TAMPA — A new building going up on the Hillsborough Community College Ybor City's campus has longtime Ybor folks fuming.
Members of the old Cuban Club, across the street from the HCC property that will be home to a $14-million student services center, say the contemporary structure with its walls of glass ignores historic district architectural guidelines.
HCC officials say they are exempt from those rules.
"We think our design is incredibly attractive," said HCC spokeswoman Ashley Carl. "They're going to have to figure out a way to deal with the fact that it's new construction."
Carl said the college worked with students and the staff to come up with a design that would serve HCC's needs, be energy-efficient and stay within budget. "To build something like the Cuban Club is just not feasible," she said. "Now is not the time to go back to the citizens of Florida and ask them to give us the funds to build a historically appropriate building."
Construction began on HCC's 63,000-square-foot building last month. It is scheduled to be finished late this year. HCC already has modern-looking buildings on its Ybor City campus.
Members of the Cuban Club say that when those were built, HCC officials promised then to consult with the community before embarking on any new construction projects.
"They swore up and down that they'd never do that again, that they'd talk to all the clubs in the community," said board member Robert Valdez.
But he said the club never knew the student services center was going up until they arrived in Ybor City one morning and saw construction fencing around the property.
"There's been this habitual in-your-face attitude," Valdez said. "What happened to, we're going to be a good neighbor? We're going to be part of the community? We're going to let everybody have input?"
Cuban Club president Jose Berenguer said that the club has received estimates that show it would cost the college less than $100,000 to replace some of the glass with yellow brick so the building would blend in better with the neighborhood. "It's a great building if it was going in their Dale Mabry campus or their Brandon campus," he said. "But they're in a historic district, and to us it's a disrespect to the history of Ybor City."
City officials plan to ask Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum to weigh in on the issue.
State statutes free community colleges from some local building regulations, said city attorney Chip Fletcher, but the law "is not a model of clarity."
"We think the prudent action is to get an opinion from an impartial body," Fletcher said.
Janet Zink can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3401.