Urban Pioneer Carves Out Niche In North Hyde Park

A 1920s carriage house in the North Hyde Park neighborhood of Tampa is an unexpected destination for Marleen Geyen and the Geyen Group, her fledgling commercial cleaning business.

But it is not so unusual that Geyen is fulfilling her long-time goal of founding and nurturing her own business. She is co-owner with her husband Fred Geyen of a long-time commercial cleaning business in Minneapolis-St. Paul. And she has a track record of mentoring women in Africa who are starting up micro-businesses.

Simply put, "It all evolved into my wanting a business of my own," Geyen says.

The location on Cypress Street in the heart of North Hyde Park is a bonus.

The neighborhood "is an urban secret in Tampa," she says. "People are slowly awakening to this. It seems there are a lot more people in the area as far as leasing and purchasing."

Redevelopment in North Hyde Park is gaining traction as the city of Tampa moves ahead with InVision Tampa -- a master plan for revitalizing downtown and surrounding neighborhoods.

The Geyen Group, at 1708 W. Cypress St., is next door to Wood Window Makeover, a business devoted to preservation of old homes. The roadway and surrounding streets are dotted with warehouses, construction companies, light industrial and the newest residential project -- NoHo Flats.

Geyen is on the board of directors of the North Hyde Park Alliance, a group of business owners who want to have a say in the neighborhood's future.

The carriage house was a chance discovery for Geyen after shopping around for available properties. A typical storefront was quickly passed over.

"It was like a strip mall," she says. "I love old buildings."

Following Your Instincts

The carriage house more recently was used as a warehouse. Geyen followed her own design instincts, doing it all for a minimal cost of about $20,000. She installed French double-doors to create an office and break room for her Cuban cleaning staff, three of whom fled Castro's regime aboard a raft.

Though a small company, she offers above average wages and benefits. She wants to make a difference in their lives.

Bright artwork from students in the fine arts program at MacDonald Training Center, a nonprofit that helps people with disabilities gain skills to lead the lives they choose, hangs from the walls.

The top of a meeting room table is made from flooring from a pre-Civil War house; the sides are a door of a 19th century Georgia residence. The table moves on ball-bearings to meet the needs of the moment for creating comfortable meeting spaces.

Cleaning supplies are stacked on shelves toward the rear of the building. Geyen follows environmentally friendly LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) recommendations for products and cleaning technology.

Among Geyen's clients are Tradewinds Island Resorts in St. Pete Beach, Tech Data, Visit Tampa Bay, the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, 22Squared and Cassidy Turley.

Geyen grew up on a Minnesota dairy farm in a family with six girls and five boys. But she saw a wide world open to her. More than 30 years ago she and her husband started their commercial cleaning business serving the Minneapolis-St. Paul area.

She is a globe trotter who has served as consultant on projects in Tanzania, Uganda and Costa Rica that aid women with start-up micro-businesses. They manage coffee cooperatives, raise goats, open convenience stores and make cloth.

"My deal is how can I help someone grow their business," she says.

These women entrepeneurs take control of their lives and break down barriers

"Most of these women want their daughters to go to school," Geyen says. "They can't in their cultures."

Geyen serves on the advisory business school board of South University, which has a campus in Tampa. She also is author of "University Wealth: 21 Success Secrets to Buy and Manage Student Rental Property," a how-to book on investing in student housing.

She is focused now on reaching out to her new community. She opens her shop to neighborhood groups including the North Hyde Park Neighborhood Association. "I want to lend it out to anyone who wants to use it," she says.

Her goal is to grow her business over the next years and be part of North Hyde Park's rebirth.

"I have an innate drive," Geyen says.

Kathy Steele is a freelance writer living in the Seminole Heights neighborhood of Tampa. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.

Read more articles by Kathy Steele.

Kathy Steele is a feature writer and editor at 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.
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