TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Negotiations are underway between the City of Tampa and the new owner of Memorial Park Cemetery as they try to purchase the property from him.
Nicole Travis is the Administrator of Development and Economic Opportunity for the City of Tampa. She is leading the negotiation on behalf of the city with Alex Arteaga, the property developer who now owns Memorial Park Cemetery after outbidding the city and one other developer in an auction.
The city wants to buy the cemetery from Arteaga. Travis and Arteaga met for the first time in person Friday.
“I think it was a relief to finally meet because for weeks we were dealing with all of these other people connected to him and his business, but not him directly,” Travis said.
According to Travis, when Arteaga outbid the city over the Memorial Park property, the city reached out to Arteaga to see if he wanted to back out of the deal.
“After an auction you have 10 days to back out without any penalties,” Travis said. “We called him and said, ‘hey we want the cemetery, we’ll take care of the property,’ and he chose to keep it.”
In their first meeting, Travis said the two did not see eye-to-eye on the value of the property.
“His request was far a part from what he bought the property for and what the city was prepared and willing to offer,” she said.
Travis would not disclose how much the city offered Arteaga, nor how much Arteaga asked for.
“I’m going to keep that between the property owner and I,” she said.
Since the two could not come to an agreement on the value of the property, they decided to get an appraisal through a third-party. The city believes Arteaga is simply trying to make money off of the cemetery.
“I think he’s made it clear it’s a purchase for an investment,” Travis said. “From his own admission, he is trying to make a profit.”
8 On Your Sides’ Deanne King has reached out to Arteaga for an interview three times. He has declined each time. However, on Tuesday, Arteaga told 8 On Your Side his plan is to sell the cemetery to the city.
Many in the community feel as though the city of Tampa let them down by not paying attention to the bidding process.
“This is a tremendous piece of local black history, it needs historical protection and historical recognition,” said Halley Reed.
Reed is the lead researcher with the Cemetery Society and she’s conducted research on Memorial Park for nearly two years.
“So far I’ve been able to document about 15,000 burials,” Reed said. “However there is a gap in documentation and we believe there are thousands of unknown graves here.”
Reed fears Memorial Park will be erased and forgotten with this new owner, like many of the other historic Black cemeteries in Tampa Bay.
“Zion wasn’t erased over night it happened over about a decade and I’m really afraid the same could happen at memorial,” Reed said.
Travis reassured that would never happen.
“He legally cannot develop on the property,” Travis stated. “There will be no buildings on the property. No matter what, no matter who the owner is, the cemetery will be maintained and taken care of. The city will ensure that.”
The appraisal will take about four weeks to complete. After that, both parties will meet again to continue negotiating selling Memorial Park to the city of Tampa.