TAMPA — A $6 million infusion of state funds has moved the Tampa Jewish Community Center & Federation closer to transforming the historic Fort Homer Hesterly Armory site into a new campus, but it is less than a year away from likely breaking ground.
The state money helps the federation's goal of raising $24 million so the project can begin without incurring debt.
With the funds, approved by the Legislature and signed into the state budget last week by Gov. Rick Scott, the federation said the fundraising campaign stands at $16.5 million. Among earlier contributions, Tampa Bay Buccaneers co-chairman Bryan Glazer committed $4 million and Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik's family pledged $1.5 million.
"That would allow us to wrap up the campaign by fall 2014," said Jack Ross, the JCC executive director, "which would enable us to apply for our permit and break ground sometime in March 2015."
The federation announced plans for the project in 2012, drawn to the former National Guard armory building, empty since 2004, because the majority of Jewish people living in South Tampa don't have easy access to community resources, Ross said.
The site is between Howard and Armenia avenues, south of Interstate 275 and north of Kennedy Boulevard.
Last year, the armory was added to the National Register of Historic Places. It had been the venue for musical acts including the Doors and Elvis Presley, and President John F. Kennedy stopped there just days before his 1963 assassination in Dallas.
The federation signed a 99-year lease, which began in October 2013, and retains the option to buy the southern half of the 10-acre site.
The plan is to build a 100,000-plus-square-foot community center on the roughly 5-acre southern half that will include a preschool, aquatics center, fitness facility, art center, event center, theater facility, fine arts center, health and wellness center and multipurpose space.
Ross said the center will provide families and nonmembers access to a majority of the services available to federation members.
Rep. Dana Young, R-Tampa, and Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, were the chief legislative forces behind the state appropriation, Ross said.
"They were instrumental," he said. "If it were not for their efforts, we would not be where we're at."
Both politicians said they were not concerned about devoting public money to the Jewish Community Center & Federation because, like Ross, they believe the center has potential to serve everyone in the community.
"There's not going to be any religious affiliation," said Young. The Jewish Community Center & Federation is a secular, nonprofit organization, she added.
Young said three major aspects of the project justify state involvement: community services, economic aspect and job creation and the renovation of a historic property that plays a huge role in Tampa's history.
Brandes believes the center could ultimately become the area's anchor and said, "so much of this project will benefit people in not just religious ways."
Zack Peterson can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3446.