TAMPA — At its peak in the 1950s, the Tampa Garden Club had more than 1,400 members and two dozen neighborhood groups.
Today, the club’s membership is down to around 400 and their ancillary organizations to eight.
“It’s been a struggle to keep the lights on,” club president Michele Vatalaro said. “But we survive through our clubhouse that is a small event and wedding garden facility” on 3 acres at 2629 Bayshore Blvd.
But the Tampa Garden Club’s board says that a proposed neighboring 60-unit, 29-story condominium tower now threatens its revenue stream.
If it goes up, the board is concerned that the noise caused by construction and new resident neighbors might force their 95-year-old organization to close.
“People have the right to develop their property,” club vice president Paula Meckley said. “But when it starts negatively impacting our property, we have a problem.”
There’s irony to the situation.
The tower would be built on land sold by Rodeph Sholom. The 119-year-old synagogue’s leadership says the deal will allow them to survive for another 100 years.
Rodeph Shalom owns 2.12 acres at 2713 Bayshore Blvd.
They are negotiating to sell 1.48 acres of the property to a developer while maintaining ownership of the remaining land.
“We want the synagogue to stay,” Vatalaro said. “What we want is a builder who is going to come in and take care of the neighborhood.”
The board said they relayed concerns to the developer, the Related Group, but they did not seem to care. That was news to Julia Mandell, the GrayRobinson attorney representing the Related Group.
“I’ve personally been involved in those conversations,” she said. “We have indicated we are willing to do whatever it is that will make them feel more comfortable. I don’t know that the idea that this will kill their business has ever been stated to us.”
But it could, the club contends.
The nonprofit’s mission statement, according to its website, is to promote “the cultivation, preservation, and improvement of the urban landscape through educational programs and direct financial support for organizations dedicated to environmental conservation and civic improvement.”
According to the nonprofit club’s tax filings for 2021 available through propublica.org, their annual expenses were $174,567. They earned $188,898 through rentals.
“Now we have to start telling brides: ‘When you come here in 2024, they may be putting pilings next door,’” Vatalaro said. “They may have cranes up.”
The board understands that construction, whether via the proposed tower or something else, is inevitable. Their main concern is perpetual noise once the tower is complete and they have new neighbors.
Plans include a fourth-floor outdoor pickleball area facing the club’s property.
“We have wedding ceremonies put on by a minister,” Vatalaro said. “Will there be a language code when they play?”
The board is concerned that rentals will slow down to the point that they cannot pay the bills. Mandell said they shouldn’t be worried.
The condo property only directly abuts the club’s parking lot. Rodeph Shalom will continue to be the event space’s direct neighbor.
“We’re talking about units that are 2,700 to 4,600 square feet that are selling in the $2 million, $3 million, $4 million range,” Mandell said. “We’re not talking about a group of people that are going to be throwing naked pool parties ... keeping in mind that they are located next to a synagogue.”
The Related Group already is discussing ways to accommodate Rodeph Shalom during services and are willing to do the same with the Tampa Garden Club, she said.
The club also is concerned that the Related Group is asking the city to change the property’s Future Land Use category from one that allows for up to 35 dwelling units per acre to one that allows up to 83. That means the condo tower could include up to 111 units. The club board said they will fight to prevent that from happening.
“It’s not our intent to build anything that massive,” Mandell said, “Without the change, they could erect only 50 units, not 60.
“We’ve always wanted to be good neighbors and hope our neighbors want to do the same,” Vatalaro said. “We’ve had our ups and downs over the years, but if you’re in a room with six people, there’s going to be two people who have attended a wedding here or somebody whose parents or a friend was married here. Everyone has a memory of this club.”