Reprieve sought for Tampa's historic Jackson Rooming House

A former city leader wants 60 days to secure funding.
The historic Jackson Roming House at 851 Zack St. in Tampa. CHRIS ZUPPA   |   Times (2012)
The historic Jackson Roming House at 851 Zack St. in Tampa.CHRIS ZUPPA | Times (2012)
Published November 21 2013
Updated November 22 2013

TAMPA — Sixty days.

That's what Linda Saul-Sena says supporters need to secure the future of the fabled but decaying Jackson Rooming House.

"We just need a few more weeks," said Saul-Sena, a former City Council member, told the current council Thursday.

That would give preservationists time to buy the Zack Street house, turn it over to a nonprofit organization and secure the $50,000 needed to stabilize it.

Once the house was no longer in danger of collapsing, the nonprofit could apply for grants and raise funds for a larger renovation, she said. So she asked the council to urge Mayor Bob Buckhorn's administration to hold off on moving to demolish the Jackson House for 60 days.

The two-story house is known for its Who's Who of famous black guests: James Brown. Billie Holiday. Ella Fitzgerald. Nat "King" Cole. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

But city officials say it's a firetrap and a risk to public safety, so immediate action is needed.

In response, the council voted to ask the city attorney's office to contact owner Willie Robinson Jr. about whether he is open to the steps Saul-Sena outlined.

Buckhorn said he thinks the city will have a sense within a week or so whether there's a credible enough plan to justify a delay.

"If this is a realistic proposal where there is real money involved and a real plan and the ability to complete the plan, we're willing to work with anybody," he said. "If this is just more talk by people who don't have the financial resources to get it done, no."

Robinson, 65, has said he cannot meet a Nov. 30 city deadline to fence off the house, submit permit-ready plans to stabilize it and secure liability insurance.

The 24-room structure is on the National Register of Historic Places and Florida's Black Heritage Trail. But it needs an estimated $1.5 million in repairs to its foundation, roof, frame, wiring, plumbing and woodwork.

Separately, 102.5-FM's Bubba the Love Sponge Clem called Thursday for help to try to save the Jackson House. Plastic surgeon Dan Diaco, a guest on Clem's show, offered Botox to wives of contractors who help.

Clem said he wants use his charitable foundation to buy the house for $1 or so, use donated contractor services to restore it, then give it back to Robinson. He said he received $30,000 in cash pledges Thursday.

Times columnist Sue Carlton contributed to this report.