Crime, violence and conditions in which people "are living like pigs" has turned a notorious apartment complex in Tampa, Fla., into a stain on the neighborhood. In the stairwell of the Central Court Apartments is where police shot and killed a 16-year-old who they said was armed last July, sparking a firestorm of controversy in the community. (Family and friends, however, have said he was not armed.) While that outrage still lingers, local officials are hoping a new measure will help heal the pain of reeling residents and wipe clean the bad reputation of the complex: a total renovation.
Tampa City Council leaders and Mayor Bob Buckhorn announced that they are putting $2.5 million toward the rehab of Central Court in hopes that the improvements will curb violence at the complex, the Tampa Bay Times reported. The upgrades will include a security gate at the front of the complex, new security cameras throughout the building, landscaping and other rehab work to the courtyard, and new cabinets, floors, dishwashers and air-conditioning units for all 68 apartments.
"It was a tragic incident that took place that brought a lot of tension in this community," said Councilman Frank Reddick at a news conference. "You will see a complete transformation of this complex, and it's going to be beautiful." Residents of Central Court said they've been complaining about problems at the complex for years. Michael Molinari, vice president of Southport Development, told Tampa station Bay News 9 that his company has been trying to get funding to renovate Central Court for three years -- long before last year's tragic shooting death of 16-year-old Javon Neal. But for residents, it's never too late.
"This is going to change a whole lot of other kids' lives up in here, and maybe they will be able to live in peace instead of having to dodge and run from bullets," Neal's mother, Kethessa Fordoms, told Bay News 9. In an interview with Tampa's ABC Action News, Fordoms added: "I think it's a better chance that these kids can come up doing right now, because all they got is negativity around them. They are living like pigs."
Central Court resident Vernette Jackson (pictured above left), who has lived in her apartment for 13 years and said Neal was a family friend, told ABC Action News that her own family doesn't want to come visit her at her home because of the complex's reputation. "I have nieces, nephews -- I know they don't like to come over here no more," she said as tears streamed down her face. "And these are babies. Just imagine how a baby feels -- well, imagine how a grown-up feels." Jackson took ABC Action News into her apartment, where there is a hole in the wall under her A/C unit, cracks in her kitchen, a bathroom floor that has been ruined by leaks and a closet that leaks when it rains. "When it rains real, real hard, I have to take all my clothes and put them on the bed," Jackson said of the closet leak.
The renovations to the complex are set to start in April and be completed by Christmastime. In the case of the death of 16-year-old Neal, police said the teen was pointing a gun at them and they shot him in self-defense. Residents who witnessed the shooting, however, have said that Neal was not armed and put his hands up when police told him to, but the authorities pulled the trigger anyway.