In Tampa's 'it' neighborhood, murders worry Seminole Heights business owners

Dozens of new businesses have opened up in the area within the past two years.

TAMPA, Fla. –  It’s a neighborhood that’s been rattled by three mysterious murders in a two-week time span.

Seminole Heights is making national headlines now. Before that, it was already a neighborhood making headlines locally, but for a much different reason.

In 2015, our reporting partners at the Tampa Bay Times declared Seminole Heights the "it spot for hot restaurants, bars."

Dozens of new businesses have opened up in the area within the past two years. Residential investments have followed, too. All of it amounts to a lot of time and money invested to improve the area’s reputation.

But a recent string of mysterious and seemingly random murders in the area has some in the business community worried recent progress could be slowed or totally upended.

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“I hope this is not something that’s going to tarnish the reputation of what is a very up and coming very interesting neighborhood that’s able to provide a lot of new concepts and new things that you can’t really get elsewhere,” said Eric Bloomquist, assistant manager at Ichicoro Ramen.

Opened in 2015, Ichicoro was Tampa Bay’s first Ramen House. With the restaurant’s two year anniversary quickly approaching, Bloomquist said he hopes the recent murders do not cause people to be fearful of the area.

“It’s about not allowing ourselves to disrupt our normal lives but continue to support this neighborhood as it’s trying to be a friendly spot for everybody,” he said.

The restaurant has become a major draw for diners coming from outside of the neighborhood, something that hasn't changed in wake of the killings, Bloomquist said.

“People who are coming from South Tampa, St. Pete, Clearwater, even as far away as Sarasota, still seem to feel comfortable coming to this area," he said.

"It actually seems like the locals are more concerned, the people who rely on walking to their favorite bar or restaurant or riding their bike.” 

But for businesses located away from busy N. Florida Ave, traffic from outsiders has noticeably slowed a bit, said Natalia Mendez, a manager at Olde Heights Bistro, located off N Nebraska Ave. in the southeast corner of Seminole Heights.

“I have had people cancel reservations," Mendez said. "If they’re not from the neighborhood, they’re not going to want to come to the neighborhood.”

She says the bistro, compared to the slew of restaurants and breweries on Florida Ave., has always been more of a go-to for locals anyway since it opened in 2014.

Mendez, who lives in the neighborhood near where the murders happened, says she's noticed a significant increase in police presence, which she welcomes.

She says, if anything, the recent killings have made people who live in the area more neighborly toward one another.

"I walk around, I ride my bike everywhere… more than anything you see people walking down the streets, and especially at night, they’re looking each other in the eyes, saying 'hello,'” Mendez said.

Investigators have been unable to find any link between the three victims, but they remain convinced the murders are somehow connected.

Interim Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan has stopped short of using the term ‘serial killer.’

The search continues for a person of interest wearing a hoodie seen in surveillance video in the area on the night of the first murder.

A $25,000 reward is being offered by Crime Stoppers of Tampa Bay and ATF for information leading to an arrest and conviction in the killings.

Anyone with information is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 800-873-TIPS.

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