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Palmetto Beach could go from hidden to historic

A former cigar factory owned by the Larson family sits at 22nd and Harper streets.

BRIAN CASSELLA | Times (2005)

A former cigar factory owned by the Larson family sits at 22nd and Harper streets.

PALMETTO BEACH — Perhaps one of the city's most overlooked historic neighborhoods, Palmetto Beach may soon get a big dose of recognition from the federal government.

A local effort has the enclave just south of Ybor City on track to make the National Register of Historic Places, a master list of the country's historic resources administered by the National Park Service.

"I think having all the incentives that come with the historic designation will be a wonderful boost for the neighborhood," said Annie Hart, a historic preservation consultant and former manager of the city's Historic Preservation Commission.

The effort is being funded by the Florida Department of Transportation and led by DOT consultant Elaine Illes.

"We are meeting the criteria of the 60 percent," Illes said, referring to a National Register requirement that at least 60 percent of the structures within a proposed district have historic architectural significance and are at least 50 years old.

Illes has coordinated the survey of Palmetto Beach since June 2007. Soon it will be submitted to the state's Division of Historical Resources in Tallahassee for initial review. The Historic Preservation Commission will then review the survey. After that, it's back to the state for possible revisions, official adoption, then submittal to the National Park Service for final consideration.

Illes said the whole process can take anywhere from six months to two years.

But then nothing ever seemed to come quickly to Palmetto Beach.

"I just thought it was such a sleeper," Hart said, reflecting on when she used to drive through the area on her way to work.

Its geographical location is partly to blame for Palmetto Beach being forgotten within Tampa's family of historic neighborhoods.

The community is tucked in the top third of the peninsula west of McKay Bay. Port of Tampa facilities dominate the area nearby, and Adamo Drive and the Lee Roy Selmon Crosstown Expressway act as dual northern barriers, effectively separating Palmetto Beach from bustling Ybor City.

Palmetto Beach was first platted in 1894, known at the time as East Tampa. During that year and the next, the Tampa and Palmetto Beach Railway Company developed DeSoto Park as a recreational destination for its streetcar line, Hart said.

By 1895 the first of the neighborhood's four cigar factories was built, a reverberation of the booming industry in Ybor. Laborers from the port also boosted Palmetto Beach's population.

But the decline of the cigar industry and the neighborhood's location kept property development from becoming too dense prior to World War II.

As a result, "There's more infill structures with concrete housing built after the war," said Dennis Fernandez, manager of the Historic Preservation Commission. That's why Palmetto Beach doesn't have the architectural luster of some other historic neighborhoods.

Nonetheless, Fernandez thinks that Palmetto Beach has a good chance of making the National Register. "From the preliminary assessments, it seems like there is the necessary amount of historic fabric there," he said.

Illes agrees. "It will definitely qualify for the National Register," she said.

Neighborhood support for the move is strong, according to Palmetto Beach Community Association president Tom Taylor.

"Everybody that I spoke to is in almost unanimous agreement," he said. "It would be very positive for Palmetto Beach."

Some people needed to be convinced early on, Taylor said. "I don't want the government telling me what I can or can't do with my house," Taylor recalls some saying at early neighborhood meetings.

They didn't know that being part of the National Register carries no restrictions for property owners.

"National designation just kind of puts you on the map as a historic district," Illes said. The area gets signs, she said, and potential protection from federally funded road that could aversely effect the area.

Commercial and rental properties in the district also become eligible for federal tax incentives.

A historic designation on the local level, however, would bring certain restrictions. "Regulation of new construction, regulation of demolition, and a review process for any type exterior modifications, are the big three," said Fernandez.

But gaining local historic status is a whole other process, although one with criteria similar to the National Register.

Currently Taylor said there isn't much neighborhood support for a local designation, despite the benefits of property value protection often cited in other local historic districts.

Palmetto Beach could go from hidden to historic 05/08/08 [Last modified: Sunday, May 11, 2008 1:37pm]
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