Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Until it's needed by DOT, church will serve as youth center

TAMPA HEIGHTS — The triangular red-brick church at the corner of Lamar and Palm avenues has heard countless prayers for salvation since it was built in 1905. But its own fate seemed sealed when the Florida Department of Transportation bought the building in 2007 as part of a highway interchange improvement project 20 years away.

The building could have sat empty until it was demolished. Lena Young-Green thought that was an awfully long time. Twenty years? An entire generation of children would mature, a whole generation that could benefit from a neighborhood center in a place where half the population lives below the poverty level.

"Whatever time it had to sit before DOT needed it, was good enough for us to have some community use for it," Young-Green thought. "It's an old building that has sat vacant in our community, boarded up. Every time you go by, someone has figured out a way to break into the church. And DOT, constantly, has to come by and secure it."

Young-Green is president of the Tampa Heights Junior Civic Association, a nonprofit group that provides after-school services, including mentoring, tutoring, computer training, health education and field trips for children between ages 6 and 12.

The organization has a staff of three and an annual budget of $150,000 from grants and private donors, including Bank of America. It works out of the small Make a Difference Center, which includes a kitchen, two classrooms, an office and a main space, within the Mobley Park Apartment Homes at 401 E Seventh Ave. About 50 kids, most qualifying for free or reduced lunches, attend the group's programs.

The association would like to expand to help teens, which it does sporadically, but it doesn't have the space.

Enter the church.

"We need a youth center and a community center," Young-Green said. "That was the effort that drove us to start talking to DOT to get that church to serve that purpose."

Young-Green asked DOT if her organization could use the church until the state agency needed the property for expansion. She began getting commitments from companies and organizations that pledged to donate more than $500,000 in money, design work, construction and labor toward renovating the 9,055-square-foot building. DOT drew up a contract leasing the building to the city, which would sublease the church to the Tampa Heights Junior Civic Association until the state took back the property.

Known as the Ultimate Downtown Interchange, the highway project is most likely two decades away because of the costs associated with interstate reconstruction, DOT spokeswoman Kris Carson said.

"I think the most sustainable thing you can do is to reuse an old building," said Linda Saul-Sena, a former City Council member now running for Hills­borough County Commission, who pushed for the project during her time with the city. "And what can be better than a neighborhood center?"

The junior civic association has been successful in raising money and pledges. About all that remains before the 22-to 24-week renovation project starts is the signing of contracts by the DOT and the city, the cost of 10 air conditioning units, and pest and termite tenting of the building — a gap that's about $75,000.

The plan is to use the church, which will be called the Tampa Heights Youth Development and Community Center, as a base for neighborhood groups and programs for teens. The junior civic association would continue working with children at the Make a Difference center.

Young-Green said she knows that she is investing donated money and time in a building that, right now, is slated to be torn down.

"In the lease is the understanding that when it gets to the point where DOT needs the property, we understand that the church will need to be moved or torn down," she said. "But we hope for a miracle and maybe the church will be moved."

Or maybe in 20 years, high speed or light rail might make future highway widening unnecessary, Young-Green pointed out.

Regardless, 20 years is a long time in the lives of both the building and the children.

"If it only helps us redirect and guide and develop our (current) youth in the community, that's a whole generation," she said.

Justin George can be reached at (813) 226-3368 or

Until it's needed by DOT, church will serve as youth center 08/26/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 25, 2010 5:34pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. A historic Tampa family saves a historic Tampa home built by an ancestor

    Human Interest

    The Knight family has replaced their roof and people are celebrating.

    The Peter O. Knight historical cottage, located in Tampa's Hyde Park neighborhood, is seen Thursday, July 20, 2017. The cottage fell into disrepair in recent years, but the Knight family stepped up with financial support to help stabilize the structure.
  2. Miami woman, 74, admits to voter fraud. Does jail await, or will she go free?

    State Roundup

    MIAMI — An 74-year-old woman pleaded guilty Monday to filling out other people's mail-in ballots while working at Miami-Dade's elections department.

    Gladys Coego
  3. In Twitter rant, Bucs' Gerald McCoy says he's unappreciated


    Gerald McCoy is feeling underappreciated again. He says somebody has crossed the line this time. He's speaking out and suggesting he might be gone "soon enough" from Tampa Bay.

    Photo Illustration RON BORRESEN   |   Photo by LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times 
Gerald McCoy may be upset that Ronde Barber said a defensive leader “has to have a huge personality’’ like Warren Sapp’s. Monday, Barber walked that back.
  4. Bigger ships carry Georgia ports to record cargo volumes

    Economic Development

    SAVANNAH, Ga. — Bigger ships arriving through an expanded Panama Canal pushed cargo volumes at Georgia's seaports to record levels in fiscal 2017, the Georgia Ports Authority announced Monday.

    The Port of Savannah moved a record 3.85 million container units in fiscal 2017, the state said, benefiting from the larger ships that can now pass through an expanded Panama Canal.
  5. Photo gallery: Nine years later, library attack victim Queena works at learning to walk again


    Slowly, Queena Phu is learning the act of walking again through exercises in locomotion, strength and balance.
    She practiced her steps once again Monday afternoon with trainer-technician Mike Lopez at the nonprofit Stay In Step Spinal Cord Injury Recovery Center near the University of South Florida.
    Queena …

    Activity based exercise trainer George Palang, 33, and trainer technician Mike Lopez, 22, help Queena Phu during physical therapy at the Stay In Step Spinal Cord Injury Recovery Center on Monday, July 24, 2017, in Tampa, Fla.