TAMPA, Fl.— A multi-million dollar Salvation Army project could soon take another step forward in the Tampa Heights neighborhood.
A public hearing on the organization's rezoning request for its property at 1603 N. Florida is scheduled during city council’s meeting Thursday.
Currently, the property houses its administrative offices, while its other properties on the same street include a shelter, warehouse and parking lot.
“It’ll be able to serve the community better and also will have a much better facility by which we’ll be able to serve the people,” said Captain Andy Miller, the area commander for the Salvation Army in Tampa.
The plans include consolidating services. Miller said they want to sell their other properties on N. Florida Ave. and house both administrative offices and the shelter at the 1603 N. Florida Ave. location. While the plans were introduced last year, Miller said they have changed their rezoning request from a treatment facility to emergency shelter.
“Where we never intended to be a drug and alcohol treatment center. We thought that’d be the best fit,” Miller said. “But we’ve narrowed our usage now to be only an emergency shelter. We sense that some of our neighbors were a little worried about that so we wanted to accommodate some of their concerns to make it so we would never do drug or alcohol treatment here.”
Some local business and property owners in the area have concerns.
“I need to know that we’re safe, that our community’s safe, that our businesses are safe,” said Alana Vickers, the vice president of Roberston Billiards and Spas. “We need to have some assurances that the people that are here enjoying the restaurants and the Riverwalk, that their safety comes first."
The business has been in the area since the 1950s. Vickers said while she likes the idea of the Salvation Army selling real estate and consolidating, she has concerns about safety, the bed size and the possibility of feeding homeless individuals.
“For the last year and a half the Salvation Army did stop feeding the homeless and that’s helped a bit with trash volume and the other activities that come with the responsibility of feeding, my concern is with the new zoning they have a potential to reopen a kitchen,” she said.
While Miller said they would only serve meals to the people staying in their shelter and the net capacity would decrease by 20 beds, Vickers explained she’d like to see more direct parameters for the long term. She planned to attend tomorrow’s hearing.
“I would like to see homelessness go away but I’m not in opposition of trying to help people. I did not feel that was the best use for that property,” said Carl Johnson, the owner of the property at nearby 1609 Franklin St.
Johnson spoke during the last public hearing under the Salvation Army’s broader usage rezoning request.
“I had spoken in opposition of it because the way they originally proposed it to the neighborhood was that they were going to be a professional treatment facility and we have enough issues down here right now with drug use, people smoking spice, alcoholism, panhandling, homelessness,” he said.
He still has concerns now.
“I still have the same concerns about the amount of homelessness it is bringing into the neighborhood. I feel more comfortable now that it’s not a professional treatment facility and will be more of a shelter but I still have concerns about the density that they’re wanting to do,” he said.
Other businesses said they didn't have an issue with the plan.
“Having the shelter nearby has always been something that creates an element that makes people feel uneasy but it’s never a problem for us,” said Cheong Choi, the owner of Cafe Hey.
“The Salvation Army is an organization that’s meant to help people so why would we have any concern with that,” said Gina Tortorici, the shopkeeper at Fancy Free Nursery, right next door to the Salvation Army’s current shelter.
Maureen Ayral, the owner of multiple properties on N. Florida Ave., including the building housing The Hall on Franklin said she is one hundred percent for it. She recalls what she encountered several years ago when she initially bought the property.
“Services would only open at night and only take for overnight stays maybe 200 people, but it was not on a reservation basis. So we would have lines of homeless people that went on for blocks throughout the neighborhood across the street up Highland, down Highland,” Ayral said. “Frequently ambulances were being called because they were overdosing. And then at 7 a.m. in the morning everybody was kicked out so it was just a constant source of people in and people out and problems.”
But after the Salvation Army changed its policies three years ago, not serving public meals or charging anyone for the shelter, Ayral said there’s been a difference.
“The revitalization of area of that town I think was a collective effort of the Salvation Army’s new protocol and practices and the opening of The Hall on Franklin. They kind of emerged together and the neighborhood has been launched into this fantastic revitalization ever since,” she said.
Miller maintains nothing is change, they’re just serving better.
“This isn’t just us trying to force our will. The community has supported us for 120 years we are contributing by taking people who are at the lowest point in their life and returning them into a place they can be a productive member of society,” said Miller.
Miller said another public hearing will follow Thursday’s as well.