A Property Flipper Bought A Black Cemetery

The city of Tampa had a plan for taking ownership of the abandoned Memorial Park Cemetery, which they had been maintaining since the owner died in 2018, Tampa Bay Times reported.

They placed a lien on the 104-year-old Black cemetery for what they were owned for maintenance, knowing it would be foreclosed upon and then available for them to purchase it at a public auction conducted by the Hillsborough County Clerk of Courts.

The city’s attorney’s office placed their initial bid but did not counterbid or monitor the online auction. Instead, two property flippers dueled during a nearly 10-minute auction, according to public records provided by the Clerk of the Courts.

Alex Arteaga won with an $18,000 bid but now admits he does not want to handle the long-term upkeep. He said he was unaware that all 20 acres were cemetery land. Now, some with loved ones buried in Memorial Park want the city to atone for setting in motion the process that put the property up for auction.

“I am so frustrated and angry that the city did not take this serious,” said Hillsborough County NAACP president Yvette Lewis, who has three family members buried there. “The city needs to take full responsibility and make this right. Buy the cemetery. That cemetery is part of our history.”

According to Tampa Bay Times, the city attorney’s office was not watching the auction because they did not think that anyone would buy a cemetery, city spokesperson Adam Smith said.

Hillsboro Memorial Funeral Home and Hillsboro Memorial Gardens work together to provide funeral, cremation and cemetery services to the Greater Tampa Bay Area. Their professional and compassionate funeral home and cemetery teams are committed to celebrating and preserving the memories of loved ones with dignity, honor and respect.

The funeral home was established 1981 by Joseph and Helen Farr. The building is approximately 20,000 square feet.

ABC Action News reported that city spokesperson Adam Smith wrote in an email to ABC Action News “Memorial Park Cemetery will be forever given the respect, protection and maintenance it deserves as a historic landmark.”

The Tampa Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) is set to discuss buying the cemetery using its funds, traditionally used to spur economic development and beautification efforts in specific city neighborhoods. 

WTSP-TV reported that when word spread that the city of Tampa foreclosed on a historic Black cemetery and sent it to auction where a property developer purchased the 20-acre site for $18,000, there was outrage throughout the community. 

Now, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor says the city will take ownership of Memorial Park Cemetery.

“We’re very confident we’re going to be able to take ownership of Memorial, as we have done with four other cemeteries in the city of Tampa, and again, make sure that they are maintained, and that the individuals that are there now and will be there in the future have the proper respect that they deserve,” Mayor Jane Castor said.

City ownership of Memorial Park Cemetery would help protect the cemetery in perpetuity and prevent it from suffering the same fate as other erased and destroyed Black cemeteries in the area found under public housing apartments, schools and businesses.

WTSP-TV followed up with more of the story. The property investor who purchased a century-old Black cemetery in an online auction after the city of Tampa placed liens on the property and foreclosed says he may reject an offer from the city to buy the historic site.

Nicole Travis, the Economic Development and Opportunity Administrator for the city of Tampa, told council members during a Thursday meeting the city made an offer on Memorial Park Cemetery.

Arteaga said it is around what he paid for it, which was $18,000 plus about $12,000 in additional taxes and fees. Arteaga said, of Nicole Travis’s offer, “No, I probably won’t accept it.”

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