TAMPA — There are big plans for the historic Jackson House.
The nonprofit that owns the segregation-era Black boarding home wants to restore the vacant structure, which is one bad storm away from blowing apart. The goal is to convert it into a Black history museum. The Jackson House Foundation has secured more than $2 million for the cause.
But the project has stalled, possibly permanently.
The restoration effort requires the owner of neighboring properties to provide 2,100 square feet of their land to the foundation. This would create a city-required 10-foot buffer between the property boundaries to the east and west sides.
After a year of negotiations with owners Jason and John Accardi, no deal has been struck though the proposal would add square footage to their properties.
The foundation is losing hope and fears the downtown Tampa building will collapse sooner than later.
“I’m having a real problem understanding the unwillingness of the Accardis to work with us,” foundation chair Carolyn Collins said. “The house is trying to tell us that we don’t have a lot more time.”
It has been stabilized, but the collapsing roof and exterior walls and missing windows expose it to the environment.
When the two-story, 4,000-square-foot structure was built at 851 E Zack St. at the turn of the 20th century, it was constructed very close to the property lines — 3 feet to the west and 1 foot to the east, according to restoration architect Jerel McCants.
Restoration requires the building meet modern city fire codes, which includes the 10-foot distance between it and neighboring properties.
It will cost $2.5 million to restore the house with the buffers, according to the Tampa Bay History Center, which is partnering with the foundation on the venture.
Without buffers, it could cost triple that to ensure the house meets city fire code, McCants said.
The Accardis did not respond to two voicemails or emails.
Their attorney, Bryan Sykes, said he “cannot discuss the existence, nature or scope of negotiations that any of my clients are involved in with regard to any business matter.”
In emails provided to the Tampa Bay Times by the city of Tampa via a public information request and by the foundation, the Accardis acknowledge the importance of the Jackson House. It’s where James Brown, Ella Fitzgerald and Cab Calloway stayed and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. visited.
“The restoration of the Jackson House needs to get going ASAP and would be a big win for the city, the Vinik group, and us and prevent the loss of an invaluable cultural asset that has significant support in the community,” Jason Accardi wrote in a September 2021 email to the city and Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik’s Family Foundation, which has donated $1 million toward restoration.
Read inspiring stories about ordinary lives
Subscribe to our free How They Lived newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
“Unfortunately, we are not willing to provide an easement on either side of the house,” Accardi continued. “We would like to continue to support you, the city of Tampa and the Jackson House with any issues with the delay in issuing a building permit for the reconstruction project with the design necessary to maintain the house’s federal historic status.”
Collins thinks that was lip service.
“I don’t think they want the house there and will only be happy if we tear it down and give them the property,” she said. “They don’t seem to respect our city’s history and the importance of preserving it.”
The emails show that the Vinik Family Foundation and the city have been part of the negotiations. Through a spokesperson, Vinik declined comment.
According to the emails, the Jackson House Foundation requested the Accardi properties to be used for easements, which is the right to go onto or use someone else’s land without having ownership interest. The Accardi property to the west is used by an Enterprise rental car facility. To the east is one of their 717 Parking company’s parking lots. They have at least 40 parking lots throughout downtown, Channelside and Ybor City.
“We offered to buy it, we offered to trade for it, we offered everything,” Collins said. “They still said no.”
The easements would erase 20 total existing parking spaces — 10 from each property. The properties could then be reconfigured to add back 10 parallel parking spots.
“The loss of 10 spaces along with the parallel parking configuration, as proposed, is not acceptable,” Sykes wrote in that email.
In exchange for the easement, the city suggested in emails that it could give to the Accardis, pending City Council approval, the 9,172-square-foot vacant public right-of-way that runs behind the Jackson House and the two Accardi properties.
The city emails estimate that narrow strip of land could fit 27 parking spaces. In all, the Accardis could net 17 spaces and around 7,000 square feet of property in the deal.
In an email to the city and the Accardis, Vinik Family Foundation attorney Tyler Hudson called this a “reasonable and minimal request.” But Sykes replied his clients would agree to the terms only if they could continue to use the easements for parking until the land is developed. The city told the Times that parking on the easement would violate fire codes.
Without a buffer to the west, it will be more difficult to make the house ADA accessible. That is where they planned on adding a ramp.
“Without more room, we would go over the property line,” architect McCants said.
There are other options, McCants said. They could reconstruct a smaller version of the house or construct new east and west exterior walls made of materials that provide increased fire protection. Each could satisfy code, McCants said, but double or triple the construction price plus cost the house its local and national historic landmark status, which require a structure to maintain its original exterior.
“This is not a full back to the drawing board moment,” Collins said. “We have funding. But we do have to go back to the drawing board to alter some things. We’re going to move forward.”
Collins said she was initially shocked when the Accardis rebuffed their offers.
“They had been great neighbors,” she said.
For years, the Accardis provided free parking to the descendants of those who built the house, and space on their properties for construction equipment used to stabilize the structure.
“It is their right to do what they want with their property,” Collins said. “It is the consensus of the board that we will never sell our property to anyone. Maybe to rebuild, we lose historic designation. Maybe we end up with a historic marker saying the Jackson House was once there. But that property will forever tell the story of the Jackson House in some way.”