nursing Home, now on 40th Street, was just around the corner.
In recent two other city retention ponds have had make-overs, paid for with local property tax revenues collected within the East Tampa special tax district. The “community lakes,” with walking trails and boardwalks, are on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, across from Young Middle Magnet School, and on 34th Street, next to Fair Oaks Park.
Brenda Marshall goes for walks at the 34th Street lake, named for East Tampa businessman Herbert D. Carrington Sr. The other lake is named for Robert L. Cole Sr.
“It will add some beauty to this area,” said Marshall. “It’s already a nice piece of property with trees and wildlife.”
She expects to come to the Osborne fitness trail when it opens. “It will bring a lot of communities together,” Marshall said.
Few also expects to be among the walkers. “I’ve seen the good, bad and ugly,” she said. “Now the children have a choice to come play and be safe. This is amazing and just a beautiful change.”