Tampa Bay area tops list of best places for veterans to live: Survey

Tampa Bay was voted number one when it comes to the best place to live for veterans, according to a new nationwide survey released Friday.

Mortgage lender Veterans United Home Loans found Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater ranked first out of 500 cities.

"It’s amazing. I was so excited when I reviewed the report and found that not only number one on best cities in the country but also number one on best large cities in the country," said Lisa Sparks, a realtor with Jason Mitchell Real Estate in Hillsborough County.

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She said about 80 percent of her clients served in the military, so she sees what draws them here. She also has a personal connection with her husband, a disabled veteran who receives care at a local VA hospital.

"A lot of people seek out MacDill to end their military career so that they can finish that career and plant their roots here in the Tampa Bay area," said Sparks. "I’m always so proud to work with veteran clients and bring them into homes. Sometimes it’s their first home when they come here, and sometimes it’s their forever home."

Sparks said veterans and their families are looking for the quality of the VA healthcare facilities in the area. They’re also looking for great activities for all ages and access to fresh foods. The fact that Florida has no state income tax is also a plus.

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Some veterans are also looking to start their own businesses, like Scott Neil did. A retired Army Green Beret, Neil owns Horse Solider Bourbon and its restaurant, Urban StillHouse in St. Petersburg.

"I was one of the first members of the Florida Veterans Entrepreneurial boot camp, and it was an initiative at the time to teach veterans how to realize their dreams and start your own business and that was eight years ago," said Neil, the president of Horse Soldier Bourbon. "So, today we’re the fastest growing bourbon company in the country right, and it all started here."

Then there's the built-in community with MacDill Air Force Base, and it’s visible in halls of places like Tampa’s American Legion Post 5.

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"This area has always been very good to veterans and active duty," said Robert Radlein, the judge advocate at American Legion Post 5. "I’m a Vietnam Veteran and if you know your history, we weren’t treated very well when we returned. But this place has always been welcoming."

And now the nation knows, and many veterans wouldn’t have chosen any other place.

"Why Tampa Bay? Why not? It’s probably the best place to retire out of anywhere," said Neil. "You’ll come because there’s a sunset. You’ll come because there’s a great community of veterans. You’ll come because you’ll want your kids to grow up and bring their kids here, too."

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