Ella’s Americana Cafe wants to save Seminole Heights steeple

The white steeple has towered above I-275 near the E. Hillsborough Avenue exit. It was to be demolished.
Seminole Heights Baptist Church
Seminole Heights Baptist Church [ MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times ]
Published March 24, 2021|Updated March 24, 2021

TAMPA — I-275 near the E. Hillsborough Avenue exit is still going to lose a commuting landmark.

The Seminole Heights Baptist Church will be razed to make way for a free-standing emergency room for Memorial Hospital of Tampa.

The church’s white steeple, which has towered above I-275 for decades, will still be removed from the property.

But it might be spared from the wrecking ball.

Nashville-based HCA Healthcare, which owns the church property at 801 E. Hillsborough Ave. and operates Memorial Hospital, is seeking ways to save the iconic steeple and donate it a new owner.

The owner of Ella’s Americana Folk Art Cafe, located less than half a mile away, says her business is among those being considered.

“Everyone in the neighborhood is ecstatic,” cafe owner Melissa Deming said. “It has been a neighborhood landmark for so long that we want to keep it here.”

She does not know when the steeple would come down, how it would be delivered or in what way it would be incorporated into her cafe at 5119 N. Nebraska Ave. She thinks it is about 30 to 40 feet high.

“We’re still in the planning phases,” Deming said. “I will cross my fingers and hope it comes down safely in one piece.”

Memorial Hospital spokesperson Cindy Cucuz confirmed via email that they want to save the steeple but stopped short of naming the cafe as an option.

The hospital “has been researching options to preserve the church steeple and donate it to an individual or organization that will take responsibility to ensure it is safely maintained,” Cucuz said. “At this time we are still working through details.”

Ella's American Folk Art Cafe.
[Times (2018)]
Ella's American Folk Art Cafe. [Times (2018)]

The church building was erected in 1949 and served as home to Seminole Heights Baptist Church until last year. The church leadership announced in June that they intended 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. Among their arguments was that the steeple was a commuting 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.

Church leaders argued that the building was not historic and the property was worth more if the structure was demolished.

The preservation commission ruled in favor of the church.

In November, HCA Healthcare purchased the Seminole Heights Baptist Church’s 3.5-acre campus for $6.9 million.

“Anyone who would like to help us give it a new home should reach out,” Deming said. “We could use some architectural advice.”