TAMPA — The city of Tampa and the Jewish Community Center are in serious discussions about putting a city art studio and visual arts center inside the renovated Fort Homer Hesterly Armory.
Both sides said Monday that they are talking about the city leasing up to 10,000 square feet at the planned Jewish Community Center South Campus on N Howard Avenue.
With the center's focus on culture and education, "This is a wonderful fit," said Jack Ross, the executive director of the Tampa JCC.
Detailed architectural plans have yet to be done, but an initial design suggests a striking makeover for the World War II-era armory, which has been empty since 2004. The front would feature a porte cochere, a two- to three-story glass-paneled entryway and designs incorporating symbols from Judaism, including the Star of David.
If the center and Tampa officials come to terms, the city would look at moving the public programs now at its Hyde Park Art Studio near Swann Avenue to the armory. Currently, about half the space at the Hyde Park studio is condemned and boarded-up.
"We're really squeezed in over there," Tampa parks and recreation director Greg Bayor said. "We even have a rental, construction-type trailer that we have programs in."
Along with talking to the JCC, the city has looked at rebuilding the studio at its current location, as well as moving it to rented space in a strip mall.
At 10,000 square feet, a visual arts center at the armory building could give the city several times the space it has available at the Hyde Park studio. It might be possible for the city to create an artists-in-residence program in which local artists could get studio space inside the armory in exchange for teaching and instruction. The space also could give the studio more room for kilns, additional parking, which Bayor said is "extremely limited" in Hyde Park, and perhaps a shop featuring artists' work.
For the moment, no changes are imminent.
The Tampa Jewish Community Center & Federation is looking at kicking off a capital campaign in March for the project, which could cost up to $16 million to build, equip and furnish. A year ago, the organization announced that it was securing a 99-year lease with an option to buy the 83,500-square-foot armory building and half of the 10-acre parcel.
Also planned for the center is a 5,000-square-foot wellness center developed in conjunction with the University of South Florida and Tampa General Hospital, plus an all-faiths preschool, 300-seat auditorium, fitness center and gymnasium, outdoor aquatic center, kosher cafe and event hall.
The JCC aims to open the center in 2015.
Times staff writer Amy Scherzer contributed to this report.