Encore Tampa: A Lesson for Urban Jacksonville

May 19, 2010 36 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

While LaVilla, Brooklyn, and the Shipyards remain in ruins, a major urban infill project, partially funded with federal stimulus dollars as a part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, recently broke ground in downtown Tampa. What can Jacksonville learn and apply from our neighbor to the South?


Project Timeline: http://www.encoretampa.com/rich-history.php

Central Avenue was Tampa's version of Jacksonville's LaVilla and Ashley Street.  It was the epicenter of the city's African-American community prior to desegregation.

Without question, the Central Park area is one of Tampa’s most culturally and historically rich neighborhoods. With Central Avenue serving as the economic engine, Central Park was once a thriving African-American business and entertainment district. The late Ray Charles recorded his first song, Found My Baby There, while residing at 813 Short Emery St. It was during a Central Park performance that Hank Ballard and the Midnighters asked the kids in the audience the name of the dance they were performing. The kids shouted, “The Twist.” Hank later wrote and recorded the legendary song that launched Chubby Checker into the limelight. Portions of the 1964 movie, Black Like Me, starring James Whitmore, were filmed along Central Avenue.

Despite its achievements, the neighborhood could not escape the racial and economic struggles that prevailed in many inner-city neighborhoods during the 1960’s. A racial disturbance in 1967 helped seal the demise of the Central Avenue business corridor. Since then, neglect and disenfranchisement have largely characterized the area.

In an effort to stimulate growth, Tampa City Council adopted the Central Park Community Redevelopment Plan in June 2006. The plan identifies measures to foster public/private partnerships that will help maximize redevelopment investment in a manner that respects the unique history and is inclusive of the community’s vision for the neighborhood.


Encore Tampa development site:  This project will be developed between Downtown Tampa, the Channel District and Ybor City.

With vistas of and easy access to Downtown, Ybor City and Channelside, the Central Park area promises to become a new urban neighborhood of residents, restaurants, shops, parks, and businesses. Our long-term redevelopment efforts continue to focus on supporting the vision of Bank of America and the Tampa Housing Authority to transform the former Central Park Village public housing complex into a new 28 acre mixed-use, mixed-income community called Encore. By embracing the culturally rich history of the neighborhood's past and the best principles of high density urban living, Encore will set the direction for a distinctive rebirth of the Central Park area.

Tuesday's groundbreaking represents one of the first major projects in a part of downtown that's likely to look vastly different in five years. It's just blocks from a planned high-speed rail station and, possibly, a light-rail stop.

The seed for Encore was planted about seven years ago, when for-profit developers sought to include an overhaul of Central Park Village in a massive 157-acre community on the edge of downtown.

The project, called Civitas, went down in flames in 2004. With the deadline for a federal grant application looming, Hillsborough County commissioners refused to create a special taxing district to help pay for construction.

The Housing Authority came back with a smaller concept just for its 30-acre property, and commissioners approved the special taxing district in 2006.

More than 1,000 people were moved out of blighted Central Park Village apartments and promised an opportunity to return to new homes. The apartments were razed in 2007.

As the economy faltered, the project ground to a halt.

It got new life in January when HUD said the Tampa Housing Authority would receive stimulus money for Encore.


The development of Encore Tampa should be used as a good example for our community of how to make a massive urban redevelopment project a reality.

1. Diversify Ownership

The Encore Tampa site plan converts one mega site into several individual square block parcels. This plan gives the community a fair chance to plan and set aside integrated public space, street grid connectivity, and increase property tax rolls by setting aside key sites for private purchase and development.

Initial large scale urban redevelopment projects are difficult to get off the ground. In Jacksonville, this is evidenced by the death of the Shipyards and Brooklyn Park projects. Despite the recession, Encore Tampa has been able to move forward because the city created a plan that created individual parcels for multiple complementing projects, to be developed by both public and private entities.

2. Incorporating New & Old

Cities such as Savannah, Charleston and New Orleans have benefited tremendously from historic preservation. On the other hand, Jacksonville's downtown and unique urban history have suffered as a result of haphazard demolition. Despite being one of the few remaining buildings in Jacksonville and surviving the Great Fire of 1901, the Mount Moriah Church (above right) was demolished in anticipation of the now aborted Brooklyn Park project. With no infill development on the way, the Mount Moriah site is now another vacant overgrown lot in downtown Jacksonville.

Encore Tampa has taken another route. Instead of complete site demolition, a similar sized church (above left) has been preserved and will become a new African American history museum, anchoring the development's central park.

3. Stimulating Urban Redevelopment with Stimulus Money

Stimulus funds will be used to construct the initial mixed-use affordable housing buildings at Encore Tampa.

Jacksonville missed an opportunity to promote continued downtown redevelopment with stimulus funds. Instead, major highways and suburban road expansions were our primary focus when the stimulus opportunity presented itself.

On the other hand, stimulus money in Tampa will be used on a number of significant urban development projects. These include the urban grid road network and initial affordable housing buildings for Encore Tampa, as well as extending the existing streetcar line into downtown Tampa.

Encore is part of the remake of Central Park Village, an old public housing complex between downtown and Ybor City that has been in the works since 2003.

The economy stalled construction, but an influx of money from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has allowed work to begin on the first building. Dubbed Trio, it will hold 132 affordable housing units.

The final plan calls for housing for more than 1,700 people, a hotel, grocery store, offices, shops, a middle school, African-American history museum and park.

4. Walkable Community

Central Park Village Masterplan
NEW CONSTRUCTION: Mixed-Use Development on 12 city blocks. Collman & Karsky Architects, Inc. provided a master plan for this redevelopment area that covers approximately 12 city blocks on the edge of downtown Tampa. Located in the Central Park district, the mixed use plan calls for 2,000+ affordable and market rate residential units; retail, office, restaurants, hotel and grocery; and redesign of Perry Harvey Park. A new street grid will provide for 10 foot wide sidewalks and pedestrian friendly streetscape. A new linear park will connect Perry Harvey Park to the development and will include the renovation of a historic church to a museum showcasing the musical history of historical Central Park.

In Jacksonville, the Shipyards fate came down to the health of one developer, LandMar. With LandMar in charge, the Shipyard's plan became one that resembled a gated high density development with little interaction with the area surrounding 44-acre site. In addition, the thought of properly integrating public space became an afterthought.

On the other hand, Encore Tampa's plan promotes the idea of connectivity by including a street grid that provides multiple connections with the surrounding area and the creation of a publicly funded central park.

Once Encore Tampa is fully developed, it will be difficult to see the demarcation between it and the surrounding neighborhoods because it has been designed to be fully integrated with the community.

Article by Ennis Davis