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2012-02-10 digital edition
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The Jewish Press of Tampa and the Jewish Press of Pinellas County are Independently- owned biweekly Jewish community newspapers published in cooperation with and supported by the Tampa JCC & Federation and the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties, respectively. Copyright © 2009-2019 The Jewish Press Group of Tampa Bay, Inc., All Rights Reserved. 


February 10, 2012  RSS feed
Front Page

Text: T T T

Tampa JCC & Federation plans South Campus at historic site

By BOB FRYER Jewish Press

Above, a rendering of what the new entrance might look like; Below, part of the interior of the Armory, seen from the front door. Above, a rendering of what the new entrance might look like; Below, part of the interior of the Armory, seen from the front door. A lot of history has been made at the nowvacant Fort Homer Hesterly Armory in Tampa – where Elvis Presley once sang and President John F. Kennedy once spoke – and if a plan by Tampa’s Jewish leaders comes to fruition, plenty more history could be made.

On Friday, Feb. 3, a “due diligence” agreement was signed with the Florida National Guard that gives the Tampa JCC & Federation one year to determine if it is feasible to create a South Campus on a five-acre tract that includes the Armory. The National Guard would stay put on the northern five acres of the site, which is north of Kennedy Boulevard, bordered by Howard and Armenia avenues.

The agreement calls for no deposit and no payments to the National Guard during the due diligence period and effectively takes the property off the market during that time, said Jack Ross, JCC executive director.

Exactly what will be housed at the campus is very much up in the air. David Scher, who along with Sam Linsky are the South Campus Project co-chairs, said a national marketing firm will be hired to conduct a needs analysis.

“But in very broad brush terms, I think it will show needs for what any Jewish Community Center tries to serve: things to enhance the spirit, like arts and education, and that tie into culture, such as a performance theater, as well as sports related needs – hopefully swimming, basketball and exercise facilities. That is what I think the needs assessment will show, but we won’t know specifically until the assessment is done.”

Scher said like any other Jewish Community Center, it would be open to Jewish and non- Jewish people.

The needs analysis is one of four steps that must be taken before the vision of the Tampa JCC South Campus can become a reality, Ross said.

Other steps are:

• Acceptance by the Jewish community and by neighbors of the armory.

• An assessment of the property to determine costs and restrictions for developing.

• A capital funds campaign.

Since the initial announcement at the Tampa Federation President’s Dinner, Ross said response from members of the Jewish community has been “overwhelmingly positive.”

Ross, Scher and Linsky have already started meeting with neighborhood and civic groups near the armory and have had positive responses. More meetings are planned. “We want to become part of the fabric of the community,” Ross said.

He said free JCC memberships will be offered for the first year to those living in the surrounding area and ongoing discounts and special opportunities will be made available to all greater Tampa area U.S. military veterans.

A historic marker notes that the Rough Riders used the grounds for its encampment in 1898. A historic marker notes that the Rough Riders used the grounds for its encampment in 1898. The needs analysis should be complete in about two months. In conjunction with this will be a business development plan to ensure the services to be offered bring in enough revenue. In addition, some private vendors have already expressed interest in possibly operating a third-party enterprise, such as a café, there.

The capital funds campaign, if undertaken, will raise funds for a 99-year lease or a purchase of the land, renovate the 75,000- square-foot Armory, which has been vacant since 2004, and develop the rest of the property. Ross also is hoping an endowment fund will be in place to help with maintenance expenses.

Because the 70-year-old armory has been designated as an historic building, the exterior of the structure cannot be changed.

JCC Executive Dir. Jack Ross JCC Executive Dir. Jack Ross Ross said this is no problem. “We like the way it looks. We like that style of architecture.”

Scher noted that the interior of the armory is a vast, open space that makes it “an open palate” in terms of what sort of renovations can take place. He said he has not been told of any limitations in terms of what can be done to renovate the interior.

Ross said he did not know if there are any environmental concerns, but he said he has seen a report prepared for another group that had hoped to develop a project there, and “no red flags” were raised. In the coming months officials will check for environmental issues and determine if any rezoning will be necessary. “That is what the due diligence period is for – to see what development restrictions there might be and what permits we might need,” Ross said.

The land is also a historical site, as Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders camped at the site in 1898 before shipping off to Cuba to fight in the Spanish-American War. It has not been determined if the historic site designation comes with any restrictions on land use, but Tampa City Attorney Jim Shimberg, who helped direct the Federation to consider the property, said he was not aware of any.

JCC & Federation officials began looking at the armory site about six months ago, around the same time a Jewish Press story reported on a demographics survey showing a dramatic shift in Hillsborough County’s Jewish population from north county to south Tampa.

Ross said that independently of the demographics survey, there was empirical and anecdotal evidence of the shift, and of a growing demand for more services in south Tampa. But he added that when the JCC & Federation board was approached about the idea of a South Campus, they were well aware of the Jewish Press story and readily gave the go-ahead to explore options.

This shift of Jews to south Tampa was in stark contrast to an earlier trend in Hillsborough County. In the early 1990s, some Jewish facilities located about a mile south of the Armory, began a migration north to be convenient for the growing Jewish population in the Carrollwood area and other parts of northern Hillsborough County.

The Hillel School of Tampa (now Hillel Academy) vacated south Tampa for a campus on Fowler Avenue, shared with Congregation Beth Am. In 1992, the JCC & Federation bought a 22-acre tract in Citrus Park for $3.25 million and transformed it into what is now the Maureen and Douglas Cohn Jewish Community Campus. The purchase included a defunct rehabilitation complex for alcohol and drug addicts. It was renovated and is currently used for offices for the Federation, Tampa Jewish Family Services and TOP Jewish Foundation; JCC facilities, JCC Preschool north and Weinberg Village Assisted Living Residences.

Currently, the JCC offers some programming in south Tampa including adult programming in a room at Jewish Center Towers and at Congregation Rodeph Sholom, a. In addition, the south branch of the JCC Preschool is located at Rodeph Sholom.

Another factor that cleared the way for consideration of a south campus was the fact that the JCC & Federation sold the Mary Walker Apartments and the Jewish Towers. That allowed the organization to pay off the mortgage on the Cohn Campus.

When the South Campus project was announced, JCC & Federation President Sue Schoenbaum said, “We will be doing due diligence on both the property and the building, developing a comprehensive business plan and then embarking upon the JCC self-legacy fund-raising campaign. It is our promise to (the community) though, that we will not go ahead with this project if it means encumbering our community with debt.”

Turning enthusiasm for the project into monetary support and clearing all the other hurdles for development into a south campus is a challenge, Ross said.

“The flip side of the grand nature of the development challenges is the legacy of what the future will hold. Who knows what this campus can become in the future, but this is where members of the Jewish community can leave a legacy. Someday there may be someone there who can say, ‘My great-grandfather helped develop this place,’” Ross said.

“The hourglass has been turned over today and the grains of sand have begun to fall,” Ross said, “A thumbs up or down will rest on the capital campaign.”

If there is to be a South Campus, Ross said, “We have made a commitment that it will in no way come at expense of the north campus,” he said.

He said the board has taken steps to increase programs, infrastructure and relevance for the Cohn campus. “We are renovating facilities now and we have a pledge of money to renovate tennis courts,” he said. A renovation of fitness facilities is also planned.

Additionally, there are also some unfunded plans that Ross hopes to implement. He said he has “plans on the drawing board and have developed bids and am looking for a generous donor to develop an intergenerational community theater – involving seniors and our children.” There are also “proposals from contractors to develop a multiuse sports pavilion on the north campus,” – if funds can be found.

“It is an exciting time for the Jewish community, anything and everything is possible,” he said.

Jewish Press staff writer Robert Green contributed to this report.

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