Transforming Tampa Bay: TBX roadkill

Donna Craig had a plan. By 60, the graphic artist/belly dancer/chef would be in her mortgage-free home realizing a long-standing ambition.

“I sold my South Tampa home and paid cash for a historic home facing a park with a side yard where I could park my dream… a food truck!”

The front porch of Donna’s red brick home in Tampa Heights overlooks Robles Lake Park, a gathering spot for birds and children. “I consider this area a sanctuary for nature and people,” she muses. “So you can imagine how shocked I was to get a letter from a California lawyer after we’d been here six months telling me that my house was doomed.”

Fannie Mae, from whom she’d just purchased the property, had not disclosed that the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) was planning to widen the interstate under a plan called TBX (Tampa Bay Expressway), and that Donna’s home would be destroyed in 2021. Torn down. Eliminated.

The red-haired entrepreneur is nothing if not plucky. She has stubbornly refused to give in to the Highway Industrial Complex, posting Stop TBX signs in her yard and planting fruit trees and a garden.

The nagging question of her property’s future colors decisions about how much to invest in a new kitchen and bathroom renovations. The maps from the state show her home being eliminated, but adjacent land remaining intact.

Could the historic nature of her 1940s home, with its inlaid floors and rounded front door, win it a reprieve?

In the meantime, Donna’s Tree Dog Roots Food Truck is lined with customers eager for her smashed potatoes with brisket, unaware of her dilemma. She is moving ahead with her dream, hopeful that FDOT will rethink its plans to again divide this community.

(UPDATE: According to maps at the FDOT PDX office that opened March 28, Donna Craig's home is not shown as scheduled for demolition, despite letters she received to the contrary.)

Meanwhile, in the VM Ybor neighborhood, when young architect Chris Vela heard the news about the proposed interstate widening yards from his home, he jumped into action. He founded a not-for-profit group, Sunshine Citizens, and began working to defeat the TBX proposal.

A Tampa native, Chris grew up in South Tampa and attended Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), returning here in 2003. He moved into the emerging VM Ybor area eight years ago. His father-in-law restored his 1900 bungalow, preserving the distinctive architectural details — millwork on the front porch, brick piers supporting tapered columns, a traditional “shotgun” profile, long and skinny with a pitched roof — that contribute to its historic designation.

While Chris is a soft-spoken, mild-mannered fellow, he becomes animated when elaborating on all the problems created for this area by FDOT. “TBX is not a done deal. The $6 billion they [FDOT] are preparing to spend is a terrible waste of money and it destroys people’s lives. Plus, it’s not the right answer to our transportation problems.”

Vela spends every weekend spreading the word and rallying support to stop TBX. From his table near Indie Flea last month, he was selling T-shirts, yard signs, bumper stickers and pins, all emblazoned with the distinctive “Stop TBX” logo. The sale of this merchandise underwrites the efforts of the group.

He patiently explains the TBX proposal, its impacts, and why it should be defeated. “I’m putting all my energy into letting people know what they can do to stop this terrible blow to Tampa.”

LaVora Edwards, her sister and her mother all live next to Taliaferro Street in Ybor Heights. After she retired from 22 years in the Army, LaVora bought her home next to her family’s homes and felt really settled… until the letter arrived from FDOT.

“I was completely floored! I had no idea that this plan was underway. When I was buying my home, no one said a thing.” LaVora was also upset by the fact that while her home is slated for demolition, the house across the street, which her sister owns, is not.

“I don’t understand the thinking of FDOT in determining which homes remain and which are to be demolished.” She knows that many in the black community have no idea that TBX is slated to impact their lives.

“So many people’s lives were disrupted during the original interstate construction. We know better now. We can’t allow this to happen again.”

Linda Saul-Sena, a Tampa City Councilwoman from 1987-2010, is a vocal opponent of TBX and has led protests against it.

Scroll to read more News Feature articles
Join the Creative Loafing Tampa Bay Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state.
Help us keep this coverage going with a one-time donation or an ongoing membership pledge.


Join Creative Loafing Tampa Bay Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Creative Loafing Tampa Bay. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Creative Loafing Tampa Bay, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at [email protected]