Article by Ennis Davis, AICP
History of Central Park (The Scrub)
Known as The Scrub, Central Park’s Central Avenue was considered to be Tampa’s version of the Harlem of the South. (Tampa Bay History Center)
Tampa’s first African-American neighborhood, The Scrub was settled shortly after the Civil War by freemen and emancipated enslaved from the area. Significant growth came with the extension of Henry Plant’s railroad in 1883 and the introduction of the cigar industry two years later. From the 1890s through the first half of the 20th century, Central Avenue just north of Downtown Tampa, was the center of black life in the city and the Bay Area’s “Harlem of the South.”
Notable residents included Ray Charles, who recorded his first song, Found My Baby There, after living in the city briefly following his moves from Orlando, Jacksonville and St. Augustine during the late 1940s. It also served as the location for the movie, Black Like Me, staring James Whitmore in 1964.
The Central Hotel in 1942. (University of South Florida)
Despite it being one of Tampa’s most culturally and historically significant neighborhoods, beginning in the 1950s, the construction of Interstate 4 and access to federal funds were used to eliminate the vibrant black business district from existence. During the 1950s, much of the neighborhood was razed and replaced with the Central Park Village public housing complex. By 1970, the once vibrant Central Avenue district had been ripped apart with the construction of Interstate 4, Interstate 275 and the Cass-Orange Connector.
In 2006, the Tampa City Council adopted the Central Park Community Redevelopment Plan in an effort to stimulate growth in the area. More than 1,000 residents were relocated as a part of the razing of the deteriorating public housing complex. Plans for a pedestrian friendly 28-acre mixed-use, mixed-income development called Encore Tampa moved forward in 2010 as a result of receiving federal stimulus funds. Intended to be a city within a city, the development at build-out will consist of 2,030 residential units, 50,000 square feet of commercial retail space, 59,000 square feet of office space including a hotel, supermarket, restoration of a historic church into a history museum and community center, parking restoration and a town center. Four of the 11 pads will consist of Tampa Housing Authority (THA) owned affordable Housing market rate rental mixed income rental units.
Now that a full decade has passed since it was announced that the project would receive stimulus money to get off the ground, here is a virtual tour of where the rebirth of the lost neighborhood now stands.
Central Park Community Redevelopment Area Map (City of Tampa)