TAMPA — West Tampa is one of Tampa's most historic and diverse neighborhoods. Now two business owners with Latin roots are excited about the future of the area.
ABC Action News reporter Michael Paluska sat down with the owners of New Age Reprographics, Alex Prieto, and Gulf Tile Distributors of Florida, Frank John Garcia.
Both men are on the board for the West Tampa Chamber of Commerce, and both agree West Tampa is slowly changing for the better.
"Things are definitely evolving," Prieto said. "We are starting to see a lot more growth; the real simple way is to see some cleanup."
Prieto grew up a few blocks from his current business on Columbus Dr. And N MacDill Avenue.
"West Tampa means quite a bit to me personally, but not just to me, but to our community as well," Prieto said. It's the melting pot. It's the microcosm of our whole city. So, you have different ethnicities. I'm Cuban. My family is Cuban, so it has a lot to do with things as well the cigar factories, the culture, the flavor that it has."
Prieto is celebrating his 11th year in business and says the area is growing.
"We first came to this plaza. There were two or three other businesses in here the plaza. It is pretty much full now."
West Tampa is also centrally located. Prieto compares it to Kennedy Boulevard with a lot less traffic.
Garcia quietly celebrated the company's 60th Anniversary during COVID-19. A big party to mark the occasion canceled. In their 61st year, Garcia said the pandemic taught them a lot of things about running a more efficient and productive business.
The showroom is now apportionment only. And Garcia said their sales team's core focus is on the trades and commercial builders. They also launched a central delivery location to meet demand. When it comes to West Tampa, Garcia said it needs more polish.
"In a lot of ways, it needs to be beautified. I don't think our building is that beautiful. But, our inside is, you know, and I think the more that we are taking care of how we look is going to attract more people," Garcia said.
The City of Tampa labeled West Tampa as an opportunity zone. Major projects along the Hillsborough River are in the works for a mixed-use development area. The plan will focus on upgrading the infrastructure, roads, building affordable housing, hotels, retail, and office space.
With the area gentrifying, both Garcia and Prieto hope the builders will honor the past.
"The interesting thing about Tampa it's a melange, and it really emanated from the cigar industry," Garcia said. "You have the immigrants from Cuba, Spain, and Sicily, and I'm a mongrel of all those three, and we are termed as Latin we are not termed as Cuban as Italian in Tampa you just consider any one of those as Latin, and that's really cool."
"I'd like to see Tampa keep its flavor but continue to grow so that the whole country, maybe even the world, get to see what it is we love so much about Tampa," Prieto said. "Tampa is no longer that little town a lot of us can feel it still has that small-town atmosphere, but we are a big city now."