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Tampa Heights tries to save historic building from FDOT wrecking ball

The apartment building at 1902 N Lamar Ave. is a contributing structure to the historic district.
The apartment building at 1902 N Lamar Ave. in Tampa Heights is seen in this Google Earth image. Tampa Heights residents hope to save it from the wrecking ball.
The apartment building at 1902 N Lamar Ave. in Tampa Heights is seen in this Google Earth image. Tampa Heights residents hope to save it from the wrecking ball. [ Google Earth ]
Published Dec. 17, 2021|Updated Dec. 17, 2021

TAMPA — The Florida Department of Transportation says they have tried and failed to find someone willing to purchase and relocate the century-old vacant apartment building at 1902 N Lamar Ave. since they bought the historic Tampa Heights structure in 2015.

Now, the agency says the building’s decrepit condition leaves them with one option — raze it.

The demolition permit was approved on Nov. 24, according to Dennis Fernandez, the city of Tampa’s architectural review and historic preservation manager.

But a neighborhood association and historic preservationists successfully lobbied the FDOT for an opportunity to find a way to save it. FDOT granted them 60 days.

That period is up on Jan. 28. FDOT would like the association to find a buyer who is willing to relocate it.

But “at this point, we just asked the association to come back to us with any option and we can discuss further,” said Kristen Carson, a spokesperson for FDOT District 7.

Tampa Heights Civic Association President Brian Seel said his neighborhood is open to someone moving it. But they prefer that the building is kept at its current location.

One option, he said, is to find someone to lease it from FDOT and turn the structure into a community center.

That’s the same deal struck around a decade ago for the building at 2005 N Lamar Ave., Seel said.

That 116-year-old church is now used by the Tampa Heights Junior Civic Association, a nonprofit that, according to its website, “connects youth and families to community resources; provides youth opportunities to build leadership and civic involvement through mentoring.”

“FDOT still owns it,” Seel said. “But we banded together and renovated it and provide all the maintenance to the property.”

So while the association is actively looking for a buyer for 1902 N Lamar Ave., he said, they are also seeking someone who will temporarily stabilize the building so they can further negotiate with FDOT.

“FDOT sees it as a nuisance and a danger to the community,” Seel said. “We look at it as an opportunity for the community.”

Related: A historic Tampa home might be razed, but former owners want to stop it

Built in 1925, the 4,000-square-foot apartment building is within the boundaries of the Tampa Heights Historic District. It is considered a contributing structure, which means the architecture adds to the historical integrity of the district.

FDOT purchased the property “with the intent that the interchange improvements would require it,” Carson said, but that is no longer the case. “Although the current safety and operational project will not require the property, we will hold the property until after construction and an assessment of the operations can be conducted.”

Due to interchange improvements, FDOT purchased another 64 Tampa properties between 2001 and 2017, Carson said, and relocated the buildings on those lots.

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They planned on doing the same with 1902 N Lamar Ave.

“It’s not structurally unsound to move,” Carson said, “but it was in worse shape than the other structures,” so they decided against relocating it. “The primary concern of all professionals involved was the unknown amount of deterioration due to it being timber-framed with stucco over it. Poor construction methods.”

She said the building is for sale for only a few hundred dollars, but interested parties have backed away due to the cost of relocating and then rehabbing it.

FDOT’s decision not to move it, Carson said, was based on a 2008 structural evaluation, which was before FDOT owned it.

But Rick Fernandez, a lifelong Tampa Heights resident and association board member, said that “people were living in that building in 2008. People lived there in 2011 and 2012.”

It was structurally sound, he said, but “has fallen apart under” FDOT watch. “This is demolition by neglect.”

FDOT said the building has become a safety issue because, since their purchase, police have been called to it 41 times.

Seel and Fernandez say that is because FDOT has refused the neighborhood’s request to erect a fence around it.

“We have complained about vagrants and potential arson and trash dumping,” Seel said. “But they never did anything to stop it.”

Fernandez believes the issue is that FDOT does not care about the neighborhood.

“They don’t think it’s worth saving because they don’t value much of anything that goes on at the ground level where people live,” he said. “All they care about is building roads and moving cars. For our neighborhood, that building is a part of our history.”

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