Plans to transform a blighted neighborhood on the outskirts of downtown took a step forward Tuesday, as housing and city officials broke ground on The Trio, a 141-unit apartment complex.
About 100 people attended the ceremony for what will be a cluster of three buildings. Some apartments will be leased at market rates; others will be available to tenants who qualify for subsidized rates based on their income. .
The Trio's groundbreaking will be followed by two more developments in the Encore project: a ribbon-cutting Tuesday for The Ella, a 160-unit senior apartment building, where tenants are expected to move in by the end of the month.
And, on Dec. 18, there will be a groundbreaking for The Reed, a second senior apartment building.
The Encore project began more than five years ago when the aging Central Park Village public housing complex was torn down. The vision was to transform the 28-acre site into a $450-million mixed-income village center with apartments, shops, a grocery store, bank, offices, a black history museum and possibly a condominium and a hotel.
"It took us time to do things we needed to do, but we're here," said Jerome Ryans, Tampa Housing Authority's chief executive officer. "We are going to make things happen in this community in a very, very positive way."
Within 60 days, Ryans hopes to announce construction plans for a grocery store.
"We've got the momentum going," he said. "We have a lot of people contacting us."
The housing authority, in partnership with Bank of America, has shepherded the project through obstacles presented by an economy and real estate market that cratered and a court case that threatened to derail the project.
"It's a great time for the community," said Rubin Padgett, a housing authority board member. "We're going to have something we're really, really proud of."
Funds for Encore have been cobbled together one step at a time from multiple federal, state and local sources. The housing authority is awaiting word on a $30 million federal grant for a fourth apartment building, The Tempo.
The Trio and The Reed – both about $30-million projects – will be ready for leasing in 2015.
The Encore site sits at the heart of what was once a thriving black business and entertainment district centered along Central Avenue. Plans over the years have focused on honoring that history.
Roads through Encore are named Ray Charles Boulevard and Hank Ballard Street. The Ella is named for singer Ella Fitzgerald. She was among many black entertainers who performed at local clubs and stayed at nearby boarding houses, which during segregation were the only lodging available to blacks.
Nearly 1,300 residents were relocated to other public housing when Central Park Village was torn down. Some of those residents will be among the tenants at The Ella and the additional apartment buildings now under construction.
Tampa poet laureate James Tokley marked The Trio's groundbreaking Tuesday with a new poem honoring the community's musical legacy but also the "orphans of Central who travelled so far".
Community activist Aaron Smith said Encore pulls together the past and future.
"We never lost sight of the vision, which was to bring us all together," he said. "Now we are talking about what is and what will come. It's fantastic to be part of something historic."