Much-anticipated park helps connect, improve University Area

After four years of planning and hard work, the University Area's Harvest Hope Park is officially open to the public. The park is complete with a sports field, a playground, a community garden and even a pond where residents can fish for their dinner. 

However, the park is just one of many features added over the years by the University Area CDC with the goal of bringing new life to Tampa's University Area community. 

For years, the University Area CDC has been a lifeline for a struggling community, helping them get back on their feet and giving them the tools needed to succeed.

"That's what we're trying to do is really engage residents and help them be a part of what we're creating, because they need to be the ones that are going to make the change," said Sarah Combs, the University Area CDC's CEO.

Their latest project was the seven-acre Harvest Hope Park, constructed right in the heart of the University Area. 

"They wanted a safe place for their kids to play, they wanted an area they could meet other residents and form those social bonds of connectivity, so we decided to start in the heart of the community and build a park," Combs explained.

But the park has done more than just beautify the area.

"It was just a vacant land; vacant land that wasn't getting used in a positive way," said Combs. "It wasn't safe either. Since we started activity on the park, we've been able to decrease crime 42% on these seven acres."

From programs designed to get the community engaged with literature and the arts, to helping residents achieve home ownership, the University Area CDC is making a difference by helping residents fight the status quo.

"[I'm] really excited what we have here, and what's still to come," said Combs.

For residents in the area, the change is evident. 

"Before, this area was just woods. Now, the kids actually have a park!" exclaimed Damian Gordon, a local resident who spends his time taking care of the park and interacting with others in the community.

Little by little, progress can be seen. 

"Now, we actually have sidewalks! Before that, we didn't have a sidewalk so people were just walking in the middle of the street. All the way around this park, we actually have a sidewalk that the kids can walk and be safe."

The University Area CDC still has more projects in the works to continue improving the community. To learn more about their organization, visit www.uacdc.org.