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Tuesday, Apr 24, 2018
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Developer buys city housing project near UT

A private land developer this week closed on a deal to purchase a major downtown housing project along North Boulevard, marking yet another step toward the city’s vision of creating a thriving, mixed-use neighborhood in the area north of Kennedy Boulevard.

There’s no immediate plan to move out residents of the government-subsidized “Oakhurst Square” complex, though some changes are likely in the long term. Over time, the wider neighborhood is slated for a city plan to trigger private development on the west side of the river in the same way the east side has seen new condo towers, new restaurants, new office buildings and parks.

In this case, the same developer now owns parcels on both sides of the river.

A company controlled by Tampa’s SOHO Capital this week purchased the Oakhurst I and Oakhurst II projects that stretch for 7 acres along North Boulevard Street, just north of the University of Tampa, from West Cass Street on the south to West Arch Street on the north, and from Boulevard on the east to one block west. The sale price for the two parcels totaled $7.2 million.

“It is going to be managed in a stable way and will be business as usual for current residents at this point,” said Adam Harden, a development executive with Tampa-based SOHO Capital. “This property is a key gateway to downtown, and probably will be important to the future, potential east/west corridor ... And this is an important site as you look at University of Tampa as a stabilizing factor on that side of the river. So we’re committed to do what it takes to make this a success.”

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The housing tract was built in the early 1970s and now is home to about 200 residential units.

“This place needs a makeover,” said Carl Long, a five-year resident of Oakhurst. “I know I have other places I could go. But there’s one woman has been there 30 years, another woman has been there 25 years.” Long said he’s not surprised developers would covet the parcel. “The university is growing all over. There are U.T. students living all over the neighborhood.”

Tom Harris, owner of the Harris & Stearns Inc. fabric company on Cass Street, has owned the building there since 1959, directly across the street from Oakhurst. Over the decades, he’s seen the area prosper and fall in cycles. Now it’s on the upswing, he said.

“There’s change going on all around us,” Harris said. “It used be that Swann was the dividing line between a good and bad neighborhood, but now it’s jumped north to Kennedy.” Pointing to Cass Street, Harris said “This is going to be a major corridor soon.”

SOHO Capital is a growing player in the downtown and wider Tampa development scene. The company has housing, restaurant and office projects of various sorts from south Tampa towards Pasco County. The company also owns a large parcel almost directly across the Hillsborough River from Oakhurst called The Heights that includes the large “Trolley Barn” brick warehouse structure.

That parcel is directly north of the newly opened Ulele restaurant that opened to huge fanfare, and next door to the new Waterworks Park that the city just opened after a multi-million-dollar investment.

SOHO is redeveloping the warehouse and surrounding neighborhood into a mixed use, commercial, residential and restaurant neighborhood, helping anchor the northern end of the Riverwalk.

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Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn has long described a vision for the wider area north of Kennedy Boulevard. The city plans on remaking the Julian B. Lane Riverfront park across from Oakhurst with potentially a $9 million overhaul. Plans call for a rowing boat house with a community center on the second floor that could house artifacts from Roberts City, the mixed-race community that grew up around the old Roberts & Son cigar factory more than a century ago.

The park has been wrapped into Buckhorn’s InVision plan for 150 acres of largely public land just north of Interstate 275, which city officials refer to as the “west bank.” That area includes the North Boulevard Homes public housing project (north of the Oakhurst site and across the freeway) and a city public works yard.

The Julian B. Lane park is “dramatically underutilized given its size and its potential,” said city spokeswoman Ali Glisson. “We knew that we wanted to invest in this park and redesign it to have the amenities that it should have, and the hope is that by giving people a vision of what that park could be they will start to understand what that entire neighborhood can be.”

As for the Oakhurst property across from the park, the rules of the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development consider the Oakhurst Square “privately owned properties,” said Joseph J. Phillips, spokesman for HUD, which helps with a portion of the rent for the apartments.

“Nothing should happen as far as the residents are concerned,” he said. “All residents will continue to receive the benefit of affordable housing through their existing lease arrangements.”

Harden of SOHO said he expects a minimum of three or four years before any real changes come to site, though over time, he envisions a dramatic overhaul, particularly in conjunction with the city’s plans. The area would still be a neighborhood, but it would also have apartments, student housing for UT, perhaps some restaurants, plus some “light commercial” uses, such as services for residents.

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Includes reporting by staff writer Jerry Stockfisch

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