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Seminole Heights Baptist Church, with steeple that rises above I-275, will be demolished

The church sold the property for $6.9 million. A free-standing emergency room for Memorial Hospital of Tampa will be built there.
Seminole Heights Baptist Church has been sold and will be demolished.
Seminole Heights Baptist Church has been sold and will be demolished. [ MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times ]
Published Nov. 5, 2020

TAMPA — Area commuters are losing a landmark.

Nashville-based HCA Healthcare has purchased the Seminole Heights Baptist Church’s 3.5-acre campus.

That includes the 50,000-square-foot brick structure with the white steeple rising above I-275 near the E. Hillsborough Avenue exit.

They plan on building a free-standing emergency room for their Memorial Hospital of Tampa on the site, HCA spokesperson Debra McKell said in an email.

To do so, they will demolish the church building.

“That’s a shame," Del Acosta, an architectural historian, said. “It was a landmark. When you see the steeple, you know you are getting near downtown Tampa.”

Also on that property is the City Fire Department Engine Company No. 7 building, which was erected in 1924 and later incorporated into the church campus.

McKell said that structure will remain where it is.

The City Fire Department Engine Company No. 7 building that was erected in 1924 and later incorporated into the Seminole Heights Baptist Church's campus.
The City Fire Department Engine Company No. 7 building that was erected in 1924 and later incorporated into the Seminole Heights Baptist Church's campus. [ MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times ]

The church property at 801 E. Hillsborough Ave. sold for $6.9 million, according to the sales deed filed with the Hillsborough County Clerk of the Courts.

“We are very excited to bring access to emergency care to the area, and hope to begin construction soon,” McKell said.

Church Pastor Brant Adams did not respond to a Tampa Bay Times email. No one answered nor did the church’s voicemail pick up when the Times called on Wednesday and Thursday.

According to a Facebook post, the church members now gather temporarily at Wellswood Baptist Church, 5101 N. Rome Ave. It is unclear if they are holding in-person services or virtual-only.

Seminole Heights Baptist Church announced in June that they planned to sell the property.

Residents asked the city’s Historic Preservation Commission at a public meeting that month to label the church building a local historic landmark. That would have saved it from demolition. Such designation typically comes at the request of the property owner — it is rare that the city forces it upon an owner.

If the commission thought the church building met the historic landmark criteria, it would have then been up to Tampa City Council whether it received the designation.

Church leaders argued that the building was not historic, they could no longer afford its upkeep, and the property was worth more if the structure was demolished.

The preservation commission ruled in favor of the church.

Via email, the Southeast Seminole Heights Civic Association said their members still believe the church building is a “a historic landmark.”

“We call on the new developer to meet with the association to address the neighborhood’s concerns,” the email said. “We look forward to developing a symbolic, sustainable partnership. Seminole Heights may be small, but we are loud, and we are determined to have our voices heard.”