TAMPA MAYOR SPEAKS OUT ON CENTRO ESPANOL BUILDING by Roxanne Escobales

11/29/06

Yesterday the residents of West Tampa held another meeting of the Save Our Centro Committee. That group wants to stop the scheduled December 14th sale of the area’s historically significant Centro Espanol building to Without Walls International church.

As one of Tampa’s unique ethnic social clubs, the Centro Espanol once acted as the heart of the Cuban-Italian neighborhood of cigar factory workers. The history of many West Tampa residents are bound with the building and what it represents. And many believe the church wants to buy the building, restore it and make a quick sell. Phil Alessi of Alessi Bakery described it this way (roll tape o.q. on that base)

The Centro Espanol is currently owned by the defunct Urban League, which dissolved due to the debt it racked up trying to restore the Centro Espanol. On its mortgage the Urban League owes almost 2 million dollars to Wachovia Bank. The city of Tampa and Hillsborough County also have lesser liens on the mortgage.

To make it more complicated, federal grant money from the department of Housing and Urban Development are tied to the historical preservation of the building and for what purpose the building is used.

Now, West Tampa residents feel shut out from the making any decisions on the fate of the building. Olga Vila said the announcement of the Without Walls Purchase came as a surprise. (roll tape oq. “about it�)

The members of the Save of Centro committee think the city -- and especially Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio -- could be more aggressive in trying to stop the deal. Olympia Bakery owner Darren Diaz: (roll tape o.q. “city’s position�)

In fact, Phil Alessi spoke with the mayor about the deal at a recent meeting of the Community Development Corporation. He believes the mayor wants Without Walls International Church, led by pastor Randy White, to takeover the building. (roll tape oq. “with the deal�)

WMNF asked Mayor Iorio what role she and the city play with the Centro Espanol. (roll tape o.q. “mess, isn’t it?)

WMNF talked to Urban League chair Lois Davis. She would not be taped, but she said it’s public knowledge the Centro Espanol has been up for sale for 15 months. Davis said in July 2005 she offered the building back to the city but it declined to take it off her hands.

The Urban League chair said that Without Walls International church plans to go before the Tampa City Council and the Hillsborough County Commission next week at their scheduled meetings and ask for approval to purchase the Centro Espanol.

Phone calls to the church were not returned.

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