Collaboration brings affordable housing to North Tampa's rapidly redeveloping Uptown District

In recent years, a growing innovation hub and mixed-use redevelopment centered around the University Mall property have reshaped the Fowler Avenue corridor in North Tampa. 

Redevelopment is bringing new jobs and entertainment options to this Uptown/University Area community adjacent to the University of South Florida. New residential developments are also going up and one of the newest is intended to deliver needed affordable housing so current residents do not get priced out of the community.
St. Petersburg-based affordable housing developer Blue Sky Communities, working in partnership with the nonprofit University Area Community Development Corporation, is slated to open Uptown Sky, a 61-unit mixed-income apartment development at Fletcher Avenue and 12th Street, in June.

University Area CDC CEO and Executive Director Dr. Sarah Combs says the arrival of Uptown Sky marks an important moment for the neighborhood her public-private community enrichment organization serves.
“While there is a lot of redevelopment and development happening in the Innovation District / Uptown area, there is not a lot of development that is meeting the residents where they are in the University area community,” Combs says. “What you see is an increasing amount of market-rate apartments being constructed or low-income apartments changing to market rate, which is putting a squeeze on the asset-limited, income-constrained, employed (ALICE) population. The Uptown Sky development is different as it is specifically meeting the need head-on to provide affordable rental housing for residents in the University Area Community.”

A significant need

A new report from the Tampa Bay Partnership and the Florida Blue Foundation on quality of life metrics in the Uptown community shows the need for affordable housing is significant. Sixty-eight percent of the households have income below the federal poverty level or are ALICE (asset-limited, income-constrained, employed) households. Seventy-nine percent of the residents rent. Sixty-one percent of those renter households are cost-burdened, meaning more than 30 percent of their income goes toward housing expenses. That compares to 50 percent across the Tampa area.
In community meetings to gather insights for the report, residents said the new apartment development in the area often displaces current residents because of rent increases. 

Blue Sky Communities President and CEO Shawn Wilson says Uptown Sky will focus on households at two income levels - 50 percent of the area median income and 70 percent of the AMI.

Opening in June at 12th Street and Fletcher Avenue, Uptown Sky is a mixed-income community that will bring needed affordable housing to North Tampa's Uptown District.“For a family of four persons for the 70% AMI level, the annual income must be less than $57,470, as determined by our leasing staff,” Wilson says. “For the 50% AMI level, their income has to be less than $41,050. If their income increases after they move in, that is fine. They do not have to move.” 

As is the case with all of Blue Sky’s communities, Uptown Sky will be as energy efficient as possible.

"We will be achieving a Silver Rating by the National Green Building Standard program,” Wilson notes.

This new apartment community at 13603 N. 12th Street will be the sixth in Hillsborough County for St. Petersburg-based Blue Sky. It is their first in the Uptown community, with more planned for the North Tampa neighborhood."

We are looking at several sites with the University Area Community Development Corporation,” Wilson says. “So stay tuned.”

In Sulphur Springs, another area of North Tampa where a high percentage of residents face poverty, Blue Sky recently started construction on an affordable housing apartment community called The Adderley.

Instilling hope, investment in the community

Combs says she wants more developments benefitting the community and its residents to follow after Uptown Sky.

“It is my hope to see more mixed-income housing developments planned for the Uptown District, as this would create a much-needed balance for the community and allow existing residents to be included in the benefits of ongoing area revitalization,” she says.

But that’s not all. Along with more affordable rents, Combs says there must also be an expansion of homeownership in Uptown. 

“It’s imperative that some of those developments offer sustainable homeownership opportunities,” she says, citing the social benefits of homeownership and its ability to build a strong, stable community. “When an individual has the opportunity to achieve the American dream of homeownership, their mindset shifts from ‘where they stay’ to ‘where they live.’”

Combs says homeownership can enhance a sense of belonging to the community, can help children perform better at school, reduce crime and improve health. 

“One component of our Neighborhood Transformation Strategy not only works to provide homeownership opportunities, it also prepares residents for successful homeownership through financial and housing education,” Combs says. “We believe this is a key factor to neighborhood stabilization, enhancing residents’ quality of life in a variety of specific, verifiable ways and instilling a great sense of community pride and ownership that compliments the revitalization happening around them.”

Revitalizing a community

Revitalization has been a theme throughout the Uptown community, a neighborhood with an uncertain future just a decade ago. Fortunes began turning for the University Area after former Hillsborough County Commissioner Mark Sharpe teamed up with several community leaders to launch Tampa Innovation Alliance, an organization now known as Soaring City !p. Among these thought leaders is RD Management Chief Development Strategist Christopher Bowen. He is overseeing the rebirth of the 80-acre commercial complex formerly known as University Mall, which RD Management operates and is converting into the mixed-use hub known as RITHM at Uptown.

“There are incredible changes happening in the Uptown Innovation District, with new businesses moving to the area, coupled with the redevelopment of the former University Mall, now branded RITHM, which has pledged a $2 billion-dollar investment, of which you can already start to see taking shape,” Combs says. 

Among the visible changes happening at RITHM is Hub Tampa, a residential community that sprang up on the site of a vacated Sears department store. A few steps to the west, retail spaces slated to house a Sprouts Farmers Market and a new Burlington department store will soon teem with activity where an aging Dillard’s Clearance Center stood less than a year ago. Across the street, on the former site of a Quality Inn at 2701 E. Fowler Ave., a 12-story-tall crane is helping construct The Metropolitan, a 760-bed student-housing development by Landmark Properties that will open to USF students in August 2024.

USF itself has metamorphosed from its earlier status as a commuter school to a major public university – one that will soon have its own football stadium. USF Vice President & Director of Athletics Michael Kelly says the new stadium, which is slated to open in fall 2026, will benefit the football program, the university and the larger community, including the Uptown area.
“We feel the USF on-campus stadium will be a transformational project — not only as an enhancement to campus and student life on the USF Tampa campus — but also as the ultimate engagement tool for the university to better engage with its alums and the entire Tampa Bay community,” Kelly says. “And clearly, it will be stimulant to additional economic development in North Tampa.”

Back at the University Area CDC, Combs considers what the evolution of Uptown means for the community and its people.
“Most of the area is in an innovation zone that has been incentivized redevelopment, but the real question is how will this impact the community – the families who have grown up in this community labeled the working poor? What we are seeing is rapid conversion of attainable housing to market rate, putting displacement of residents at an all-time high due to housing instability. The fabric of our community is changing right before our very eyes.”

“Some call this progress while others call it gentrification,” Combs adds. “I believe that we can find a balance, but it will require intentional public-private partnerships to make that happen."

For more information, go to Uptown Sky, University Area CDC and Uptown report
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez.

Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez is a freelance writer who was born and raised in Tampa. He earned his BA in English from the University of South Florida and spent more than three years as a full-time copywriter for a local internet marketing firm before striking out on his own to write for various blogs and periodicals, including TheFunTimesGuide, CoinValue and COINage magazine. He has also authored local history books, including Images of America: Tampa's Carrollwood and Images of Modern America: Tampa Bay Landmarks and Destinations, which are two titles produced by Arcadia Publishing.