TAMPA — Once considered to be among Tampa’s most lavishly designed homes, the Guida House has sat vacant since the city purchased it in 1984.
A dozen years ago, the city was willing to partner with the public to find a use for the 5,000-square-foot, two-story structure located inside Macfarlane Park. Nothing came of that idea, and the house noted for its heart-shaped driveway has since been ignored.
“The city has other priorities,” said Linda Saul-Sena, advocacy chairperson for the Center for Architecture and Design Tampa Bay, which lobbies for historic preservation.
She hopes a proposed state bill will prioritize the Guida House and historic buildings throughout Tampa Bay.
The bill, the Main Street Historic Tourism and Revitalization Act, would provide up to a 30% state tax credit for qualified expenses in rehabilitating certain historic structures.
That tax credit could be received in addition to an existing federal one for up to 20% back.
“That’s a lot of money,” area preservationist Del Acosta said. “That could save a lot of buildings, like the Jackson House,” the former downtown segregation-era boarding home now owned by a nonprofit that wants to convert it into a museum.
According to the bill — SB 288 in the Senate and HB 499 in the House — a structure would have to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places to be eligible for a 20% state tax credit, as is the case for the federal one. The Guida and Jackson houses both have that designation. Structures not currently listed could apply.
The applicant does not have to be the building’s owner. They could also hold a lease contract of 39 years or more.
An applicant could receive another 10% back from the state if the building’s neighborhood is a designated Florida Main Street, a state program that helps revitalize historic downtown districts through grants and other measures.
Tampa does not have a Florida Main Street, but St. Petersburg has three — Deuces Live, the Edge District and the Grand Central District.
“A state tax credit program added to the national program would mean 50% back for those districts,” said Manny Leto, executive director of Preserve the ‘Burg, which advocates for St. Petersburg preservation. “It would be a huge opportunity for St. Petersburg.”
A state program could also save historic buildings from demolition. Buildings on the National Register of Historic Places can be knocked down, while a local historic landmark designation protects the structure from being razed.
Some property owners refuse local designation because it means the building must maintain its historic look, which is costly. For example, half of Tampa’s two dozen remaining cigar factories do not carry local historic protection.
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“The state tax credit could offset some costs,” Leto said. “Property owners might then be more willing to seek local protections.”
Other states that already offer such a program have an advantage, said Stephanie Ferrell, a Tampa architect specializing in historic restoration. Florida is one of 13 states without a historic preservation tax credit.
There are developers who specifically look for historic property, she said, but bypass Florida.
“If you could save money by going to a state that offers a tax credit, why wouldn’t they?” she said. “It’s a no-brainer. It’s about preserving history but it is also about economics.”
While similar bills have failed in recent years, Saul-Sena is hopeful that this year is different.
“It could be a game-changer for historic preservation,” she said. “Stalled projects like the Guida House could get life again.”
The Guida House was built in 1951 by George Guida Sr., a well-to-do contractor and bank founder known as Mr. West Tampa.
Guida lived there with his wife and children, but also opened it up to weddings and fundraisers for nonprofit groups.
In recent years, the city has estimated that it would cost $1 million to bring the house back to code.
“I imagine it being a wedding venue again,” Saul-Sena said. “The possibilities are endless.”
How to use federal tax credits for historic preservation
The Center for Architecture and Design Tampa Bay is hosting a workshop on the topic from 12 to 2 p.m. on April 18 at the J.C. Newman Cigar Factory, 2701 N 16th St. in Tampa.
The event is part of its Tampa Bay Design Week. For a full listing of events, visit cadtampabay.org.