University Area CDC strengthens North Tampa community through Harvest Hope Park, attainable housing


Amid the multitude of new restaurants, shops and other developments unfolding along Fowler Avenue and other corridors in the Uptown District of North Tampa are new projects to build a greater sense of community. 

One of them is the University Area Community Development Center’s Harvest Hope Park, a resident-friendly place where family play, healthy eating, environmental sustainability, education and community interaction all come together. Harvest Hope Park initially opened in 2019 and is now in its last phase of development. Along with nearby attainable housing developments, the seven-acre park gives residents a chance not only to call Uptown home but make it home.

Harvesting Hope 

Sarah Combs, executive director of the University Area Community Development Corporation (University Area CDC), says community feedback helped create Harvest Hope Park and the community has embraced the results. 

“We listened to our residents when they told us what was needed in the community, and from day one, we made sure they knew that Harvest Hope Park is their park,” Combs says. “It serves as a peaceful retreat in the heart of the community and helps to foster a sense of inclusion and connection among neighbors.” 

One of the things that makes Harvest Hope Park a favorite spot with Uptown residents is that it’s tucked inside a neighborhood setting, a few blocks north of Fletcher Avenue along 20th Street. The park offers a community garden, multi-purpose sports field, fishing pond, playground and walking trails. In mid-April, a ribbon-cutting ceremony will celebrate a new splash pad.

A home for community programs and events

But it is not just a place to get outside. It’s also the backdrop for a variety of programming aimed to help make residents healthier, more active and more engaged with the community around them. 

An Easter egg hunt is just one community-building event at the University Area Community Development Corporation's Harvest Hope Park.“Many of the park’s features are used to implement University Area CDC programming, including youth soccer and football, cooking classes for youth and adults and cultural arts activities,” Combs says.

One impactful program at Harvest Hope Park is Get Moving, a health and wellness initiative focused on sports, education and mental health.

“The program takes a holistic approach that is woven into many different areas of the park,” Combs says. “We partner with several local organizations to offer a variety of opportunities for youth and adults.”

The activities and programs include youth soccer on the multi-purpose sports field through a partnership with Casa Chiapas; youth football and cheerleading on the multi-purpose sports field through a partnership with the Uptown Eagles; youth and adult cooking classes at the Harvest Hope Center through partnerships with Pasta Packs and The Well; and free grocery distribution at the Harvest Hope Center by way of a partnership with The Well.  Meanwhile, Florida Blue will provide mental wellness sessions for people of all ages with a focus on anxiety, depression and social isolation. 

“Get Moving also oversees the community garden, partnering with Whitwam Organics to grow fresh fruits and vegetables for community distribution,” adds Combs. “The garden operates through community volunteers, along with University Area CDC staff, who gather on a weekly basis to tend the garden and harvest ripe produce. Many of the items harvested from the garden are incorporated as ingredients in the cooking classes, teaching residents how to utilize the produce in everyday meals.” 

Funding for Get Moving includes a nearly $16,800 community vibrancy grant from Community Foundation Tampa Bay. A description of the grant’s impact on Community Foundation Tampa Bay’s website notes that seven-acre Harvest Hope Park is a vital community resource serving a population of 26,500 nearby residents, with 58 percent living below the federal poverty level.

“HHP has been a springboard for transformational change as it affords residents of all ages the opportunity to improve their mental well-being by communing with nature and learning eco-friendly ways to sustain their community at large,” the description says. “HHP is the heart of the University Area, playing a major role in its vibrancy and redevelopment and enhancing the environment and promoting healthy lifestyles for all its residents of all ages. Funds will be used for kitchen supplies for the bi-weekly youth nutrition class that incorporates fresh produce from the HHP Community Garden, tools for the youth gardening class and lighting and storage for the fields used in the sports programs.

Land banking to create community resources 

Harvest Hope Park is just one community resource established in the Uptown area in recent years.

The land for the greenspace was made available through a land bank program that identifies brownfields and other blighted parcels and helps safely transform them into community assets. One such project was Uptown Sky, an affordable housing complex developed through a partnership between University Area CDC and affordable housing developer Blue Sky Communities. Uptown Sky opened in 2023 on a slice of land near the intersection of East Fletcher Avenue and 12th Street. Two other University Area CDC projects rising on reclaimed land are the Cultural Campus and University Townhomes, an attainable housing complex of energy-efficient, three-bedroom townhomes.

The Cultural Campus is a multiphase project situated adjacent to Harvest Hope Park on land that was wholly remediated through soil excavation and replacement. A formerly residential building on the site was transformed into a facility that constitutes the first phase of the project. 

“[It] now serves as office space for two of our community partners, Casa Chiapas and the Caribbean American National Development Organization (CANDO), both of which provide needed services to the diverse population in our community,” Combs says. 
The second phase will convert an old warehouse into a 4,800-square-foot community space for meetings, gatherings, parties and other special events, including various programs of the University Area CDC and its partner organizations. 

“The Warehouse at University Area Cultural Campus is [about] transparency and openness while reflecting the vibrancy of the community,” Combs says. “We wanted residents to be able to see the exciting activities happening inside and throughout the building. Versatility has also been carefully incorporated into plans.” The Warehouse at University Area Cultural Campus will offer 4,800 square feet of versatile, transparent community space.

The third phase will include the brand-new 12,000-square-foot Economic Development Center, which Combs says, “will help individuals, families, and businesses in achieving their highest potential.” The facility will afford office space and programs geared toward children and adults. 

“This phase also incorporates the construction of a beautiful outdoor plaza that ties the campus together in an intentional way, building community efficacy and supporting holistic services,” Combs says. “We envision a neighborhood where residents have access to the key determinants of their well-being while promoting inclusion and diversity.”

New townhomes

The fourth phase embarks on the construction of numerous townhomes for purchase by working families. The townhomes will be located a short walk from Harvest Hope Park and help imbue a village-like atmosphere to the area. 

“Affordable housing is a key component to building a stable and resilient community, especially as the pressure of displacement rises while the University Area continues to grow and transform,” Combs says. 

The first phase of University Townhomes will see the construction of 12 townhomes each consisting of three bedrooms and two bathrooms on a strip of land fronting 21st Street and East 140th Avenue. University Area CDC has procured enough land to build a total of 32 townhomes.

The first phase of University Townhomes will see the construction of 12 townhomes each consisting of three bedrooms and two bathrooms “University Area CDC is developing the University Townhomes and after they are developed, the complete framework for the development (engineering, architecture, etc.) will be available for organizations and developers who are interested in building this product for our workforce,” Combs says.

Helping to make these townhomes for their prospective buyers will be a variety of downpayment initiatives, including those offered by a non-profit called Real Estate, Education, and Community Housing, Inc., more commonly known as REACH. The organization has already paved the path toward homeownership for many local families. 

“Last year through our partnership with REACH, 90 individuals went through the homeownership classes which created a wonderful pipeline for future homebuyers for the area,” Combs says. “Through this program, REACH works with them on identifying all the programs and sources that offer down payment assistance, which can be as high as $40,000 in some cases.”

Future looks bright for Uptown District 

Combs and her team at the University Area CDC have committed to overseeing many projects in the area of unincorporated Hillsborough County north of Fowler Avenue. They hope to expand their efforts to the southern stretches of Uptown, south of Fowler down to Busch Boulevard in the city limits of Tampa. 

“We are learning more about this area and meeting with the City of Tampa to see where we can partner to develop more attainable housing via rental and homeownership,” Combs says. 

It’s part of an effort to enrich the entire Uptown community and Combs sees good things on the horizon. 

“University Area CDC is very hopeful for the new plans that USF is developing around their campus with the stadium, the Claw golf course and, of course, the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) property,” Combs says. “This type of planned development is what the Uptown area needs in order to create opportunities and growth for businesses, students and the community. University Area CDC looks forward to being a key player in these activities with area residents.”

Eddie Burch, the communication and coordination director for Soaring City Innovation Partnership, fully supports what University Area CDC is doing to help make Uptown a better place for local residents. 

“I would also say that the work that University Area CDC is doing at creating affordable housing options along with other community improvement projects like Harvest Hope Park is outstanding,” he says.  “And, I’m excited about the potential of the MOSI site, especially with MOSI staying there to be a major attraction and anchor for the development.” 

One of the biggest developments about to take shape in Uptown is RITHM, a multifaceted live-work-play development evolving on property once fully occupied by University Mall. Christopher Bowen, chief development strategist with real estate developer RD Management, says one of the next big things that will spring up at the site is The Hub II, a $120 million student apartment project. 

“[It] will be the largest taxable commercial project in the history of the Fowler Avenue Corridor,” he says. “Additionally, RITHM is getting ready to launch development of several hotel projects, along with a large village green and piazza project for food, music and entertainment.”

For more information, go to University Area CDC
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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.