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."
Joe and Melissa P. saved this 1904 South Wayne, Wis., farmhouse with seven bedrooms -- but no indoor plumbing. The house had been abandoned since the 1970s, and the remodel took 13 months (including work done during their engagement and wedding plans).
The project included a new roof, new siding, new windows, and the restoration of three porches. Inside, of course, they added all-new plumbing (and two bathrooms) and finished all the rooms (they'd been previously occupied by raccoons, honeybees and other critters). The couple even restored all of the house's original trim and doors.
Walt and Patricia Purcell saw this Petersburg, Va., cottage while visiting their son and daughter-in-law. The kids had bought the adjacent, larger house as a vacation getaway -- and potential retirement spot for their parents. The house wasn't much to look at, really. Abandoned for 20 years after a fire, the windows and doors were missing, charred or boarded up. There was no flooring downstairs, and its water-damaged plaster was crumbling. Squirrels ran in and out, and birds nested in the clawfoot tub. Yet there was a certain charm to the place. The old brick, dating from the 1850s, had wonderful color, the window lintels were solid granite, and the upstairs had heart-pine floors.
With just four rooms, it seemed like it could be a cozy home. So in May 2006, Walt and Patricia moved into the main house. Patricia cried that first night and asked Walt if they were doing the right thing, taking on this rundown little house in a slowly revitalizing urban area. But by the next morning, that moment of doubt had passed.
The homeowner gutted it completely and tore off the two attached garages, raised the roof for a second story, and added two bedrooms and a full bath, a front porch, an entryway, and a sunroom on the first floor. It took five years to complete, and they tried to use as much salvaged material as possible in the renovation.
Vic and Cindy Young never planned on ending up back in Ohio. But when their four children settled in the Midwest, coming home started to look like a pretty good idea. "We decided to find a place where they would all be able to come down in just one day to visit us," Vic says. But not just any place. They wanted a historic house in a historic town. And since Vic, a full-time restorer of old houses, was hankering for a new DIY project, it wouldn't hurt if the place was a fixer-upper.
Set atop a steep hillside overlooking the Ohio River in the town of Ripley, the 1840s Italianate had original double-hung windows crowned with drip lintels, columns flanking a wide front porch, and broad eaves supported by ornate brackets. "It looked so forlorn up there on the hill," Vic recalls of the house, which had stood abandoned for decades. "There were more majestic houses to be found, but this one spoke to both of us."
After a year of work, with a lot of help from friends, the couple had a new kitchen, an extra bedroom, a bathroom twice the size, and a house that looks like the ghosts are gone -- all for under $35,000.
This Craftsman-style bungalow in Houston was built in 1910. It survived an extended economic downturn but suffered from a segregated floorplan, a severely outdated kitchen and bathroom, and a neglected yard. David S. wanted to add modern amenities while maintaining its historic character.
The homeowner replaced all of the systems, opened up the floor plan, and added a bigger kitchen, a master bed and bath, a den, and a laundry room. He boosted the curb appeal by removing overgrowth, brightening up the paint job, and adding some colorful landscaping. David did all of the design work himself; with much help from This Old House, of course!
This circa 1900 home in Marietta, Ga., had served as a rooming house for decades when Marion S. snapped it up. With help from a historic-home architect and a builder, Marion and her family sussed out the home's original layout and began work.
After lifting the house, digging a new foundation, re-creating a porch, and refinishing all the doors and woodwork, the house was so beautiful that the architect won an award for the renovation from the local historical society.
When Rick and Michelle D. saw this 1876 Italianate, the vegetation was overgrown, all the windows had been broken, the front porch was falling off, the roof had six layers of shingles, the interior was sagging, and it had been set on fire a few times. But it also had original tin ceilings, hardwood floors, 4 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, and some beautiful carving on the front gable. So they bought it for $1.
Kara O'Brien wanted to buy this house from the first time she laid eyes on it. "It was just so sad looking. I thought, I need to fix it up." The 1911 bungalow was one of three vintage houses that sat in a row on the same block in the Kirkwood neighborhood of Atlanta, Georgia. While the area was starting to revitalize, the house bore the marks of its rough recent history: Iron bars secured the living room windows, and bullets were lodged in the siding. "Still, the solid heart-pine house had character and potential, even if its cedar shingles and roof were rotting from neglect. We desperately wanted to save it. But the owner, who showed up every three months to mow the lawn, refused to sell, though he rented it just once in five years."
Kara settled for the house next door. But five years later, the owner changed his mind, and they leaped at their chance. They bought the house in 2005 and immediately began gutting the space -- but saved everything of value. A few weeks into the project, while on vacation in Puerto Rico, Kara got word that the third vintage house on our block had been set on fire, and the blaze threatened both the house she was working on and the one she was living in. Both homes survived with no structural damage, but it was a close call.
Scott C. in Milford, N.H., picked up this eyesore on a main street. He managed to look beyond the surface and saw a solid building form with potential, nestled among Victorian, Colonial and Craftsman neighbors.
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.