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Tampa city leaders address progress, work to be done to protect historic cemeteries

Posted at 5:47 PM, Jan 14, 2022

TAMPA, Fla. — The City of Tampa is continuing its work to protect and preserve historic cemeteries that have been forgotten or abandoned. On Friday, city leaders laid out the progress they’ve made and what work still needs to be done.

Looking at Memorial Park Cemetery in East Tampa, you can see it’s come a long way.

“African American soldiers who fought in the World Wars are interred here,” said Ocea Wynn, the City’s Administrator of Neighborhood and Community Affairs.

Wynn shared the city’s efforts to improve Memorial Park since the death of the property owner over two years ago.

“There was a torn, broken down fence that we have now replaced with rod iron,” said Wynn. “There was grass and weeds grown up, and we’ve had students coming in doing projects with keeping the area clean.”

It’s part of the work the city is doing to protect many historic burial grounds that’ve been forgotten or abandoned.

“The steps that we are taking are not going to right past wrongs, but what they are going to do is ensure that we do not have lost or abandoned cemeteries in the future,” said Mayor Jane Castor. “This problem will not occur from this point forward.”

In their progress, city staff helped the Zion Preservation and Maintenance Society become a non-profit entity, and the city also contributed $50,000 toward a memorial, completed a work plan to receive state funding, and applied for multiple grants.

Going further, the city says it worked with Tampa City Council members to change the land use category of all but one city-owned cemeteries to "park lands and open space” to further protect them by restricting development.

“We have a lot of work to do,” said Wynn.

Stephen Benson, the Director of City Planning, said on Friday the mayor proposed to take a look at the comprehensive plan and make changes to it, explaining the city’s comprehensive plan currently doesn’t address cemeteries the way that it should. Benson said the mayor tasked them to take that gap in policy and focus on three points.

“Focus on proposing changes to address the lack of land use designation,” said Benson. “We’re also going to be proposing to add a list and designations of all the cemeteries that we currently know about, not just the city-owned cemeteries, but also the privately-owned cemeteries as well, and then last thing is to propose policies that will address what to do about all three of those situations in the future moving forward and provide those protections, so that as things progress going forward, that there are protections in place to address privately-owned, city-owned, and also future cemeteries that perhaps have yet to be discovered.”

City leaders acknowledged the work is not over yet in preserving and protecting historic cemeteries.

“It just gives me another level of appreciation and respect to know that I can do something just more to make sure this history is not forgotten,” said Wynn.