As one of the biggest players in Tampa's Ybor City, Hillsborough Community College has a vested interest in preserving the flavor of the historic district. So why would it earn the bad neighbor award for building a new student center whose modern design detracts from the character of the old Latin Quarter?
A college spokeswoman said students and staff contributed to the design, which she defended as "incredibly attractive." There is no sense splitting architectural hairs. The larger question is why HCC would go contemporary in a historic district, and not give the community enough of a say in how its neighborhood looks and feels.
HCC says the college is exempt from architectural guidelines that control development in the historic district. Tampa officials are not so sure; they want the state attorney general to weigh in. In any case, the college should not be hiding behind concerns over cost or claims of immunity. The building's glass facade is out of whack. The college should have worked with community leaders to make it aesthetically consistent.
Reducing the issue to crass economics doesn't float, either. Plenty of other players — the city, Hillsborough County, the state, McDonald's, the Hilton and Hampton hotel chains, even the U.S. Postal Service — have built new structures in Ybor City that married form and function. By preserving the historic district, these projects have helped to attract tens of millions of dollars in public and private investment.
HCC's students and staff benefit by having a wealth of dining and leisure options within an easy walking distance. The college should take every opportunity to contribute to, not detract from, the environment that makes its Ybor campus so valued. It can start by exploring whether it can make even a modest design change so its new student center stands out for the right reasons.