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Tampa neighbors battle gentrification amid rapid development

Posted at 4:58 PM, Feb 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-17 18:40:18-05

TAMPA, Fla. — Tampa is a city rich in its diverse history. Neighborhoods like Tampa Heights and Ybor City are ripe with African-American culture, but thanks to urban growth in Tampa; those areas do not look quite the same as they once did.

“It’s sad to see. I think the culture of the community changes a little bit every time," Antoinette Hayes-Triplett, an affordable housing advocate in Hillsborough County, said.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, over half of Tampa residents are African-American and Hispanic, but some fear that representation is trending in the wrong direction.

"We don't want to lose that, we need to protect that," Bob Rohrlack of Tampa Bay's Chamber of Commerce said. "That's part of who we are."

Hayes-Triplett is years into trying to solve the affordable housing crisis in Hillsborough County. She said the need for affordable housing grows by the day, and the price to find a home in Tampa is costlier than ever.

According to Zillow, the average price to buy a home in Tampa is nearly $366,000, up 31 percent from January 2021. It is even pricier in historically black neighborhoods like Tampa Heights where lists the average on the market at half a million dollars.

“I think we’re getting away from having some diversity as we move people that have historically lived in those areas," Hayes-Triplett said.

"It's a perfect storm, right now, for gentrification," Tony Krol, an activist living in Tampa Heights, said.

Krol started Bloom on Franklin, a monthly event to promote black and Hispanic-owned businesses in the area's historic business district and keep its roots from being weeded out.

“This whole corridor that used to have trollies running on it served the diverse neighborhood of Tampa Heights," he said. "This interstate disconnected the neighborhood and now you don’t have a reason for people to walk from the neighborhood or hop on a trolly, because it doesn’t exist to come to this business district.”

“That was where a lot of the formerly enslaved moved when they were emancipated," Dr. Glorida Gene Royster, a tour guide of Tampa's historic black culture, said. "That neighborhood is gone due to gentrification and urban renewal.”

Royster revives the city's cultural prowess through guided tours of Historic Central Avenue and Old Fortune Street.

“No other place I’ve lived in has this unique history of diversity," she said.

However, much of it is not evident. A diverse history many Tampa Heights newcomers likely are not aware of.

"There is nothing to indicate that those people walked that earth," Royster said. "Imagine that happening to Ybor City."

Many fear the thriving entertainment district in Ybor is next in line for gentrification, with potential plans to build the next Tampa Bay Rays stadium in the area overtaking the district's long-standing businesses.

“A big part of the discussions going on with the Rays in Ybor City is, 'How do we blend this into Ybor?’ Not overlay or smother or cover up what makes Ybor, Ybor,'" Rohrlack said.

Rohrlack said half of the private businesses in Hillsborough County are black or Hispanic-owned but account for just five percent of economic cash flow. That forces a tricky balance between protecting homegrown businesses and promoting outside investors.

"There can be a natural friction or rub that comes up and it’s got to be addressed right away to, ‘How do we work that together?'" he said.

Working together is the only way, Krol said, to fight back against gentrification. His Tampa Heights neighborhood coalition works with other residents, developers, and the City of Tampa to move Tampa forward without losing sight of its past.

“People need to step up to the plate and say, ‘I’m going to fight for this community over here that’s at risk for displacement,'" he said. "You just have to stay involved. That's the only way to help."