Friday (Aug. 16) morning, Chad Myers and his dad, Jim, co-owners of Elite Site Solutions and Arizona Holdings, were joined by Polk County Sheriff's Office deputies as they worked an excavator to demolish some of the structures on the city's east side.
In all, Chad Myers said, 39 homes will be leveled, the grounds cleaned and prepared, and new mobile and modular homes will be put in their place.
PCSO Deputy Paul Wright, who has worked the area the last 20 years, said it has always been a problem neighborhood. The sheriff's office received numerous complaints, Wright said, from neighbors who begged the department to get rid of the drugs and the crowd of squatters that frequented the area.
Myers said the neighborhood is a grid system that was saturated with drug activity.
Many of the mobile homes didn't even have electricity or water, and one even had a sewer pipe that emptied the home's toilet into the yard, he said.
"This was their drug highway," Myers said. "At night, it was like a carnival."
Myers said drug users ripped wire off anything in the neighborhood to sell the copper it contained, once even cutting a live 220-volt line. "It was non-stop," he said. A well-worn path between the three streets was used by those who came to buy drugs. They would then "crash" after getting high anywhere they could find a place to sleep - on the ground, in the rundown homes. Some were even found sleeping under the homes.
Myers said the process to embark on rehabilitating the area began when he and his father worked on buying the property from the former owner. All former residents were formally evicted when the property was purchased.
Autumn Fenton, director of Polk County's code enforcement, said years of non-conformity in the area caused such a stir that even Lakeland city employees were asking what could be done about the situation.
Travel trailers, uninhabitable as they were, were being used as rental units, she said.
Code enforcement assisted with getting all the liens reduced for the sale.
"(Chad Myers) has worked hard with all the county departments to create an affordable housing opportunity," Fenton said.
"It is going to bring life to that area," she added. "I think he could be a great example for other people who want to come in and do community development."
"We knew that it was going to take a special kind of love," Myers said, to level the homes and build new ones.
"We are happy. Thank God," said resident Julia Richardson, 58, who lives with her nieces and nephews nearby where demolition began Friday.
Richardson said she has been complaining for nearly a year about the drugs, the fighting and gunshots, and how the children were afraid to play in the neighborhood because drug users kept up their habit in plain view.
"They would stand right in front of us," she said. Throwing a wave of approval at the developers and deputies, she said, "Ya'll made my day."
Sheriff Grady Judd visited the site Friday morning, with high remarks for the father and son that were willing to invest in rehabilitating the neighborhood.
"Jim and Chad are going to reinstitute and breathe life into the area so that the hard-working, good people here can be rewarded and live in a nice environment," he said.
Information from: The Ledger (Lakeland, Fla.), http://www.theledger.com
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