TAMPA, FLA.—Metro 510, a new affordable housing development, is surrounded by history.

Built in the shadow of St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church, its purpose is to provide 120 units of housing for Tampa's working families. It also inherited the responsibility of keeping alive the sanctuary's nearly 100-year history.

Tours of the new housing begin with the story of the church, says Debra Koehler, president of affordable housing developer Sage Partners, LLC.

For the past century, St. Paul AME served as a focal point for faith and civil rights in Tampa. Martin Luther King Jr., Thurgood Marshall, and Bill Clinton have all spoken at its pulpit. But, in recent years, the once-mighty congregation dwindled to fewer than 20 active members, and the building fell into disrepair.

Recognizing it was time to move on, church leaders sold the property to Sage Partners in 2010.

The development team understood that the landmark needed to be preserved and knew that it should be the heart of the new development and used by the residents.

“This needed to be the life center,” says Koehler, who has converted the church into 15,000 square feet of community space, with the main sanctuary transformed into a play area for children. The building is also home to a fitness center and property management office.

As they carved out a new use for the building, developers took steps to pay tribute to the church and its legacy.

They restored and backlit the stained glass, a move that beautified the building as well as satisfied Tampa's public art requirement.

Sage Partners also created a “walk of legends,” with the name of every pastor who led the church and prominent congregation members engraved on the pavers.

Affordable housing in downtown

The new Metro 510 apartments are built on the former church parking lot. The historic Harlem Academy, Tampa's first public school for African-Americans, used to be on the property.

The new development is the first low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC) workforce project in downtown, according to Koehler, who formed Sage Partners in 2008. Metro 510 is the firm's third project. Across the street, Koehler recently acquired and rehabilitated a 200-unit Sec. 8 seniors project that had been owned by a Methodist Church group.

At Metro 510, 80 percent of the units are set aside for residents earning no more than 60 percent of the area median income (AMI). Twenty percent is targeted to households earning no more than 35 percent of the AMI, including six units for youths aging out of foster care.

Urban Studio Architects created a contemporary design for Metro 510, which features four stories of housing on top of two levels of parking. The use of bricks and color tie the new building to the old church, but it was important that St. Paul AME remain the focal point of the block, explains Brian Hammond, a principal at Urban Studio.

“We decided early on that it should not compete architecturally, but rather it should complement the historic structure,” he says. “The contemporary backdrop also helps us to respond better to the project budget.”

Tight site constraints made for a challenging development. To provide outdoor community space, Hammond created courtyards on different levels. The upper-floor courtyard features an urban garden, with rows of hanging pockets for residents to grow plants in. The courtyard also turns into an outdoor theater at night, with movies projected onto the building's white wall.

The street-level area includes a water spray feature, where children can play and cool off during hot Florida days. The fountain also helps mute some of the traffic noise.

Inside, the development team included hurricane-impact glass, Energy Star appliances, and granite countertops. Although this added to the initial development costs, Koehler explains that these features will save money in the long run by reducing insurance and energy costs and lasting longer than other products.

The $27 million development was financed with several sources, including $17.8 million in LIHTC equity from Bank of America Merrill Lynch, which also provided a nearly $3 million first mortgage loan. Financing also included $6 million in Sec. 1602 tax credit exchange funds from the Florida Housing Finance Corp., a $200,000 city loan, and $161,274 in deferred developer fees.

“It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to revitalize a historically signifi- cant church in an urban site next to a transit center,” says Koehler, who has been involved in more than 10,000 affordable housing units in her career. “That combined with developing the first workforce tax credit housing development in the urban core of Tampa makes it special.”

To complete the story, one of the church members has become a Metro 510 resident. It's another chapter in a long, rich history.

Urban Sanctuary - AHF March 2012 on Prezi