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Wednesday, Jun 20, 2018
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A dynamic blueprint for urban core

It’s easy to dismiss the West River redevelopment plans as just more pretty pictures and grandiose schemes.

After all, the blueprint unveiled by Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and the Tampa Housing Authority on Wednesday is ambitious. It would transform 140 acres of mostly public housing into a dynamic urban neighborhood along the Hillsborough River.

That is a far cry from the present impoverished, crime-plagued area, which is across the river from and just north of downtown.

But making such a transition, although it may take time, is not as dreamy as it may seem.

The city and the housing authority control most of the land and can undertake projects without buying property or undergoing eminent domain proceedings.

Simply demolishing the World War II era North Boulevard Homes public housing project and replacing it with mixed-income housing, as the plan recommends, would promptly transform the neighborhood’s looks and appeal.

And such a transition is hardly a novel undertaking.

The Tampa Housing Authority has a solid track record — at College Hill, Ponce DeLeon and Central Park Village — for helping rebuild dilapidated complexes into attractive mixed-income developments — while carefully addressing the needs of displaced residents.

Whenever such transitions are undertaken, there are always complaints about real estate taking precedent over people.

But it makes no sense to continue, as Buckhorn says, to “warehouse” poor people in the forlorn 76-year-old North Boulevard Homes, where most units don’t even have air-conditioning.

In contrast, a new neighborhood with a variety of housing options — including subsidized — and businesses would create jobs and opportunities while also boosting prospects for West Tampa and other surrounding neighborhoods.

Redevelopment also would allow the city to take better advantage of its riverfront location. For too many years, the city sadly neglected the river, but Buckhorn now rightly wants to make this natural amenity the centerpiece of the urban environment.

The West River master plan, developed by city and housing authority officials with private planners, is part of Buckhorn’s Invision project to integrate downtown with surrounding neighborhoods

Notably, the master plan seeks to build on historical neighborhood uses, such as bolstering investments around existing commercial centers, including Main Street.

We particularly like the idea of relocating a couple of ballfields so Willow Avenue can run from Bayshore Boulevard on Hillsborough Bay to the Hillsborough River. The plan proposes a Waterfront Square where Willow would meet the river, an exciting concept. A first step will be for the Tampa Housing Authority to seek a $30 million federal Choice Neighborhood grant that, if obtained, would allow for the demolition of the old complexes, the housing of residents who would be displaced and some initial construction.

Even without the federal grant, the mayor plans to move ahead in seeking development proposals for a city tract within the area now used for parking trucks.

Change is coming to the West River area, one way or another — and that should be good for both public housing residents and the city’s urban core.

This effort to bring hope and vitality to a long-suffering community merits the support of citizens and investors.

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