Sulphur Springs neighborhood is getting a facelift including demolishing dilapidated houses

01/29/13 Janelle Irwin
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The City of Tampa plans to knock out blight in some at-risk neighborhoods. Most of the attention is on the Sulphur Springs neighborhood where Mayor Bob Buckhorn had some fun with a giant claw this morning.

“Now if I were you, I would hide the children and move out of the way because I’m going to knock this building down.”

And so he did.

Buckhorn took to the controls of a giant excavator to bring the condemned house down as part of a new neighborhood revitalization program called the Nehemiah project. In all, 51 inhabitable homes will be demolished over the coming months – most of which are in Sulphur Springs north of the Hillsborough River. All of the homes are abandoned and have been condemned by the city.

“And if you don’t deal with them, and you don’t eradicate them, that cancer spreads to that house, and to that house, and to that house … because these abandoned houses – these derelict houses become not only eyesores, but they can become places where the drug dealers and the prostitutes and the gangs move in and take over the neighborhoods and we are just not going to tolerate that in our community.”

More than a dozen city staffers and some Tampa Police personnel including Chief Jane Castor watched the house crumble. But neighbors also spilled out into the street to see what was going on. One of them was Reeshemah McCoy-Green who lives across the street. McCoy-Green held her 3-year-old daughter Legacy as she thanked the Mayor for helping to clean up the neighborhood where her family lives.

“I’ve seen so much crime around here. I’ve been scared- my house has been broken into quite a few times and the Robinsons around here [has] been so helpful. Right now, I’m seeing that so much is getting done and I’m seeing hope in this area. I’m seeing the love of the community right here where I didn’t even know we had this much love. To walk outside my door and to actually see it is just amazing. Thank y’all so much.”

McCoy-Green referred to the Robinsons. That’s Joseph Robinson, the president of the neighborhood association in Sulphur Springs. He’s happy about the Mayor’s plans for his community, but doesn’t want the effort to stop at demolishing dilapidated homes.

“After he does this, I would like him to address the absentee landlords that are here in the community … you know when you get the microphone, you got to hold on to it because you don’t get this opportunity all the time. So, now that I have it, Mayor …”

Robinson added there are multiple agencies at play that can help get Sulphur Springs back to a thriving community for residents and businesses.

“And with them taking care of the absentee landlords and dealing with the tenants, when they come together, that will transpose this whole neighborhood and that’s the final piece of it.”

The city is also brightening the neighborhood through a program Mayor Buckhorn is calling “Bright Lights, Safe Nights.”

“We’re not only with the help of TECO going to trim a lot of the foliage that has overgrown the street lights, but we are going to put in a total of, I believe, 8,400 street lights in some of our at-risk neighborhoods to make sure that the neighborhoods there have a safe environment and that the streets are safer as well. This week, 33 new street lights will be installed in a four block radius around this area.”

Once homes are demolished, the city will maintain the properties and devote three code enforcement employees to the neighborhood to help keep things clean. So far there aren’t any plans for the vacant lots. For now though, Buckhorn is still charged from his chance to play with heavy machinery.

“The only thing better was when I got to fire the 50-calliber machine gun with the special operations guys.”

The demolition cost is about $5,500 each property. That project is being paid for through the city’s general fund.

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