Memorial Park Cemetery, one of the oldest Black-American cemeteries in Tampa, is at the center of a brewing storm between family members, the City of Tampa and a real estate investment flipper.
“I am so frustrated and angry that the city did not take this serious,” Hillsborough County NAACP president Yvette Lewis told the Tampa Bay Times. “The city needs to take full responsibility and make this right. Buy the cemetery. That cemetery is part of our history.”
Lewis has three family members buried in Memorial Park Cemetery. And like Lewis, many other residents of Tampa believe that the sale of the property could disrupt the history that is present in the space.
Another Tampa resident, Valerie Reed, has 20 family members buried at the cemetery.
“Most of the ancestral generations buried there were significant to the establishment of Black Tampa history, let alone Tampa’s overall history,” Reed told newspaper.
During the Jim Crow Era, Black Americans were not allowed to be buried with whites. As a result, Black cemeteries were erected throughout the South to bury community members. In Tampa, many members of the African-American community — from war veterans who served America and cigar factory workers whose efforts helped Tampa become known as the “Cigar Capital of the World” — are buried in Memorial Park Cemetery.
How Did the City of Tampa Lose the Cemetery to a Real Estate Flipper?
Since 2019, the City of Tampa has controlled the cemetery and its daily operations after its owner died. According to the Tampa Bay Times, city officials placed a lien on the property with an understanding that when it went into foreclosure, they would be able to purchase the property at a public auction. When the property was placed for auction in January 2023, the city participated in the bid. However, they lost to a higher bidder: real estate investor Alexis Artega.
Artega, the owner of 2715 West Sigh LLC, purchased the property for $18,000. Yet Artega did not realize that he was purchasing a cemetery; he merely saw the foreclosure listing for the property and its value and decided to place a bid.
Artega typically purchases properties to sell, and is inviting offers from the City of Tampa or a nonprofit organization.
“A cemetery business is not my business,” he told Fox 54. “I am doing the best that I can to take care of it. The longer I keep it, the more money I spend and the more it will cost to buy.”
Once taxes and fees were paid, Artega spent close to $30,000 for the property, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
While no official sales offers have been placed, city officials are open to discussing the matter with Artega.
“This is a protected and historically important property, and hopefully, the owner understands that,” City of Tampa spokesperson Adam Smith told Fox54 through an email. “He can reach out to the city if he is interested in selling, but obviously, we are not going to negotiate through the media.”