After months of tearing down abandoned and derelict homes in Sulphur Springs, a building spree is about to get under way.
The construction activity is the next step in the city's Nehemiah Project to revitalize one of the city's poorest neighborhoods. Work began almost one year ago when Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn hopped onto a bulldozer to begin knocking down the first of dozens of houses slated for demolition. Most are in Sulphur Springs; some are in the North Tampa area.
About $1.4 million in federal housing dollars will fund construction of 12 single-family residences close to Sulphur Springs Elementary School and the Springhill Community Center. The first contract for four houses has been awarded to general contractor, Alexander Inc. of Tampa Bay
. The city owns a total of 25 lots.
"We are going to rebuild this neighborhood, and we are going to do it right," Buckhorn says. "We are going to make this a place where people are proud to live."
Reeshemah Green hopes she and her 4-year-old daughter, Legacy Green, will benefit from the new homes. Green bought her brand-new Sulphur Springs home in 2005 at the height of the real estate boom believing that it was a long-term investment. Her house is across the street from where the first house was torn down.
"They are building up around my home," she says. "I believe I can look forward to (property) values going up again."
Work will be parceled out in blocks of four houses at a time to bid-winning contractors who will complete construction in about 120 days.
Nine companies are qualified for the project: All State Homes, Framework Construction, Michael Angelo Construction, Nelson Priede Construction, Manuel Lanz Construction, Florida Home Partnership, Richard Stenholm Construction, Mourer & Mourer, and Alexander Inc.
Estimated cost of construction is about $100,000 per house. Within the next weeks the city will hire a real estate brokerage firm to handle the sales transactions and aid city officials in staging open houses.
Sales prices for the homes will be market rate and set through appraisals, says Thom Snelling, the city's director of planning and development. The city might lose money initially but Snelling says, "The hope is as we get four new houses in here, we'll have new comparables." And that may bolster future values as more homes are sold, he says.
Any profit made on sales will be re-invested in building more houses.
Some down payment assistance through city programs is possible for home buyers, Snelling says
Workshops and counseling also will be provided to prospective buyers, says Sylvia Alvarez, executive director of Housing & Education Alliance
. "It's needed," she says. "It has to happen. If not, we'll end up in the same shape as before the housing crisis."
The Nehemiah Project is named for the biblical figure responsible for rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem within two months.
This latest effort to revitalize Sulphur Springs
is being embraced by long time activists who have struggled for years to overcome the drugs, crime and prostitution that dragged the neighborhood down. In its heydays in the 1930s, 40s and 50s, Sulphur Springs was a tourist mecca where people came to enjoy its healthy sulphur waters, spring-fed swimming pool and lively commercial district anchored by an arcade of shops.
There are signs Sulphur Springs is making a comeback. Tampa police report crime is down 20 percent. Over the last year, 150 tons of debris has been removed. Tampa Electric Company has installed more than 400 new street lights. Other bright spots have been the opening of Springhill Community Center
and Layla's House, which offers childhood and parenting programs to Sulphur Springs' families.
is one of several projects supported by the Neighborhood of Promise Initiative founded more than six years ago by the Tampa Metropolitan Area YMCA. Among its partners are the United Way Suncoast
and the Children's Board
of Hillsborough County.
"It's a good feeling. It's like 100 percent of 100," says Joseph Robinson, president of the Sulphur Springs Action League
. "It's going to allow people to say, 'If they can do this, I can do this,' even if it's just flowers or mulch added to the yard. It's like a domino effect spreading to the next block."
The more home owners in the neighborhood, the stronger the neighborhood will be, Robinson says. "We have the beginnings of stabilization. We're looking forward to all the new homes."
Lifting a shovel and holding on to Legacy Green, Buckhorn tossed dirt for the symbolic groundbreaking. "It's ironic," he says of Legacy's name. "That is exactly what we are leaving to her, a legacy."
Writer: Kathy Steele
Sources: Bob Buckhorn and Thom Snellling, City of Tampa; Joseph Robinson, Sulphur Springs Action League; Syliva Alvarez, Housing & Education Alliance; Reeshemah Green, Sulphur Spring