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Sale of historic building dropped

A church group announced Wednesday it will not pursue plans to buy a historic West Tampa building that served as headquarters for the now-defunct Tampa-Hillsborough Urban League.

A news release issued by the Institute for Community Development, which is run by Without Walls International Church, said opposition from the West Tampa community and concern that the Hillsborough County Commission would not forgive a lien on the building scuttled the deal.

The city gave the Urban League the El Centro de West Tampa building in 1999 and funneled nearly $1.4-million of government grants toward its restoration, which was never finished.

When the league dissolved, it owed Wachovia Bank $1.83-million, Tampa nearly $800,000 and Hillsborough County $416,000.

The Urban League had planned to sell the 94-year-old brick building for $1-million to the Institute for Community Development, which planned to provide social services in the building and launch a community center for the arts. But neighborhood groups opposed the sale, and a closing was postponed after the city urged church officials to provide more details.

Last week, W. Lois Davis, the league's chairwoman, told the city the deal with the institute had fallen through.

Church officials insisted it was still moving forward until Wednesday. Randy White, pastor of Without Walls, did not return calls for comment.

With that deal dead, the city plans to take possession of the building, and its financial officers are looking for ways to come up with $1-million for the Urban League's debt to Wachovia Bank, said City Attorney David Smith.

"We're going to be talking to Wachovia to see if they can work with us on that. The city just doesn't have very much money," Smith said.

Smith said plans call for finishing the building's restoration and using it as a base for cultural and educational programs.

At least one developer has expressed interest in buying the building, but Smith said that's not being discussed at this time.

"We have no intention of selling the building," he said.

Times staff writer Justin George contributed to this report.

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