TAMPA — Bill Carlson said that in late 2013 he promised Jackson House owner Willie Robinson that he would help save Tampa’s last standing segregation-era boardinghouse.
Months later, he was among those who stopped the city from demolishing the century-old downtown structure built by Robinson’s family.
Robinson has since died, and the Jackson House is owned by a foundation charged with restoring and turning it into a Black history museum.
Now a Tampa City Council member, Carlson said he intends to continue to live up to his vow to Robinson.
With the building seemingly ready to fall over, Carlson said the Jackson House Foundation should sell it to the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency. If the nonprofit refuses, Carlson said, the city should find a way to take ownership. He is even willing to condemn and temporarily dismantle the historic building at 851 E Zack St.
“We can either allow the Jackson House to fall down,” Carlson said, “or we can take quick action to save it.”
The foundation has raised around $3 million. Around $2.5 million is needed to restore the building. It will take about another $1.6 million to furnish it as a museum that honors the Black boardinghouse, where James Brown, Ella Fitzgerald and Cab Calloway stayed and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. visited.
The holdup is a fire code-required 10-foot buffer between the two-story, 4,000-square-foot Jackson House and the neighboring parking lots. To create that buffer, lot owners 717 Parking must provide 2,100 square feet of their land to the foundation. So far, 717 Parking president Jason Accardi has refused.
If Tampa owned the Jackson House, Carlson said, “it would make it easier for the city to file eminent domain for the land.”
The foundation would continue to be involved and could reinvest the sales proceeds into the Jackson House. The Hillsborough County Property Appraiser’s website says it has a market value of $281,058.
Carolyn Collins, chairperson of the foundation, said she appreciates Carlson’s “commitment and concern, but there are other possibilities before we take that route.”
But the foundation, Collins said, “has always accepted as a possibility” that they might have to sell to the city.
If the foundation were to balk at an offer and he feels it is necessary to save the Jackson House, Carlson is prepared to ask the city to condemn the building that has exterior walls sliding to the ground and is missing parts of the roof. The city could then raze it.
But Carlson does not want it to be bulldozed.
Instead, he wants it meticulously taken apart by advisers from the University of South Florida and the Tampa Bay History Center, with each piece marked and archived so that it can later be rebuilt. He would also want the city to then investigate how to best take ownership of the land.
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Carlson has asked for city staff, by the end of July, to report to the City Council with options.
Carlson did not provide a deadline for when the city should act, but with the Jackson House’s restoration architect recently saying that it cannot survive a major storm, he said they are “out of time. … I’m hoping that the community will all come together to save this important building and to save it quickly so that it doesn’t fall down.”