Transformative is the word most heard to describe turning the abandoned Fort Homer Hesterly Armory into the Jewish Community Center South Campus.
"It's a renaissance," said executive director Jack Ross. "We're bringing a landmark back to life." He projects an early 2015 opening at a cost "in the ballpark of $14 million.
In January, Ross announced a 99-year lease — with an option to buy — of the historic, 83,500-square-foot building and half of the 10-acre parcel. From the 1940s through the early 2000s, concerts, political rallies and professional wrestling took place at the armory between Howard and Armenia avenues, south of Interstate 275 and north of Kennedy Boulevard. The National Guard continues to occupy the other 5 acres.
The Tampa JCC is forming strategic partnerships for the "communal, gathering place," said Ross, to complement programming at its Cohn Campus on the north side of Tampa.
The University of South Florida and Tampa General Hospital intend to lease up to 5,000-square-feet for a wellness center. "USF and TGH brainpower, including nutritional seminars, health screenings and academic complements, will raise the bar," Ross said.
A public-run art studio and workshop is expected to lease up to 10,0000 square feet. Ross can't name the operator until the paperwork is signed.
Still on the planning board:
• A preschool, the third operated by the Jewish Community Center, serving children of all faiths.
• An auditorium, expected to seat 300, for community theater and film festivals.
• A fully-equipped fitness center and gymnasium.
• An outdoor aquatic center.
• A kosher cafe and an event hall, available for weddings, bar and bat mitzvah celebrations.
Due diligence continues on environmental issues. "No red flags raised so far," said Ross. "No worries that will hamper or prevent development of the project."
A capital campaign kicks off soon, Ross added. "We have already received cornerstone gifts that total in the millions."