TAMPA — Run-down neighborhoods near bustling urban centers like the West Shore Business District can only stay run-down for so long, especially now that millennials and those involved in the new world economy are eager to live closer to work.
Carver City, a community built before the West Shore boom began, is one of the latest hot spots for urban revitalization.
As quickly as Sight Real Estate rehabilitates 50- and 60-year-old houses in the Carver City neighborhood — wedged between Interstate 275 and Boy Scout Boulevard — renters are snatching them up.
And as soon as Domain Homes can build new houses on empty lots there, suburbanites are packing their bags to move to the city.
It’s a national trend and it’s not showing any signs of letting up.
During a speech last summer in Minneapolis to the Urban Land Institute, former Secretary of housing and Urban Development Henry Cisneros said the “urban renaissance” is accelerating as the economy grows.
The manufacturing economy is being replaced here and elsewhere by an economy driven by biotech, higher education, business and professional services, logistics, and international trade, Cisneros told policymakers and industry leaders, he said.
People profiting from economic shifts have traditionally considered upscale parts of South Tampa as a home.
The businesses renovating and building in Carver City pitch their place as an alternative with a slightly lower price tag for those who want to walk or bicycle to work, shop and dine out.
Renovated homes in the neighborhood are renting for $1,100 to $1,400 a month on average to people whose average wages are around $57,000 — nearly double the income of most longtime Carver City residents, according to statistics published by areavibes.com, which analyzed census data.
New houses on old lots are selling for $250,000 and $300,000, less than in South Tampa but much more than the original structures, many of which are deteriorating.
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When Sight Real Estate President Michael Mincberg began scouting urban locations, he set his sights on Carver City, a neighborhood nobody had been willing to spend money on in years.
“Investors were hesitant to be the first in the neighborhood, but I knew people wanted to live near International Plaza, near the West Shore Business District,” Mincberg said.
He jumped in and began renovating the small homes, most averaging 1,100 to 1,200 square feet. Before the rental signs go up, he said, people are knocking, getting on waiting lists. “Most of them rent within a week,” Mincberg said.
Not everyone who wants the urban experience wants to live in a high-rise apartment, he said, like the ones that have sprung up in West Shore as it grew into Florida’s largest office market.
For the price of a one-bedroom high-rise apartment, they can rent a house with a couple of bedrooms and bathrooms, new kitchens and flooring, even laundry closets, Mincberg said.
And they’ll have a yard.
“Warren Buffett says be greedy when everyone else is scared,” he said.
Since 2012, Mincberg has purchased 70 properties in Carver City and still owns 40, most of them rentals.
“You can look out the window at offices,” he said from a house on West Grace Street, where renovations are nearly complete. From the outside, the house simply looks freshened up. On the inside, it features an open living room and new kitchen area with a laundry closet, a new bathroom and bamboo flooring.
Domain Homes is selling two-story 1,000- 2,200-square-foot homes with two-car garages. It moved into Carver City last year and already has built about a dozen homes, said Tim Terpening, the company’s vice president.
“Our company has a philosophy for urban infill,” Terpening said. “Carver City is blowing up because we’re still able to build homes there that are affordable. People living in the suburbs with a long commute find this a great alternative.”
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Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said the new developers are mindful about the character of a neighborhood he calls one of the city’s tiny treasures, one where many original owners still live in the houses or have willed them to their children.
What helps, Buckhorn said, is “preserving it as a neighborhood is important and developing it so that it doesn’t look like they’ve planted a McMansion in the center of a block.”
“Doing it the way they are doing it allows the rehabs to blend in. If it’s done respectfully and appropriately, it can be a great restoration for an old Tampa neighborhood.”
It’s a boon for people who want to live in the urban core, Buckhorn said.
“It puts people in proximity to their workplace and it stabilizes a neighborhood that has had some difficulty with all the commercial going up around it.”
Also, businesses in the area stand to benefit from the proximity of people who are their employees as well as customers.
“I think it’s great,” said Ann Kulig, executive director of the Westshore Alliance, which represents businesses in the area. “It gives people proximity to a lot of things without the prices of South Tampa. It’s the natural evolution.”