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A vision of Zion: Rendering shows how erased Black cemetery space could be revitalized

Architects have visualized what the space could look like, if given the opportunity to restore the area.
Credit: Tampa Housing Authority

TAMPA, Fla. — More than a year after a whistleblower led archaeologists to hundreds of graves from a segregation-era African American cemetery underneath a public housing development and two neighboring businesses in Tampa, architects have visualized what the space could look like, if given the opportunity to restore the area.

Tampa Housing Authority Chief Operating Officer Leroy Moore said architects presented the rendering as an early visioning concept. While he reiterated it is not a final design, he said THA hopes to incorporate the land that comprises Zion Cemetery into the larger redevelopment proposal of Robles Park Village.

RELATED: Archaeologists find artifacts from Tampa’s first Black cemetery as they confirm lost graves

RELATED: Community, city leaders clash over how to restore destroyed Black cemetery

In 2019, a Tampa Bay Times investigation revealed that hundreds of graves from Zion Cemetery were missing and suggested they could be underneath Robles Park Village, a public housing apartment complex located off N. Florida Avenue in Tampa.

Ground-penetrating radar and physical archaeological digs later confirmed the presence of coffins underground. Radar images also confirmed graves on an adjacent towing lot and a property owned by local businessman Richard Gonzmart.

In total, archaeologists detected nearly 300 graves from the cemetery.

RELATED: Lost African American grave discoveries highlight need for affordable housing

RELATED: At least 115 more graves from Zion Cemetery found at Gonzmart property

Since then, the Tampa Housing Authority formed a committee comprising housing authority leaders, residents and leaders from Robles Park, the NAACP and the city of Tampa. Archaeologists who worked on the investigation as well as lawmakers are also part of the group.

Moore said at Thursday’s meeting that the visual concept suggests reimaging Zion as a memorial along with a walking path and history/cultural trail. He emphasized the designs are not final and that further discussion will take place over the next six months.

Architects were brought in as part of a redevelopment process for all of Robles Park Village. The plan is to turn it into a mixed-use community that will overhaul what traditional public housing looks like in Tampa.

It will be the last of the major public housing units in the city to be redeveloped. THA is currently in the late stages of redeveloping the former site of North Boulevard Homes in West Tampa.

Redevelopment of Robles Park Village is expected to impact hundreds of residents.

RELATED: Changing Face of Tampa: Winners and losers in the push for redevelopment

RELATED: Faces of Robles: How living on a forgotten cemetery changed their lives

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

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