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A Times Editorial

Saving Tampa's historic buildings

If Tampa hopes to spare another historic landmark from going the way of the old Gary school, which was demolished the other day after years of neglect, it needs to get more creative about preservation. The City Council takes up the issue Thursday, and four ideas come to mind:

Join forces. The city, county and School Board all either own historic properties or have a role in preserving them. But their efforts are disjointed. They should create an intergovernmental board to maintain an inventory of properties and coordinate public and private preservation efforts.

Commit money. Historic structures need a dedicated funding stream for routine maintenance. These buildings have rotted in Tampa because agencies do not have a fund for emergency repairs to roofs, doors and windows. The sums can be modest and come from a variety of sources, such as tourist taxes. The fund should pay to retain these buildings' structural integrity, so that additional preservation grants are used not for maintenance but restoration.

Get proactive. Too many of the wrong people clog the regulatory process. Code enforcement is better at closing down aged structures than rehabilitating them. Replace them with a structural engineer and give historic preservation officials fast and easy access to the mayor and council. The city needs to show a greater sense of urgency in dealing with problem landlords. Property owners need government to be helpful and reasonable.

See something. Demolition by neglect would not be such a problem if the city had stronger plans for its historic structures. Too often, the question is who can take a building off the government's hands — not who can revive a landmark and give it a new community purpose. The city needs to think in terms of giving these buildings new cultural or commercial life in the neighborhoods. They were gathering places before and should be again.

Saving Tampa's historic buildings 09/29/08 [Last modified: Monday, October 6, 2008 1:28pm]
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