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Editorial: Clearing the way for neighborhood revival

Published: July 10, 2014 Updated: July 10, 2014 at 06:21 AM

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and members of Tampa City Council are wise to want to tap the development potential of city land near the Hillsborough River in an urban neighborhood in need of revival.

The city now uses the 11 acres at North Rome Avenue and West St. Louis Street north of downtown for industrial purposes, mostly storing utility trucks for the water and wastewater departments.

That is a sad waste of prime real estate.

So the council the other day rightly approved Buckhorn’s proposal to spend $1.1 million on expanding the city’s public works yard in East Tampa, which will allow the relocation of trucks from North Rome Avenue.

Whatever up-front costs are involved should be abundantly offset by the tax revenue and economic activity that will result from revitalizing the neighborhood.

The mayor knows vacant acreage near the river and downtown will attract private developers.

Buckhorn, whose “West River” plan aims to attract mixed-used and mixed-income development to the mostly depressed neighborhood across the river from downtown, believes the right project on the city tract would ignite investment throughout the area.

Because the city owns the land, officials can make sure proposals are appropriate for the neighborhood.

Marketing the property also should aid the city’s quest to raze and replace the impoverished and crime-ridden North Boulevard Homes, a World War II-era public housing complex that now scares away investors.

The Tampa Housing Authority intends to replace the 76-year-old complex — where most units don’t have air conditioning — with residences that will accommodate all incomes and ages.

But the city will need to win a federal Choice Neighborhood grant to fund such a transformation.

Making the 11 acres available for private investment should demonstrate to federal officials the city is going to take every step possible to bring business, jobs and decent housing to the area. Buckhorn and city officials don’t expect the grant money, by itself, to magically resuscitate the community.

Federal housing officials also should attend the track record of THA Executive Director Jerome Ryans for successfully transforming other public housing projects into safe, attractive neighborhoods while still addressing the needs of low-income residents.

In addition, moving the water department and wastewater trucks from the property should improve the efficiency of operations.

The water department trucks will go to North 40th Street and East 26th Avenue, where the public works fleet is located and maintenance facilities can be shared. The wastewater department fleet will be moved to the Howard F. Curren Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant near Port Tampa Bay.

The cost of the entire relocation is estimated at $17 million, which will be paid from revenues generated by the water and wastewater departments. But the economics of the deal make sense.

The right kind of venture on a tract that now generates no tax revenue would bring people and businesses to the neglected neighborhood, boosting property values and the community’s prospects.

Buckhorn understands the private sector is the key to revitalizing troubled neighborhoods, but the city needs to offer the appropriate landscape for investment.

Achieving the mayor’s West River vision may take years. But as he has in other urban projects — such as the redevelopment of the abandoned federal courthouse and the old water works building — Buckhorn is putting together the building blocks for an economic turnaround.