Some West Tampa residents to Occupy Tampa: Clean up or get out
The neighborhood association around the Occupy Tampa encampment wants the group to go. People have been camping in Voice of Freedom Park since December. It’s privately owned which leaves the city and community without many options.
“What happened was, progressively more and more there was more trash and more tents that were junky looking.”
That was Mike Vannetta, president of the Old West Tampa Neighborhood Association. He’s also the area’s crime watch director. He said he doesn’t necessarily blame the political activist group, but there’s still a problem that needs to be addressed.
“For whatever reason, a lot of people who weren’t Occupy started coming and putting their tents up and they began to drink alcohol there and there was some drug activity and things going on there that we didn’t like. So, the neighborhood got together and said, ‘you know we need to get these people out of here because they’re making a mess of everything.’”
But it’s not that simple. The park is on loan indefinitely to Occupy Tampa by its owner, strip club mogul and entrepreneur Joe Redner. That means it’s private property and if Redner says they can stay, they can stay. And for now, that’s what he’s doing.
“There was people not in the park, not on the sidewalk at the park, but across the street from a bar – down the street – just a lot of people just hanging around. It would seem to me that they have more problems with people from the neighborhood than they would have from Occupy.”
But neighborhood association president Vannetta said city officials do have some options.
“What we’re asking them to do is to make sure that they are following code – make sure that they are healthy. There’s a couple urinals over there and the park, when you walk through, kind of smells a little bit.”
Vanetta said the association has given 100 signed petitions to city council, they have 100 more and letters of support from two church congregations. But according to the Tampa Police Department and Code Enforcement, there are no documented complaints about the park or people in it. Tampa City Council member Frank Reddick said he’ll hear from both of those departments on July 19th.
“If there’s some violations discovered, Mr. Redner will be advised of those violations and he will be given an opportunity to clean it up. If they’re not cleaned up than there is a possibility that he could be cited.”
Jake Vigness from Occupy Tampa said the group is working hard to clean up the park. Thanks in part to Tropical Storm Debbie, many tents were removed. Those remaining have been moved to a small corner of the park and a Tampa agency called Clean City has removed debris from the camp and surrounding areas.
“So, most of it is actually out of sight at this point and things have been brought down and we’ve sort of maximized our usage space. So, the park is actually much more open at this point and we’ve actually been getting a lot more foot traffic through there.”
And the whole thing could come to a crashing halt anyway. Redner said he has no plans to ask the group to vacate the park, but many of them have anyway.
“I just think that the Occupy movement here in Tampa is losing – not that I want it to or anything – is losing steam.”
Some members of Occupy Tampa and people in the community have grown weary of the occupation, saying the park has turned into more of a homeless tent city than an Occupy Movement encampment. Redner said his park is not the appropriate place to deal with Tampa’s rampant homeless population.
“I think we have to have, we have to address the homeless issue and I don’t think the city of Tampa is doing that at all.”
But Tampa city council’s Reddick said the city is doing something about it.
“We have a staff member and a Mayor administration who is looking at facilities that might be available in the city of Tampa to make this like a homeless shelter similar to the project they have in St. Pete.”
West Tampa’s Vannetta said whatever happens, the community just wants their park back.
“Basically, Joe Redner said that he wasn’t going to ask them to leave until the convention was over. After that, I’m hoping it’ll go back to being our park. I mean, it’s crape myrtle right now and that park’s loaded with crape myrtles we’d love to just have our park back and I think that will happen.”
Members of Occupy Tampa hosted a barbeque to talk to residents in the area about what they would like to see happen with the encampment and surrounding areas to appease everyone.
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