Tampa residents and elected officials can get cozy over Coffee + Conversation, a newly created local meetup curated by East Tampa CRA Vice Chair Dominique Cobb and hosted at Cafe Quiquiriqui within Hotel Haya in Ybor City.
Cobb, a fifth-generation East Tampa resident, says she is on a mission to help educate and inform residents and local officials about each other to improve understanding and access to government services.
First up? The Hillsborough County Tax Collector
to discuss making services more accessible in East Tampa neighborhoods. East Tampa is the largest quadrant within the city of Tampa, and also has the largest population of African-Americans in the city.
“We’ve built this area. … So many stars have come from this area. The sad part about it is they want to come back, but they probably couldn’t afford it. We’ve been pushed out of a lot of areas. This is the area we settled in, because we were pushed from other places like Carver City,” Cobb says when speaking of one of the many issues impacting the East Tampa area, including housing stabilization and affordability. “A lot of people can’t even afford an apartment, let alone saving for a house … the disparities in East Tampa I could list. We don’t even have a grocery store.”
Crime and infrastructure are additional issues that have kept business and services from settling into East Tampa.
“All of the [Tampa] CRAs [Community Redevelopment Areas] can fit inside of East Tampa. We have the highest number of residences and businesses. Ybor Heights, Drew Park. … We have a very intricate makeup but we don’t always have the right resources to help everyone,” Cobb says.
Eight of 140 CRAs in Florida are in Tampa: East Tampa, Central Park, Channel District, Downtown Tampa, Drew Park, Tampa Heights Riverfront, West Tampa, and Ybor City.
CRAs are parts of a city designated for redevelopment. Tax monies collected within a CRA must be used for specific redevelopment purposes within the targeted area, and not for general government purposes. Read more here
Housing stabilization, a key issue in most CRAs, is one of the many areas of concern for Cobb as well as an area of focus for the East Tampa CRA, however, it was the need for more services from the Tax Collector that ignited those gathered for the first Coffee + Conversation in January.
The inspiration for the meeting came when Cobb was sitting in Nancy Milan’s office back in October, 2021, offering suggestions for how to meet the needs of more East Tampa residents.
“We need a mobile kiosk for elders to have more access to be able to renew licensure, pay property taxes. There are many spaces in our community that have been underutilized due to COVID. We could be using those spaces,” Cobb shared.
Additionally Cobb advocated for an “equity study” to survey which neighborhoods were most in need of various services and to address the fact that East Tampa residents have the highest amount of toll violations and traffic tickets in the city.
That conversation with Milan led to the start of Coffee + Conversation (and pastries!) in order to bring more concerned citizens together with government officials to get clearer on issues and processes to address them.
City Councilman Joe Citro, representatives from County Appraiser Bob Henriguez’s office, and the Tax Collector herself, Nancy Milan, attended the first event on January 9.
Milan made sure to clarify that many of the kiosk placements were made prior to her tenure, and that there are various challenges to getting new ones placed. However, she promised to "do a study by ZIP code and usage of the existing kiosks to see if moving an underperforming kiosk to the East Tampa location is doable." She promised to work with the vendor to find a solution for East Tampa, including possibly moving an existing kiosk or adding a new site.
“I grew up in Ybor City,’’ Milan told the group. “My family came here from Cuba. Many people did not expect me to be in this position, but I knew that I wanted to be able to serve my community.”
One resident pointed to the recent opening of a city government satellite site in the Seminole Heights neighborhood of Central Tampa, which was confirmed by Councilman Citro, as a potential place for another kiosk and possibly a model for what could be created in East Tampa.
Following up, getting answers
Debra Bellanti, director of communications and community relations for the Tax Collector’s office, followed up a few days later with a statement saying:
"We followed up with Councilman Joe Citro’s office and they provided the steps required for our offices to add a kiosk there. At this point, we are waiting to hear back from our vendor on the potential of moving a kiosk. Once that is confirmed, the vendor is the one that negotiates with grocery stores or other venues for their location. Currently the vendor is working with Publix grocery store chain. In the event we are not able to get a kiosk at another grocery store chain or establishment, we would need to find a Publix location that is closest to the East Tampa community.’’
Bellanti’s note continued: “As far as additional branch locations go, for the next budget year, it is not in our plans to open a new location. Each year this is audited and addressed as needed. Our current focus is to expand our existing North Tampa location to better serve surrounding communities.”
Cobb is optimistic that conversation can improve communications, help educate and inform participants, and lead to solutions for East Tampa. She says she plans to focus future meetups on how government currently serves and could better serve East Tampa neighborhoods and surrounding communities.
She is currently in discussion with Hotel Haya Ybor City
on Seventh Avenue at North Avenida Republica de Cuba (14th Street) about the timing of future gatherings at Café Quiquiriqui