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Once a center of attention, Seminole Heights building faces demolition

SEMINOLE HEIGHTS — A man working on wooden boards atop the Praise Cathedral tugged at a tool stuck in the roof and fell through. He landed on his back 20 feet beneath a gaping hole just as many feet wide.

City code enforcement inspectors condemned the building on July 30.

For the Old Seminole Heights Neighborhood Association, it shows that the building could be put to a better community use. But owner Patricia Hall doesn't plan on moving from the property she bought for $10 in 1985.

Hall said a storm damaged the roof a few years ago and her church is seeking funding for repairs at 5103 N Florida Ave.

Repairs cost more than $500,000, the city's condemnation report estimates.

"That's our life there," said Hall, also pastor of the independent church. "You don't just do things overnight."

A demolition order, commonly issued after a condemnation, should go to Hall next week. She would have 30 days to respond, according to a city clerk.

Inspectors report the building is dilapidated and unstable. Mold, trash and debris cover the vinyl floors. A city fire inspection report says it is unsafe and dangerous after the collapse.

The structure itself isn't in the National Register of Historic Places, but it sits in a historic area of Seminole Heights. The city would require a hearing before a demolition, said Ann McDonald, a member on the Old Seminole Heights Neighborhood Association's historic preservation committee.

During the building's heyday as the Seminole Theatre, a dress shop and a Piggly Wiggly grocery sandwiched it. Movies played most nights, and sometimes there were dancers and acrobats.

"You know, it was the center of the neighborhood, really," McDonald said.

Margaret McAlister was born in a Seminole Heights bungalow in 1923, the year the theater was built. The 85-year-old, when she was a girl, walked there every Friday night. Her father made flower arrangements weekly for the box office in exchange for five movie tickets.

She hopes Hall can fix the building to serve the neighborhood again. If not, she'd like to see it as a community center or place for children.

The old theater should be an attraction to a part of town without many destinations for locals, and it's a shame the church sat on it for years without proper upkeep, said Old Seminole Heights Neighborhood Association president Jeff Harmon.

The association would like to buy the property, but isn't sure the group can afford it.

Property records list the building with a $663,246 value.

"It's a wait-and-see," he said.

For now, there's still an empty lot to the building's side and an unmarked building across from it. And Hall said the church isn't interested in selling. She rejected several offers over the years.

"We want to restore it totally," Hall said. "God gave us that building. We're here and we're trying to protect ourselves."

Ileana Morales can be reached at imorales@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3403.

Once a center of attention, Seminole Heights building faces demolition 08/13/09 [Last modified: Thursday, August 13, 2009 12:01am]

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