Tampa City Council may aid push to save historical Jackson House

11/21/13 Janelle Irwin
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Tags: Tampa City Council, Jackson House, African-American, history


WMNF file photo, 2012

photo by Janelle Irwin

Tampa city administrators are planning to demolish a dilapidated home that used to house such African-American icons as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and a host of famous singers. But as During a meeting Thursday city council members seemed poised to ask staff to hold off on demolition.

Former Tampa City Council member-turned community activist Linda Saul-Sena wants to convene a group – the Jackson House Foundation – to save the sole remaining building on what was once the bustling Central Avenue. But city legal staff sent a letter to the building’s owner giving him until next Saturday to make safety improvements or else the city would start the process of bringing out the wrecking ball. Saul-Sena is asking the city to give them an extra 60 days.

“It’s a very hectic time of year, you all have noticed, it’s Thanksgiving, it’s the holidays, but we are putting this deal together with interested people who want to save this critical piece of Tampa’s history. I know that this is an administrative issue and not specifically a council issue, but you all have spoken openly about how much you value this historic property and what it means to Tampa’s history.”

“If you look at it, the only straight thing on it is the ground. The rest of the house is leaning one way or the other.”

That’s council chair, Charlie Miranda. The home is in disarray. To keep the city at bay, the owner would have to secure liability insurance and sign an agreement freeing the city from responsibility if someone were to get hurt on the property. He’d also have to fence the property and come up with a plan to stabilize the structure. Saul-Sena says a fence has already been put up and a team is working on stabilization plans that will cost about $50,000. City Council member Frank Reddick made a motion for city staff to reach out to the owner about plans, but still worries there isn’t anything concrete enough to justify an extension on the deadline.

“All I’ve been hearing is that you’ve got all these people out here – the engineers and all these people saying they want to work, they want to do this – no one has stepped forward, no one has put one dollar in the bank. You’re asking this person to secure his home by giving it to a non-profit organization … that is the small portion. Ma’am, it is going to take more money to restore it.”

Reddick’s motion to initiate a conversation with the Jackson House owner was approved unanimously, but no other action could be taken because Willie Robinson Jr. wasn’t at the meeting. Saul-Sena, the woman leading a push to save the century-old home, told city council Robinson intends to turn the home over to a non-profit to save it.

“This ad hoc committee that you are aware of because a number of elected officials are sending representatives, has been meeting and our last Friday meeting it sounded like things were gung ho and then Mr. Robinson … the project is a big project. It’s perhaps too much for an individual, but it’s something that the community under a Jackson House foundation can support and I think that what you referred to Ms. Capin about the fundraising on the radio this morning, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I’ve really gotten a number of inquiries both large and small.”

City Council member Yolie Capin had defended the house in earlier discussion.

“From what I understand, there was a push by a radio station and raised this morning, I think something like $20,000 and donations from landscapers and it’s taken on a life of its own.”

She doesn’t see why the city should be in such a hurry to knock down such a historical building.

“We’re putting up monuments at Encore, but yet we have this house and really, the city cannot have a clear conscience when it comes to this house. I am sorry, but that is the truth. It’s African-American origin, but it is American history. It’s our history. It’s Tampa history and that we allowed that house to deteriorate …”

Even though city council wasn’t able to do much to save the Jackson House Thursday, city attorney Julia Mandell says she’s willing to work with groups. Mandell was the one who sent a letter to Robinson informing him of the looming demolition deadline for the end of this month.

“If what I hear is going to occur is that there is going to be a change in ownership and there’s going to be some proposal to the city as to how this property is going to be stabilized in order to lift that, we’ll work with anybody in that process. Given the fact that the demolition order process hasn’t even started, it would be appropriate.”

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn has also been calling on the home to be demolished. He suggested salvaging parts of the home to be included in an African-American history museum the city hopes to build as part of a development in the area that used to be home to segregated black families.

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