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Nonprofit buys former restaurant for new Wimauma Opportunity Center

A former restaurant, tucked away behind trees near Walmart at State Road 674 and U.S. Highway 301, is poised to become a hub for entrepreneurs in the growing Wimauma community of Hillsborough County’s South Shore.

Enterprising Latinas Inc., a nonprofit working to empower low-income Hispanic women in Tampa Bay, acquired the building and 2.25 acres of land from Roy and Rachel Loken for $735,000, says Liz Gutierrez, ELI Founder and CEO.

The property, formerly a breakfast-and-lunch restaurant called Rachel’s Country Kitchen, will be the site of ELI’s Wimauma Opportunity Center, a place where the community can meet and train for new jobs or entrepreneurial endeavors.

The purchase was made possible by a $250,000 grant from Alleghany Franciscan Ministries, which is investing in the community through its Common Good Initiative. Alleghany is providing another $250,000 to help create an economic development infrastructure, advance economic development and provide training.

ELI also secured a $520,000 loan from the nonprofit Raza Development Fund, the largest Latino Community Development Financial Institution, Gutierrez says.

The project will involve renovating the building’s interior for community learning and shared office use, and adding outdoor signage and lighting. Later on, a complete redesign of the front is anticipated.

“It’s really going to be a hub for all things related to community economic opportunity," explains Gutierrez. “We’re very excited to have a physical place where we can bring people together to expand the work that we already started.”

ELI, which has been leasing at Beth-El Farmworker Ministry on U.S. 301, will also be housed at the facility. It began moving in last week after the Jan. 8 sale.

“All of the customers are coming in looking for Rachel,” Gutierrez says. “They lost their little place. Hopefully we will convert it into a new place they can come back to.”

Located at 5128 State Road 674, the Wimauma Opportunity Center is expected to draw students to the commercial kitchen for culinary training -- including food service management -- starting in February.

“That’s an industry that’s booming all around us,” Gutierrez explains. “When it’s not being used for training, other people can use it be able to get licensed to sell tacos or sandwiches though food trucks. ... Hopefully, it will also be a catalyst of the food micro entrepreneurs that are here in Wimauma and also the surrounding area.”

As development in Hillsborough pushes south, the community with an average income of less than $26,000 a year between 2011-15 is transitioning from farmlands into new subdivisions that look much like homes in neighboring Sun City Center. With help from the Alleghany Franciscan Ministries’ Common Good Initiative, the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay and other concerned citizens, Wimauma residents have been working to direct their own path.

The decision to purchase a facility was made because ELI couldn’t find available rental space, Gutierrez says.

ELI, which has been training childcare workers, expects to again offer that training in February. It is in the process of developing an area transportation system in cooperation with the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority.

“We’re having conversations with a number of different funders that have expressed general commitment to provide startup capital,” she says.

ELI has hired Chamain Moss-Torres, Ph.D., formerly program director at the Children’s Home Network, as its director of economic opportunity initiatives. It also is leasing space to the Wimauma CDC, which is interviewing for an executive director to further the CDC’s mission and manage its staff and programs. The executive director also will serve as its primary fundraiser and spokesperson. Applicants for the position, expected to pay between $75,000-$90,000 annually with benefits, should submit cover letters and resumes to Connectivity Community Consulting at info@connectformore.com.

Adds Gutierrez: “We’re going to be very busy. Our goal over the next year is to touch 100 women and their families,” she says.

Learn more about how the Wimauma community is transitioning for growth though Alleghany Franciscan Ministries-funded On the Ground coverage in 83 Degrees.


Luxury high-rise under construction in downtown St. Pete

Construction has begun on the $80 million Icon Central mixed-used development in downtown St. Petersburg, which will include an upscale 368-unit high-rise apartment complex and upgrade of the 1926 Union Trust Bank building.

Its 15-story luxury apartment complex at 801 Central Ave. will literally stand out amid the area’s existing mid-rises – inside and outside. It will feature amenities such as an outdoor movie lawn, a club lounge with game simulator room, and indoor Zen garden.

“We studied the market and we’ve included these top tier amenities that will appeal to both the baby boomers and the millennials," says Jessica Suarez, VP of development for the Miami-based Related Group, the project developer.

It will incorporate the arts through rotating art exhibits, local artist displays, an art and wine tasting room, plus art in the courtyard surrounding the pool, she adds.

“We’ve taken it to another level,” Suarez says. “The art element in St. Pete is significant.”

A ceremonial groundbreaking ceremony, scheduled at 2 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 10, is expected to draw local officials and team members. 

Work began in December. “We’ve cleared the site and we’re doing foundations,” she says.

The project is the latest in The Related Group’s Icon brand, known for luxury highrise rentals. It includes Icon Harbor Island apartments in Tampa, plus Icon projects in Fort Lauderdale and Atlanta.

Icon Central will include studio, one-, two- and three-bedroom units with monthly rents expected to range from $1600 to $4000; some on the top floors will have water views. Leasing is anticipated in mid-2019.

The high-rise, being built in a contemporary federal architecture style, also will include a spa with steam and sauna, a pool courtyard with a European-style heated pool, and a summer grilling kitchen.

The intimate, outdoor movie lawn will have a large screen on the side of the building, which can be used for movies or projections during outdoor classes.

Related seeks to create a community around activities for its residents. “That [Icon Central] is a community for us. We’re constantly involving them,” she says. “It’s different. You don’t see anything like that in St. Pete.”

The residential complex will be connected to the bank building with a multi-use building with retail, residential and parking space. The first two levels will be primarily cast stone, with tan stucco above. The bank is being renovated with stonework, cornices and other features reflecting the historical era.

What we envision there is more of a high-end -- boutique stores with lounge and meeting space, or a food hall,” she says.

The interior of the bank, as well as an 1980s addition, have been demolished. “As construction progresses, we will start marketing the retail,” she explains.

The retail space is expected to be completed around mid-2019.

What attracted the developer to St. Petersburg was the continued growth and development, similar to more successful areas in the Miami area that have been revitalized, she says.

Icon Central has been in the works for three years.

The Related Group is active in the Tampa market, where move-ins have begun at Icon Harbor Island, a 340-unit luxury development. Construction is continuing at River Manorwalk, an eight story, 400-unit complex being built on the site of the former Tampa Tribune downtown, with leasing and move-ins planned in mid-2019.

Related also is developing the 396-unit Town Westshore rental community and partnering with Tampa Housing Authority in its West River redevelopment involving 150 acres on the west bank of the Hillsborough River on the edges of downtown.


U.S. 301 widening project begins; FDOT holds open house

Work has begun on a $49 million project to widen a 3.8-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 301 between State Road 674 and Balm Road in Hillsborough County’s South Shore.

The road will be widened to six lanes, with a raised median and paved shoulders, and a new bridge built over Big Bullfrog Creek. A sidewalk will be added on the west side and a multi-use path will be added on the east.

“The really great news for this project is road closures are not anticipated during construction – we will be working east of the existing road, building the new northbound roadway (Phase 1), then shifting traffic to it and building the southbound roadway (Phase 2),” says David Botello, Public Information Officer for the Florida Department of Transportation’s District 7. “Traffic disruptions (if any) will be minimal and at night.”

Phase 3 will involve applying the last layer of asphalt and thermoplastic striping. The project includes a new drainage system that relies upon ponds.

This widening project in south Hillsborough County will help ease congestion and accommodate the growth along the U.S. 301 corridor, as well as enhance bicycle and pedestrian safety,” Botello says.

Lower land costs have made southern Hillsborough more attractive to developers. Plans for housing developments in the U.S. 301 corridor date back to at least the 1970s and 1980s, when landowners agreed to pay for roadway improvements.

The Davie-based contractor, Astaldi Construction Corp., is expected to complete the job in late 2020.

An Open House is scheduled Tuesday, Nov. 14, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the SouthShore Regional Library, 15816 Beth Shields Way, Ruskin.

“FDOT staff will be on hand to answer any project-related questions, and project design display boards and construction plans will also be available for viewing,”
Botello adds. “We anticipate the residents of the nearby communities as well as commuters who utilize the U.S 301 corridor to be most interested in this project.”

Special accommodations are available through the Americans with Disabilities Act. Those who require assistance, or who need free translation services, should email Maricelle Venegas, Community Outreach Specialist, or call (813) 975-6204, before the event.

Information also is available from FDOT online.


Florida CDC gives local nonprofits a chance to make funding pitches

The CDC of Tampa will make a pitch for funding for an economic opportunity center to provide services to at-risk individuals. The University Area CDC will attempt to garner support for a fee-based visual and performing arts/interactive learning/social engagement project for underserved youth and families. And the nonprofit Enterprising Latinas will seek money for an innovative transportation system to serve the Wimauma community in Hillsborough County’s SouthShore.

These are among the 11 creative nonprofit organizations that will seek help from potential investors Oct. 30 through Nov. 1 in an event patterned after the popular TV show Shark Tank.

“The whole concept behind this Expo was to put nonprofit projects in front of people that might be interested in funding them,” says Terry Chelikowsky, Executive Director of the Florida Alliance of Community Development Corporations, a Jacksonville group working to help communities in Florida prosper.

“We’ve tried to invite people that might really be interested in learning about these projects,” she adds, “but there are no guarantees.”

The Expo is expected to attract a diverse group from around the state that includes representatives from financial institutions, local businesses, community development finance institutions, and community and family foundations -- as well as social venture capitalists, local government officials, and the general public.

In addition to pitches by creators, the Expo will include a training track to educate people about communities and economic development by nonprofits. Training will include information on why communities are inequitable and how to make them more equitable, the economic benefits of the nonprofit sector, and community development and the arts.

The event has been in the works for three years after the idea was sparked by a similar event held in Jacksonville. “We are hoping to be able to repeat this every couple of years,” she says.

Creator presentations kick off at 11 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 31. While 10-minute pitches will be made to a room full of people, they’ll be graded on a 50-point system by two or three volunteers. A question-and-answer session will include comments from professionals on the viability of the projects.

First place winners will be recognized in each of three categories: economic development, housing development, and programs that empower people. The real prize is receiving a followup call from one or more investors – and ultimately, funding for their projects.

The Expo will be held at Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay at 2900 Bayport Dr., Tampa. It costs $199 for the first alliance member and $149 for additional members. Non-members pay $269, with additional individuals from an organization paying $219.

Online registration is available through the organization’s website by clicking on 2017 Expo Hub. Walk-ins are welcome. The event starts at noon on October 30 and includes lunch, a general session on equitable communities, a creators’ exhibit display and reception. The event concludes with Best Project Awards at 11:30 a.m. Nov. 1.


Public transit moves toward more on-demand services

Some public transit riders in Hillsborough County will need to find alternative transportation starting Sunday, Oct. 8, when 14 routes are eliminated to save some $6 million annually.

Other Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART) bus riders will have better and more frequent service in the route redesign.

“There are winners and there frankly, unfortunately, are losers,” says Steve Feigenbaum, HART’s Director of Service Development. “There are going to be people who aren’t going to be positively affected. We’re trying to keep it to a minimum.”

HART attempts to streamline services making them more efficient, relying upon more innovative on-demand services to replace lower ridership circular routes. Its goals are in line with a survey revealing the public favors more frequent service, even if it takes longer to reach the bus stop.

“We’re trying to do this whole thing, based on the data, where we can get the best bang for our buck,” he explains. “The budget is not adequate to really serve the full needs.”

HART is beefing up transportation to Tampa International Airport, increasing it from one to three routes. It also is increasing the frequency of Route 34 to every 20 minutes on weekdays. Bus frequency also is increasing on Routes 1, 14 and Metro Rapid.

New routes make it easier to commute from Tampa International Airport to Brandon Mall, or from Downtown Tampa to MacDill Air Force Base.

Buses 2,4, 10, 18, 21LX, 22X, 27LX, 28X, 41, 47LX, 53LX, 57, 61LX and 200X are being cut.

HART will be relying on and expanding where possible its Hyperlink services, the country’s first transit-operated rideshare service providing door-to-door service, connecting riders with existing bus lines on demand. HARTPlus will continue to serve the handicapped within three quarters of a mile from the old routes.

The transit authority is in the midst of a massive public awareness campaign to reach riders along all affected routes. Orange bags were being placed at affected stops, notices were being posted in bus shelters, and HARTline personnel were riding the buses to inform riders about alternatives.

In general, public transit riders may want to consider vanpools, carpools, Hyperlink /(in the University, Temple Terrace and/or Brandon areas), HARTFlex, private on-demand services like Uber or Lyft, taxis or private rides to get to a bus route or their destination. Hillsborough County’s Sunshine Line offers door-to-door service and bus passes to elderly, low-income and disabled individuals without transportation, and is especially useful for medical appointments, aging services and food programs.

“A lot of people that have been on express routes have shifted to vanpool,” he says.

Additionally, some shelters will be moved to replace outmoded shelters in other locations.

The route changes can be found at HART’s website under the label Mission MAX, short for Modernizing and Aligning for Excellence. An interactive tool is provided through Google Maps.

On September 25, HART approved its long-range plan which maps out its efforts to improve services in the next decade. It includes expansion of the Hyperlink service to the SouthShore in 2020, to Palmetto Beach in 2021, to Riverview in 2023, to West Park and Big Bend in 2025, in Town ’n County and South Tampa in 2026, and to East Brandon, Citrus Park and Seffner/Mango in 2027.  

“It’s a higher frequency grid in the core area and more of the on-demand type service for lower densities on the perimeter,” Feigenbaum explains.

It combines both funded improvements where monies are expected through property taxes with a sort of wish list of enhancements that may be implemented if funds become available.

Feigenbaum says HART may possibly implement ridesharing services similar to an Uber or Lyft service to help get riders to the existing routes. It may begin with a pilot program that has not yet been developed. He’s hoping it will be available in 2018.

In Pinellas County

A similar program already is under use by the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority. Its Direct Connect program uses Uber, United Taxi and apps to connect riders to its service grid. Handicapped riders can use Wheelchair Transportation Service (WTS).

Modern technology and innovative technology led PSTA to form what was the “first public-private partnership” to get people to the bus stop, PSTA officials say. Other transit systems have since taken a greater interest in emerging technology and alternative services.

Direct Connect began in two zones in 2016, then expanded in January to the current eight zones countywide. Plans call for expanding it further potentially in February of 2018, says PSTA Transit Planner Bonnie Epstein.

“The purpose of the program is to provide convenient first and last mile service to our core and frequent local routes,” explains Heather Sobush, PSTA Planning Manager. 

Another goal is to increase ridership on its 41 routes. “We just don’t have the funding to keep it at the frequency level that we’d like,” Epstein says. “So they run once an hour.”

Direct Connect can transport riders to the core system, where more frequent service is available, cutting transit time. Because of a $5 PSTA subsidy, riders pay no more than $1.

“Right now the county is divided into eight zones. Within your zone you can only travel to and from the Direct Connect in your zone,” Epstein says.

In February, they hope to remove the zones and allow more flexibility. “We expect a lot more growth,” Sobush says.

“We still want to provide that shared ride service,” she says. “We’re looking at ways to also have these innovative projects to be shared ride services as well.”


Work begins on USF building to anchor Water Street Tampa

Construction has begun on the University of South Florida’s $152.6 million Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute at Water Street in downtown Tampa. The facility, which will anchor the $3 billion Strategic Property Partners' development, will bring students to live, work and study closer to their primary teaching school, Tampa General Hospital.

Though the building isn’t expected to open until late 2019, USF is already experiencing a number of positive benefits.

Since the move from the university’s main campus in North Tampa was announced in 2014, applications to the USF medical school have risen 40 percent, meaning more than 30 applicants are competing for every seat. USF has become the most selective medical school in the state, with MCAT scores in the top 20 percent of medical schools in 2016.

“We’re full in a lot of ways and have to hold off recruiting," says Dr. Edmund Funai, Chief Operating Officer for USF Health and Senior Vice President for Strategic Development for the USF System. "It’s exceeded our wildest expectations,”

The 11-story building is expected to bring more than 2,200 students, faculty and staff to the 53-acre Water Street Tampa. Its close proximity to its primary teaching hospital -- just a short water taxi ride away -- is expected to boost federal funding for research to fight heart disease.

The economic impact to Tampa Bay is considerable: the Heart Institute alone is expected to have an impact of $75 million annually.

USF leaders, friends and supporters gathered September 20 for a Dig This! event, viewing the development site from the upper floors of Amalie Arena. The group included USF System President Judy Genshaft, Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, Florida Senator Dana Young, R-Tampa, and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

Funai says being on the waterfront downtown enables USF to better showcase Tampa Bay area. “It’s a little harder to do from the main campus,” he points out. “It does a lot for people’s attitudes to to see the water and the sun and to be part of something that’s going to be a game changer for the city of Tampa and the Tampa Bay region.”

Funded by $112 million state university dollars, as well as private donations, the building’s modern design facilitates collaboration with more open spaces instead of the traditional classrooms of 20 years ago.

“It’s being designed to be as open as possible, to be adaptive to changes in curriculum,” he says.

The building will feature “next generation library service” through a donation from the insurance provider Florida Blue, he says. “It’s going to be on the cutting edge of information technology,” he asserts, “moving beyond the old book.”

Funai expects the facility, which is near USF’s Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation (CAMLS), to be at the forefront of research through its high-resolution magnetic resonance imaging and state-of-art clinical trial unit.

The SPP development is meant to compliment what already is in the vicinity, highlighting the waterfront and incorporating lots of greenery.

“We’re building the safest building that we possible can,” he adds. “It’s built to deal with what Mother Nature may throw at you over 100 years.”

Vinik is a part owner in SPP, which is developing Water Street Tampa over a 10-year period. He and his wife Penny were recognized by USF September 26 when the university named its dual-degree Sports and Entertainment Management program after them. The Viniks helped launch, and provided more than $5 million of support, for the program run by USF’s Muma College of Business.

The program features business fundamentals MBA management, finance, marketing, information systems and accounting classes. Other courses involve the sport and entertainment industry.


Architectural design center opens in Ybor City

The historic San Souchi building in Ybor City, a two-story yellow brick building dating back to 1906, is now home to Center for Architecture and Design, a place where architectural organizations and the community can collaborate.

The center houses the American Institute of Architects Tampa Bay and its related organization, the Tampa Bay Foundation for Architecture and Design. It already is hosting exhibits on the fourth Friday of the month.

AIA Tampa Bay has scheduled a ribbon cutting, which is open to the public, at 10 a.m. September 7 at 1315 E. 7th Ave., Ste. 105, on the building’s first floor.

The offices, formerly located at 200 N. Tampa Street, Suite 100, are now larger and more visible. “We see a lot of foot traffic on the sidewalk,” says Philip Trezza Jr., Past President of AIA Tampa Bay. “We wanted to have that physical presence and visibility in downtown Tampa and Ybor.”

The facility will be used for meetings, art galleries and architectural displays, presentations, and continuing education for its members. An event calendar is available on the association’s website.

The gallery will showcase traveling exhibits, student projects, local artists and design contest winners.

The center also will be available to rent for meetings and special events.

“We may have an option in the future to buy it [the center space]. Right now we’re leaving our options open,” Trezza says.

A $50,000 upgrade to the property, located in the Ybor City Historic District, a U.S. National Historic Landmark District near downtown Tampa, has been underway after they moved in last year.

Improvements include pine flooring made with salvaged pine from rivers and drop-in ceilings, new cabinets and kitchen, a new air conditioning system, a new electrical system, energy-efficient lighting, and countertops with poured concrete in the kitchen area. Glass panels from University of South Florida St. Petersburg’s College of Business were recycled for a table.

A retail shop, planned next year at the front of the offices, will sell art and architecturally related items.

The 2,000-square-foot center’s design was donated by
the St. Petersburg-based Harvard Jolly Architecture, where Trezza is Senior VP and a Principal.

The San Souci building won a Community Design Award given by the Hillsborough's City-County Planning Commission in 2010. The 22,000-square-foot building, which served as a retail anchor on the west end of 7th Avenue, has housed a penny arcade, barber shop, telegraph office, the San Souci theater, a Maas Brothers department store and Babcock furniture store.

AIA Tampa Bay is the regional chapter of the American Institute of Architects. It is the professional association of some 625 architects and architecture-related workers in a seven-county area including Hillsborough, Pinellas, Polk, Hernando, Citrus, Sumter and Pasco counties.

The nonprofit TBFAD offers education on design to the public, and seeks to inspire the exploration and appreciation of architecture. It now will spearhead Tampa Bay Design Week, a public festival AIA Tampa Bay started in 2014.


CDC of Tampa plans townhomes in the Fish Bowl

Housing shouldn’t cost half of your household income. But for some 47,387 households in Hillsborough County, it costs more than that, a needs assessment shows. Nearly 1,500 single-family households lack full plumbing and a kitchen. More than 3,000 live in overcrowded conditions.

In an attempt to help provide affordable housing, the CDC of Tampa is planning a $5 million rental community on E. Diana Street near N. 43rd Street in an area known as the Fish Bowl. Called Gardens at Diana Point, the two-story, four-building complex features 24 three-bedroom, two bathroom units with an attached garage. One unit in each building will be handicapped accessible, and span only one floor.

Designed for low- to moderate-income families, rents are expected to range from $567 to $1,232 after utility allowances.

47,387 households in the county are what are considered rent burdened or cost burdened,” says Frank Cornier, VP of Real Estate Development for CDC of Tampa.

Their goal is to reduce housing costs to 30 percent of income, he says.

See the 5-year consolidated plan for 2016-2020 here.    

A ceremonial groundbreaking for Gardens at Diana Point was held at the property August 31, although bids are still out on the project designed by BDG of Tampa. Construction is expected to begin in October, with leasing applications accepted in spring 2018 and move-in anticipated in June.

The homes will have a little porch on the front, which a lot of people are not even building anymore. It’s a good way of having conversations,” Cornier says.

All units face an interior courtyard featuring a children’s play area. The county, which owns an adjacent retention pond, will be investing $1 million to improve the area east of the property with a boardwalk and fishing pier for the neighborhood.

The development is located next door to Robles Elementary. “I’m sure we’ll get families that have children that go to that school, or want to go to that school, that will apply,” Cornier adds.

To be eligible, a family of four cannot make more than $48,000, he says.

Lower rents are made possible by a $3.5 million investment by the county for development. Some of the funding is derived from a state housing initiative earmarked for rentals.

Rents vary based upon household incomes, with two units set aside for very-low-income residents.

Beacon Homes

Meanwhile an open house is scheduled at 10 a.m. September 28 at the $2.5- to $2.8-million Beacon Homes, a 13-unit housing development at North 34th Street and East 28th Avenue. The three-bedroom, two-bath homes are expected to sell for at least $165,000. Two closings already have taken place and two more are planned in September. An additional three homes are under construction.

“It’s been a catalyst. Other people are also building around Beacon Homes and improving their property,” Cornier says.

The homes include attached garages, plenty of closet and storage space, and energy-efficient appliances. Assistance is available with closing costs for eligible parties. Seven of the homes have income restrictions of $47,850 per family of four, which allows them to buy with $3,000 out of pocket. Those with higher incomes are able to purchase one of the six other homes.

The CDC also is planning four more affordable homes on available lots in the E. Columbus Drive area between 22nd and 34th streets. The three-bedroom, two-bath homes with attached garages are expected to sell for an estimated $165,000 to $180,000. Construction on two is slated to begin next quarter, with the other two following.

Wrecking crews already have begun tearing down the city’s oldest public housing complex, North Boulevard Homes, which will be replaced by a 150-acre redevelopment project called West River. That project, to include some 840 affordable apartments, is intended to help transform the downtown area into an urban hub that may include 2,200 residential units, 90,000 square feet of retail and 70,000 square feet of office.

Construction on the first two buildings is anticipated in a year, but the full build-out may take a decade to complete.


Enterprising Latinas to graduate first class of childcare workers

Little Angels Wimauma, an early learning family childcare home that will accommodate 10 children in a South Shore community with few childcare options, is expected to open its doors August 30.

The home is the first of at least seven new childcare facilities in the area “that will create a critical mass of opportunity for children in the community to access quality early childhood education in the community where they live,” says Liz Gutierrez, Founder and CEO of Enterprising Latinas, a nonprofit organization working to empower low-income Hispanic woman in the Tampa Bay Area.

“We’re going to change the landscape of the community. We’re going to create opportunities for women,” she asserts. “We’re going to address a major challenge in the community, which is the lack of school readiness among children.”

Little Angels Wimauma’s owner, Jackie Brown, was part of a childcare class offered by Enterprising Latinas, which through its Opportunity Center is working to help the community by activating women. Brown’s staff will include a couple of part-time substitutes from her training class.

“I am doing my part as best I can to help families to realize dreams and goals,” says Brown, a Wimauma CDC member who grew up in the community. “It means everything to me because I live here. I work here. I’m advocating on the part of Wimauma every day.”

A ribbon cutting ceremony, which is open to the public, is slated for 4 p.m. on August 29th, at 5803 North St., Wimauma. It is followed by a 5 p.m. graduation and reception for the class of 30 that completed the Wimauma Cares training program. The graduation and reception will be at the Opportunity Center at 18240 U.S. Highway 301 S., Wimauma. Space is limited, so interested parties are asked to RSVP by emailing Sara Arias or calling 813-699-5811.

The celebration culminates a year-long endeavor enabled by financial support from Allegany Franciscan Ministries, the Children’s Board of Hillsborough County and Hillsborough County.

“They took a chance,” she says. “We are very grateful. Without this, we couldn’t have done this.”

While the class may appear to be a simple task to English-speaking individuals, it seemed to be an insurmountable challenge to some of the women who endured. “If English is not your first language, passing this course is no easy feat,” Gutierrez explains.

“They’ve been able to prove to themselves that they could do this,” she says.

Plans already are underway to open more childcare facilities, one of them at Peniel Baptist Church near Wimauma Elementary School. “We are working with them right now, so they can get the work done on the property,” Gutierrez says.

Development in the South Shore area of Hillsborough County is expected to increase the need for community-based childcare.

A waiting list of 70 for the next childcare class in South Shore is a testimony of the popularity of the class. Another 12 are waiting for a Tampa class. “They [the people from Tampa] heard about this and they’re working in lousy jobs and they want the training. They want us to do a Saturday course,” Gutierrez explains. “There’s a lot of interest. We’re going to do it.”


Manor Riverwalk rising along Hillsborough River’s west bank, downtown Tampa

A group of approximately 80, including local dignitaries, stakeholders and neighbors, are expected to gather at 10 a.m. August 23 for the official groundbreaking of Manor Riverwalk, an eight-story apartment complex that will replace the building that once housed The Tampa Tribune on the city skyline.

The ground has been leveled and construction has “gone vertical” at 202 South Parker Street on the Hillsborough River’s west side downtown, according to Arturo Peña, VP of Development for Miami’s Related Group, the project’s developer.

We have our financing in place. We are underway,” Peña says. “We think that’s a huge iconic addition to the Tampa skyline.”

Cranes are on the site of the project, where rents will average $2,700 a month in 400 units, and the first floor of columns are in view.

Manor Riverwalk is expected to include a 400+ feet river trail to connect with similar paths on the west side of the Hillsborough River downtown. “The RiverWalk is a technical term that the city uses on the east side,” Peña says. “We’re continuing the river walk on our riverfront [on the west].”

Related has granted an easement to the city of Tampa so that all citizens can enjoy the pathway, which will be routed around a night-time roost for birds on the southeast portion of the property.

“The birds come in at night to sleep,” he says. “They’re out by morning.”

Leasing is scheduled in the last quarter of 2018, with apartments ready for occupancy during the first quarter of 2019. The average size is 1,030 feet, a bit larger than originally planned, because the company has opted for some units.

“We wanted to beef up the ones on the end and really take advantage of what we think are great views,” he explains.

Related Group is investing some $350 million in four Greater Tampa area projects. “We’re very bullish on Tampa’s growth,” he says. “We love the leadership of Mayor [Bob] Buckhorn. ... They really help you want to do business in Tampa.”

In August, Related secured a $52 million construction loan to develop the 396-unit Town Westshore rental community, which already has broken ground. It is preparing for move-ins at its 340-unit Icon Harbour Island luxury development. Related also is partnering with the Tampa Housing Authority on the150-acre redevelopment project on the west bank of the Hillsborough River, West River, that will further efforts to rebuild the neighborhoods on the edges of downtown Tampa.


Wimauma church gets major loan, donations to buy domed sanctuary

After what he describes as a "$1 million dollar miracle,'' a Wimauma pastor has purchased the church he was renting month-to-month, sparing it from being torn down to build custom homes.

“We didn’t know where to go, and God continued showing his mercy and his grace every step of the way,” says Lead Pastor Carlos Irizarry, of Wholesome Church. “We saw God move.”

Wholesome is in the path of development along U.S. Highway 301 between Big Bend Road and State Road 674 in South Hillsborough County, where fields are giving way to subdivisions. The church had been renting for about five years from River of Life Christian Center in Riverview, which was looking to sell it.

Although Pastor Carlos wanted to buy it, he lacked funds, even with a substantial discount. Things came to a head after River of Life received a developer’s offer to buy the property valued at $1.5 million.

In response, Pastor Carlos appealed to the public in March for $235,000, launching a fundraising drive on Go Fund Me. Twice they were told to vacate. Even after a May 17 loan agreement, the church needed a 15-day extension to fulfill the lender’s requirements for a land survey and environmental inspection.

When news about the church hit television, a neighbor at Valencia Lakes called wanting to know more about what the church was doing. His son donated the remaining $11,000 required. And now the neighbor is planning to work with volunteers to assist in the church as the ministry continues.

The church secured a loan, raised some $21,000 in cash, and received another $20,000+ in donated work. Interest in the church’s work continues.

With the July 14 closing behind them, the church is now focusing on plans to improve the property and open its preschool early next year. “Because we took the building as is, we do have some repairs to do,” he says.

Remodeling will add more rooms for the preschool, which is expected to have a capacity of some 50 to 75 students aged 2 to 4. Pricing will be affordable, on a sliding scale based on income.

“Definitely our mission is to help families in Wimauma, but we know there is such a big demand. Families will want to apply to be there,” he says. “I can’t tell you all families will be from Wimauma.”

Early childhood education is a long-recognized need in the Wimauma community, where some are hindered by their lack of English language skills. A coalition of people concerned about the future of the community, which includes Allegany Franciscan Ministries, the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay, the Wimauma CDC, and others are working together to expand educational opportunities.

In addition to the preschool, Wholesome plans health and youth centers, a kitchen hall, a multipurpose building and thrift shop on the 10-acre property featuring a domed sanctuary.


University Area CDC seeks resident input on community needs

If you are at least 18 years old and live in the 33612 or 33613 zip codes in Tampa, the University Area CDC wants to hear from you. It’s doing a survey to help pinpoint needs in the community surrounding the University of South Florida.

“This is what we are going to use to build our strategic plan,” explains Sarah Combs, the CDC’s Executive Director and CEO.

The CDC is working on improving the University Area and the lifestyles of its residents by focusing on housing, health education programs, transportation, youth programs, community safety and workforce/employment issues.

The 2017 University Area Community Survey is confidential and does not require names, emails or phone numbers. However, those who complete the survey and supply their names and contact information can participate in a drawing for prizes, including a TV, park tickets, movie passes, bicycles, a $100 gift card, and more. Additional prizes are available when the survey is turned in personally.

It takes about 20 to 25 minutes to answer the 54 questions, which involve the types of programs their children prefer, challenges to home ownership, personal safety and the effectiveness of law enforcement.

The survey is available here. Completed forms should be returned to the individual or organization who provided them, or to 14013 North 22nd St., Tampa.

The last time the survey was done was in 2015, when results were used in the creation of sports and fitness classes and a community garden to increase access to healthy foods as well as to improve Workforce Training through a Free IT Certification Course.

Combs expects the survey to reveal a small decline in the “transient nature” of the community, she says.

“This information allows us to figure out who’s our community. When we started we were primarily African-American. Now we’re primarily Hispanic,” she adds.

Originally set to close out in June, the survey will remain open through July 28 to involve more respondents.

In June the nonprofit closed on its sixth parcel near its 7-acre Harvest Hope Park. The parcels will be used to develop affordable, single-family housing. “We’re hoping that funding is going to come very soon, within the next three months,” she says.

The residences will allow owners to be “urban pioneers,” and have a place they can call home rather than a place where they stay, she says.

“What’s going to be really cool about these houses, they’re modular houses,” Combs adds.

Meanwhile the concrete has been poured on an 8-foot tall statue of a family depicting diversity and respect in the community. It will be placed in Hope Park, bordered by 19th and 20th streets and 137th and 138th avenues,

It’s created from the residents,” she says, adding it might take a month to complete. “I’m really excited to see that.”


Homebuilder buys land in Westshore Marina District

Premier homebuilder WCI Communities has purchased 2.35 acres for $2.5 million as part of a $14.5 million, two-phase land deal in the Westshore Marina District, a walkable planned community off Westshore Boulevard south of Gandy Boulevard.

The developer, Fort Lauderdale-based BTI Partners, announced the land deal with WCI, which plans to build 35 three-story townhouses in the 52-acre master planned community. WCI also has agreed to purchase a second, 9.5 acre waterfront site, with a closing anticipated by early 2018, BTI Partners announced.

WCI declined to provide details.

It [Westshore Marina District] is adjacent to some of the best housing and residential areas of Tampa,” says Beck Daniel, BTI Partners' Executive VP of Development.

Although land in the area has historically been industrial, it’s not regarded as such now. “We haven’t really looked at it as an industrial area. We’ve just looked at it as ripe for redevelopment,” Daniel says.

Earlier plans to develop the property didn’t materialize because of the economic downturn. 

BTI Partners addresses neighborhood issues like lack of usable waterfront, walkability, and traffic in its development plan, Daniel says.

The community, designed to transform the waterfront, may include up to 1,750 residential units, a 200-room hotel, retail, restaurants and office space, 185 to 240 marina slips and a 1.5 mile-waterfront park. The 14-acre marina basin will be the largest in the area.

We like the Tampa market,” says Daniel.“We’re all over the state. We try and stick to the big metros.”

Earlier this year, BTI Partners sold eight acres in the development to Miami-based Related Group, which also is building an eight-story apartment complex on the site of the former Tampa Tribune building at 202 S. Parker St.

Twenty acres in the Westshore Marina District remain unspoken for. “We try not to talk too much about the future phases until we get there,” Daniel says. “We’re hoping to announce some retail parcels soon.”

BTI Partners is proceeding with the infrastructure.“By the end of this year, we’ll have an entry road coming into the project,” he asserts. “We’re excited because everything seems to be moving forward without a hitch.


Time to get outdoors to play: Springtime spawns local art festivals

As part of its efforts to revive Station Square Park, the city of Clearwater is holding the first in a series of paint parties/art bazaars at the Cleveland Street Park. Painting in the Park - Art Bazaar at Station Square Park kicks off from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday, April 1, and continues on the first and third Saturdays through June.

“It’s going to be a real active event with lots of art and live music, an open-air painting class,” says Jennie Pearl, the event coordinator, an artist who will teach the $35 painting class. “It’s going to grow. So far we’ve had such a wonderful response.”

The free event sponsored by the city of Clearwater’s Community Redevelopment Agency and Parks and Recreation Department, also features live music by Sal Belloise (known as Guitar Sal), art by Kelly Strong, beer and wine tasting, body/face painting and unique vendors offering items like Hawaiian Island soaps and wearable-art clothing.

A muralist, Pearl still is recruiting for the upcoming events. “I’m looking for comedians, jugglers, hoola hoopers, massage therapists,” says Pearl, who won the 2016 Clearwater’s Downtown Gateway Art Project. “It’s all the arts."

Plans developed after visitors were polled at a grand reopening of the park in February. “They wanted art, they wanted music and entertainment,” says Laura Canary, Community Redevelopment Coordinator. “They also wanted … some type of adult component, some kind of nightlife in the park as well.”

Meanwhile in Tampa, the 6th Annual International Cuban Sandwich Art and Food Festival is underway from noon until 6 p.m. Saturday, April 1, at Hillsborough Community College in Ybor City. Saturday’s agenda? Trying to make the largest Cuban sandwich. The event continues from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday, with competitors worldwide competing for awards.

The Safety Harbor Songfest is taking place April 1 and 2 at Safety Harbor Music and Art Center and Waterfront Park, featuring the Wood Brothers, Rising Appalachia, and more. It supports the nonprofit art center’s events; music begins at 11 a.m. both days.

The Tampa Bay Blues Festival is coming to Vinoy Park in St. Petersburg April 7, 8, and 9.  The event kicks off with Dennis Gruenling at 12:30 p.m. Friday, and includes The Rides with Stephen Stills, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, and Barry Goldberg Saturday at 8:30 p.m.

Organizers of the free, two-day Mainsail Art Festival April 22 and 23, who are expecting to draw some 100,000, also are gearing up for the juried art competition at Vinoy Park. Some $60,000 will be awarded to prize winners at the festival, which began in 1976 when the city’s Bicentennial Committee, the St, Petersburg Recreation Department and St. Petersburg Arts Commission collaborated on a sidewalk arts and colonial crafts festival.

“It wasn’t a juried show. Now it’s one of the top in the country,” says Lisa Wells, who chairs the all-volunteer planning committee. “The prize money’s grown, everything’s grown. ... The quality has gotten better.”

The event, sponsored by the city, Junior League of St. Petersburg, and Tampa Bay Times, was among the top 20 best shows by Wisconsin-based Sunshine Artist magazine in 2016.

The festival, which draws more than 250 exhibiting artists, runs from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. April 22 and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 23. The lineup includes Jah Movement Reggae Band at noon April 22,  Souliz at 4:30 p.m. April 22, and singer-songwriter-instrumenalist Damon Fowler at 3:45 p.m. April 23.

The city is seeking volunteers, who can signup online.

Here are some other art-related events planned in the Tampa Bay area during April.

Broad Comedy, a benefit for Planned Parenthood, is slated from 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. April 6 at Ybor’s CL Space, 1911 N. 13th St. It features standup comics Robin Savage and Becca Childs, along with writers Lori Shannon and Cathy Salustri.

• Coffee lovers can check out the Tampa Bay Coffee and Art Festival from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. April 8 at The Noise Box, 1310 John Moore Road, Brandon. The festival features craft coffee roasters from Florida and local artists, food trucks and desserts.

• The Latin Music Festival is slated April 8 at 5730 Shore Blvd. S., Gulfport. The concert, on Boca Ciega Bay from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m., will include recording artists Orchestra Fuego, The Latin Jazz Knights, Freddy Montez, Victor J. Moreno with Esther Suarez, and Eddie Garrido. It is the first of a series of annual Latin Music Festivals. Admission is $15; children under 10 are free.

• Gulfport’s annual Springfest Garden Art and Faerie Festival is slated from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. April 14 and 15 at Clymer Park at 5501 27th Ave. S. Renaissance-era characters will roam at the event featuring a Good Friday Fish Fry, May Pole dances, a costume contest, and live music. Admission is free; complimentary parking is offered. More information is available at Springfest's Facebook page or 727-322-5217.

The SunLit Festival kicks off with a party from 7 to 9 p.m. April 6 at the Chihuly Collection in St. Petersburg. The third annual event runs April 10 through 25, bringing together literary organizations and others.

• The Florida Antiquarian Book Fair, in its 36th year, is slated April 21 to April 23 at St. Petersburg Coliseum. The fair is a mecca for book lovers, offering books on just about any topic.


Biotech company Amgen to open Tampa center

The biotechnology company Amgen plans to open a Capability Center in Tampa next October, creating 450 new jobs and investing $25 million by the end of 2018. The Thousand Oaks, CA-based Amgen, a global pioneer in the fight against serious illnesses, will operate its 136,000-square foot center out of four floors at Corporate Center One in Westshore.

“Tampa was selected mainly on the availability of skilled talent there,” says spokeswoman Kristen Davis, as well as for its "proximity to our global sites around the world.”

She notes Tampa’s “high quality” and “affordable” standard of living, plus the company’s potential to grow in the area.

The Capability Center is to deliver “business-enabling services,” including analytics, staff and business support, human resources, and financial assistance, she says.

Amgen will be hiring for a variety of positions in the information systems, human resources and finance fields. Interested persons should visit Amgen’s Career Center online for specific information on open positions, she says.

Tampa was chosen as the site of Amgen’s new state-of-the-art Capability Center after an exhaustive search that included visits to the finalist communities.

One of the world’s leading independent biotechnology companies, Amgen operates in about 100 countries worldwide. It provides medicines for serious diseases where the treatment options are limited, or where it can provide a viable alternative to existing treatment. Committed to unlocking the potential of biology for patients, it works to develop, manufacture and deliver innovative human therapeutics.

Amgen focuses on oncology/hematology, cardiovascular disease, inflammation, bone health, nephrology and neuroscience.

Florida is home to some of the country’s most highly regarded research centers, including more than 1,100 biotech, pharmaceutical and medical device companies and more than 46,000 healthcare establishments.

Amgen joins the life science companies Bristol-Myers Squibb  and Johnson & Johnson in the Tampa area.

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