Tampa Jackson House renovation slowed by property dispute

“Whatever legal options we have from a monetary perspective, let’s get it done,” CRA board member Luis Viera said.

TAMPA, Fla. — Tampa city leaders say they are committed to doing anything in their power to save the historic Jackson House on Zack Street.

Constructed in 1901, the building was once a boarding house in Tampa’s Central Avenue district, providing accommodations for African Americans during the Jim Crow era and segregation.

Legendary musicians, politicians and civil rights leaders visit the Jackson House, but now it’s in danger of collapse. At one time, the issue was that there wasn’t enough money to keep it standing.

But now, the family foundation that owns the property says it’s not financing but rather a dispute with neighboring property owners, which is keeping them from renovating the house.

“It’s really a community treasure that tells the story of not only the people who stayed there but also the story of segregation — and the location of it, I think, is really important,” said Community Redevelopment Areas board member Bill Carlson.

During segregation, the Jackson House hosted musicians like Ella Fitzgerald, Cab Calloway, Ray Charles and James Brown. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights figures also visited the historic spot.

But to restore the house to what once was, city leaders were told the zero-lot-line structure needed a 14-foot easement on one side and a 36-foot easement on the other to meet building codes.

The Jackson House Foundation has been negotiating with the company that currently owns parking lot property surrounding the house. So far, they’ve been unwilling to sell.

“We need the easement bad,” said Jackson House Foundation Chair Carolyn Collins. “It would afford us so much that we need to do to complete this building.”

“If we can’t get the property, and they won’t budget on the easement, what do we do now?” asked CRA board member Orlando Gudes.

Members of the CRA board started throwing around terms like eminent domain — seizing private land at market price for a public purpose — but the board’s attorney warned that has challenges.

“Whatever legal options we have from a monetary perspective, let’s get it done,” CRA board member Luis Viera said.

USF researchers have stabilized the Jackson House inside, digitally mapped it and preserved historic artifacts.

Thursday’s presentation included the first renderings of what might one day stand on the site, including a museum highlighting Tampa’s African American culture along what was once a thriving Central Avenue.

“And shame on the individuals who keep standing in the way,” CRA board member Guido Maniscalco said. “I don’t know what the hatred is toward this house. Just let us reserve a little bit of history that’s left in that area.”

Members of the CRA staff urged board members repeatedly to avoid discussing the roadblock of obtaining the surrounding land needed to move forward with the renovations, saying they had just reengaged in negotiations.

But if this latest effort were to fail, board members say they want plans and options ready to consider when the board meets again in November.

The restoration is expected to cost a little over $4 million.

The Jackson House Foundation says it has received about $3 million in commitments from public and private groups, including $1 million from the Vinik Family Foundation, $1.5 million from the state of Florida, and another half million from a Hillsborough County historic preservation grant.