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Here is what Tampa’s Zion Cemetery memorial park could look like

The Tampa Housing Authority exhibited a conceptual rendition of the park on Thursday.
The top left corner is a conceptual design of what the Zion Cemetery memorial park could look like.
The top left corner is a conceptual design of what the Zion Cemetery memorial park could look like. [ Courtesy of the Tampa Housing Authority ]
Published Sep. 18, 2020
Updated Sep. 18, 2020

TAMPA — The Zion Cemetery memorial park that will celebrate the history of the erased segregation-era Black burial ground could have a spiral path, spotlights and fountains.

The Tampa Housing Authority exhibited a conceptual rendition of the grassy park on Thursday to the Zion Cemetery Archaeological Consultation Committee, which consists of civil rights activists, historians and archaeologists who as a group decide how to honor the cemetery.

“I interpret the light elements as just suggesting some way of identifying the site, illuminating stops along the memorial path leading to a place of solace and peace,” Leroy Moore, the Housing Authority’s chief operating office, told the Tampa Bay Times.

Still, he added: “None of this has been decided. It is just a concept to start the discussion."

The committee will have the opportunity to weigh in on the design and suggest changes in the coming months.

Not part of the conceptual design is a memorial wall listing the some 800 people who were buried and then left in Zion as developments were erected on top of their graves.

“We have not decided which form it would take at this point,” Moore said.

Related: See how the story of forgotten cemeteries has unfolded in the Tampa Bay Times

The park along the 3700 block of N Florida Avenue will encompass Zion’s full 2½-acre L-shaped footprint, with its corner closest to Virginia Avenue used for parking. That corner did not have burials and was cut out for a church that managed Zion.

This is a map of Zion Cemetery that was filed with the Hillsborough County Clerk on Feb. 20, 1901. A church was located in the top left corner.
This is a map of Zion Cemetery that was filed with the Hillsborough County Clerk on Feb. 20, 1901. A church was located in the top left corner. [ Courtesy of Hillsborough County Clerk of Courts ]

The cemetery opened in 1901 but by 1929 the city of Tampa approved storefronts to be built on the land that leaders knew was an active Black burial ground.

By the mid-1930s, the headstones had all been removed.

Then in June 2019, the Times published a report questioning whether the bodies were still there. Archaeologists later confirmed they were.

Related: Nearly 400 people buried in Tampa are missing. What happened to Zion Cemetery?

There is still much to be done before the park can be built. Zion’s footprint is split among three property owners.

Five now-vacant Robles Park buildings operated by the Housing Authority sit on nearly half of Zion’s property. Restaurateur Richard Gonzmart owns almost all of the other half, which has been used for warehouse space. And Sunstate Wrecker Services owns a basketball court-sized piece of Zion but would have to part with its full lot near the corner of Florida and Virginia avenues if this concept comes to fruition.

The Housing Authority has agreed to donate their land to a nonprofit being formed to manage the memorial park. The other two owners would sell their property to the nonprofit.