Drew Park History

Drew Park History

The Great Depression officially arrived in Tampa on July 17, 1929. On that day the Citizens Bank and Trust Company failed to open its doors, as did five other local financial institutions. On Monday of that week, news of bank failures elsewhere created panic among Ybor City cigar workers, who created a run on the Bank of Ybor City, which quickly spread to other Tampa Banks. The run continued on Tuesday, and threatened the survival of every bank in Tampa.

Fortunately, the city's three largest banks, First National, Exchange and First Savings & Trust, acted together, quickly. On orders from the Federal Reserve Bank in Atlanta, Georgia, arrangements were made to borrow $4,000,000 from a large Jacksonville bank. The money was brought to Tampa by chartered aircraft, landing at Drew Field, Tampa's grass landing strip airfield. By the next day, the run on local bank assets was over, and the collapse of all local banks averted. While the damage to Citizens Bank and its affiliates was very costly to the community, and prolonged by the stock market crash of October 1929, in some respects the existence of Drew Field had saved the day.

The subsequent history of the Drew Park area has been inextricably intertwined with the continued development of Drew Field, first as one of two local municipal airports, then as Drew Army Airfield during World War II, and later, of course, as Tampa International Airport (TIA), in a series of ambitious and successful redevelopment projects resulting in the world-class facility of today. TIA continues to expand and improve facilities to meet the community's air travel and air freight needs for the 21st century.

The area surrounding old Drew Field has changed dramatically over the years. In the late 1920's the City leased property from John J. Drew, and constructed the first airfield. Nearby land was later acquired to facilitate the development of a flying school, and the aviation business was underway in this somewhat isolated area. In 1933, City fathers purchased the land and a depression-era WPA public works project began improvement of the facility. By 1938, Drew Field had three 7,000-foot asphalt runways, new hangars and night lighting, and was considered the best airfield in Florida. The onset of World War II in 1939 changed many things in the United States, although we wouldn' t officially enter the war until December 1941. The U.S. Army was very interested in Tampa as a base for both operations and military training, and in 1939 acquired property on the Interbay Peninsula to construct MacDill Air Field. While that construction was underway, Drew Field was also leased to the Army, and quickly became a temporary B-17 Bomber base, as well as an Army Air Corps training facility. Over the five-year period, 1940-1945, as many as 120,000 recruits are estimated to have been stationed at Drew Field. During that period, the Drew Park area was developed extensively, albeit haphazardly, as a military community, including community sewer and water facilities, paved streets and hundreds of military-style buildings, many of which remain in use today.

The end of the War signaled more change for the Drew Park area. In 1946, Drew Field was inactivated by the Army, and turned over to the Federal government. The property was soon converted into a municipal airport, and renamed Tampa International Airport. National Airlines and Eastern Airlines were the first national air carriers to begin using the TIA. The recently created Hillsborough County Aviation Authority assumed management control. Several years later, the City purchased 720 acres on the east side of the Airport; in the area we now call Drew Park. The property was originally purchased for the civic development of a major amateur sports complex. When that idea was tabled, the City began making parcels available for private development, and the modern era of Drew Park began. Initially, many properties were reused, utilizing existing buildings constructed by the Army. Later, properties were redeveloped, as the City undertook the replacement of sewer and water lines, and other public and institutional uses began to appear in the area. Investors were originally encouraged to buy lots and develop tourist accommodations, single family housing and retail businesses, and, over the intervening decades, a broad variety of business interests have found their way to Drew Park. Tampa has also grown significantly since the early 1950's, expanding around the area for miles in every direction. The Drew Park area has seen the continuous expansion of Tampa International Airport and airport-related businesses, the establishment of Hillsborough Community College's Dale Mabry campus, the development of major professional football and baseball facilities, and the growth of Dale Mabry Highway and Hillsborough Avenue into major transportation arteries and commercial centers.

The proposed Drew Park Community Redevelopment Area (CRA) is comprised of approximately 651 acres, and is bound by Tampa Bay Boulevard, North Dale Mabry Highway, Hillsborough Avenue and the Hesperides Street/Lauber Way road alignment (See Figure F-1). While located within an area experiencing dramatic economic growth and development, Drew Park shows significant indications of blighted conditions, and the need for special attention from the City of Tampa.

Today, while the area does have a number of healthy businesses, it also contains ageing and inadequate infrastructure, an obsolete street system, a significant percentage of deteriorated structures and code compliance problems, and a general lack of the urban amenities necessary to become a healthy, mixed-use urban neighborhood.

The City of Tampa is committed to the process of revitalization and redevelopment within its historical urban boundaries, many parts of which are quite old and require such concerted attention.