$1.2 million in state budget to move Tampa Heights community center from the path of Tampa Bay Express
The Legislature’s proposed state budget includes $1.2 million to move a Tampa Heights community center out of the path of the controversial Tampa Bay Express interstate project.
The community center is in the shadow of an Interstate 275 off-ramp and occupies a state-owned building, the former Faith Temple Missionary Baptist Church on Palm Avenue.
The appropriation, included in the $82.3 billion state budget after legislative negotiations this week, is intended to cover the cost of jacking up the building, putting it on wheels and moving it to a new location that’s out of the way of the multi-billion-dollar interstate reconstruction and expansion.
“The last thing I wanted was to see it torn down for a road,” said state Rep. Ed Narain, D-Tampa, who worked to secure the money. In light of how much work the community has put into the project, he said it would be “completely unfair” to destroy what’s been accomplished.
The Florida Department of Transportation acquired the church building in 2006 with plans to demolish it as part of a $1.8 billion expansion of the Malfunction Junction interchange.
In 2010, the FDOT leased the building to the city of Tampa, which, in turn, leased it to the Tampa Heights Junior Civic Association to use as a community center and community garden. Since then, volunteers have invested thousands of hours of work and an estimated $1 million in donated materials and services renovating the building and adding a computer lab, kitchen, recording studio and other amenities.
FDOT officials say those improvements don’t change the state’s plans for the interstate expansion, or for the building. The lease, they say, required the civic association to get the city and state’s permission before making any changes to the property, which did not happen. Civic association officials said their intentions to renovate the building should have been plain to the state well before the lease was signed.
Construction on Tampa Bay Express is still about five years off, depending on how soon FDOT gets the $3.3 billion it needs for the multipart project. Civic groups in Tampa Heights, Seminole Heights and downtown Tampa have organized to try to block the FDOT’s plans, which would bulldoze about 70 houses and 30 businesses.
Civic association president Lena Young Green said the group is trying to work through elected officials in the hope of getting the FDOT to transfer the ownership of the building to the community so that it can be moved.
“Our thought is that taking the building from DOT’s ownership would allow us to continue the work that we’re doing,” she said Thursday.
Now, she said, community volunteers hope Gov. Rick Scott does not veto the appropriation.
“We are very, very encouraged,” she said. “Of course, there is that big hurdle. But we’ve gotten a long way already. We started this effort without anything and years later, look where we are.”