TAMPA, Fla. — It’s an empty lot in West Tampa now, but in the future, Councilman Joseph Citro imagines something very different for the 18-acre property west of the Hillsborough River on North Rome Avenue.
“Community, community, community," he said. "This is where people can actually walk or bike or take scooters and be able to wake up in the morning and go grab a cup of coffee, or go grab a breakfast somewhere, stroll down to Julian B. Lane Park, get some work down at the collaborative center, maybe grocery shopping.”
The project is called Rome Yard and Citro said the $300 million development could transform not only the empty lot but also the area around it.
“This is going to be the destination, if you will, of that area, specifically Old West Tampa — bringing it back to its glory days of the past," he said.
The City of Tampa selected a developer, Related Urban Development Group, for the site in the spring. During a meeting on Wednesday night, city leaders, the developer, and their partners gathered to hear the community’s feedback before they break ground on the project, which they say will include a whole list of facilities and amenities.
That will include plenty of space for offices, shops and restaurants, a job training center, an art and cultural center, green space, an amphitheater, and 954 homes, two-thirds of which the city guarantees will be affordable.
"Housing affordability is crucial right now," said Carole Post, the administrator for the city's Department of Development and Economic Opportunity. "So we will really have market-rate units down to units that are reserved for those who earn no more than 50 percent of our AMI, which is our lower earners of our community."
According to the city website, the AMI or average median income in the city is about $50,000.
“While it’s located in the West River neighborhood and West Tampa, and it’s incredibly important to that neighborhood and that area, it really impacts our entire city," said Post.
After hearing from a packed room of voices from all over Tampa in the Wednesday night session, the city will move forward with the permitting and studies it's required to complete before breaking ground on Rome Yard in late 2021 or early 2022.
Citro can hardly wait.
“I’m hoping that this is one of the first steps this city council’s going to take to make sure that 40 years from now we all remember that we did the right thing at the right time," he said.
Many of the voices present at Wednesday's meeting said the project's commitment to affordable housing is music to their ears.
That said, those folks also say they'd like to see more of it across the city.
"This project is awesome. I think it's very critical for that neighborhood, in particular, I think they have the right mindset about it. But why are we not talking about affordable housing in south Tampa? I know it's crazy to think about but we aren't talking about it," said Nathan Hagan, an affordable housing advocate.
The project also boasts a commitment to partner with locally owned black businesses. It was revealed at the meeting that project leaders will reserve a quarter of their contracts for those business owners.
That's something small business owner Elizabeth Racker likes, though she says there's room for improvement.
"Tampa has been lacking in connecting small businesses to the community," said Racker. "I was thinking they were going to have a work-live concept for small businesses. I think it's still in the works and I'm doing my best trying to plug it in their ears because it's something that we definitely need."
The city says the plan is to hold two more of these feedback meetings before breaking ground.
Their goal is to have this project finished in six years.