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Man who bought historic Black cemetery at Tampa auction says he had no clue he was buying a graveyard

Alexis Arteaga says he regularly purchases foreclosed properties through county auction but says the land was not listed as a cemetery.

TAMPA, Fla. — The man who recently bought a historic Black cemetery in Tampa told 10 Investigates on Friday he had no idea he was buying a graveyard when he purchased the 20-acre piece of land in January.

“I had never heard of the cemetery before,” Alexis Arteaga of 2715 West Sligh LLC said of Memorial Park Cemetery in East Tampa.

The cemetery is more than 100 years old, and according to the city of Tampa, the owners established it as a resting place for Black veterans of the world wars.

After Memorial Park Cemetery's most recent owner, John Robinson, died a few years ago, the city of Tampa announced it would take over maintenance of the cemetery.

"This particular cemetery was abandoned, so the city took it over [and] ensured that it is kept in a manner that reflects that respect that we have for everyone who is buried here," Mayor Jane Castor said at a January 2022 news conference.

The city's role in maintaining the cemetery did not involve taking ownership of the land. However, the city did foreclose on the property, leading to it being placed for auction in a county sale in January.

Records show 2715 West Sligh LLC was the highest bidder at $18,000. Arteaga says after taxes and fees he spent closer to $30,000.

Arteaga says he buys and resells houses and foreclosed lands for a living. He says he checks the foreclosure listings in Hillsborough County at 10 a.m. every day to look for opportunities, saw the land value on this listing and purchased it.

10 Investigates found the listing only had an address and was not recorded as a cemetery. The auction for the property took place within minutes — it closed at 10:04 a.m. on Jan. 6 after opening at 10 a.m.

Regarding plans for the property, Arteaga said he usually sells for profit but wants to first offer the opportunity to the city. If the city doesn’t buy it, he hopes a non-profit or church will take it on.

“A cemetery business is not my business,” Arteaga said.

10 Investigates reached out to the city of Tampa about the future of this property and possible negotiations. Spokesperson Adam Smith said in an email, “This is a protected and historically important property, and hopefully, the owner understands that. He can reach out to the city if he is interested in selling, but obviously, we are not going to negotiate through the media.”

Memorial Park Cemetery is one of several in the Tampa Bay area that has struggled to survive over the last century. In the last three years, archaeologists have found hundreds of graves from destroyed and erased cemeteries under apartments, schools and businesses.

Emerald Morrow is an investigative reporter with 10 Tampa Bay. Like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter. You can also email her at emorrow@10TampaBay.com

To read more about the search for lost African American cemeteries in the Tampa Bay area, head to wtsp.com/erased.

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