TAMPA — The Salvation Army has had a presence in Tampa Heights for more than six decades, offering food and shelter to the needy in buildings along Florida Avenue. Now the charity plans to shrink its footprint in the up-and-coming neighborhood, with the goal of expanding services there.
The organization announced plans this week to sell three properties north of Interstate 275, tapping the value to transform an existing headquarters into a full-service shelter.
"God calls us to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and meet human needs in his name without discrimination, and that can happen better if we open up these assets to the community and take the income and put it into our mission," said Capt. Captain Andy Miller III, the group's Tampa area commander.
The sales would free prime real estate in a neighborhood in the midst of a transformation sparked in part by the extension of the city's Riverwalk.
One property is the Red Shield Lodge, a three-story, 23,000-square-foot building at the corner of Henderson and Florida avenues that houses an emergency shelter for men and women. The lodge has 150 beds, but there is funding to fill only about 120 of them, Miller said. The aging building is also expensive to maintain.
The plan is to renovate the headquarters across the street to create a shelter with a capacity of about 180 beds. That would allow the charity to expand the program if funding permits. Zoning allows for 40 beds, so adding more would require the city's blessing. The headquarters, at 1603 N Florida Ave., would also continue to house administrative offices.
The other two properties in flux are a vacant lot just north of the headquarters and a warehouse two blocks south, at 1428 N Florida Ave.
The charity, which is celebrating 125 years in Tampa this week, is launching a capital fundraising campaign for an effort it has dubbed "Reaching New Heights." It aims to complete sales and renovation by 2020.
Sam Chandler, a Realtor with Smith & Associates Real Estate, said Tampa Heights has emerged as the next frontier in redeveloping Tampa's urban core, as evidenced by new food halls Armature Works and the Hall on Franklin, and residential projects such as the Pearl Apartments. Available properties will only add fuel to that fire, Chandler said.
"This will help Tampa Heights turn the next corner as the next premiere urban neighborhood in Tampa," he said.
The program has had a sometimes tense relationship with City Hall over the years. In a statement, Mayor Bob Buckhorn said that what he has heard about the latest plan sounds like "a step in the right direction."
"The Franklin Street corridor is on the verge of significant redevelopment opportunities that will reflect and complement the existing neighborhood of Tampa Heights and the area around the Tampa Riverwalk," Buckhorn said. "Whatever remaining social services exist should tailor their activities to enhance this reality."
That's already happening, Miller said. The Salvation Army stopped operating a soup kitchen a couple of years ago, sharply cutting down on foot traffic. Lodge guests must show they're working to get back on their feet. That's easier to do if there are places to work nearby, and every new business that opens in Tampa Heights offers potential job opportunities, Miller said.
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"I think there's a lot of support for what we're doing," he said. "Our relationship with the Tampa Heights Civic Association, the businesses on Franklin and on the Riverwalk is evidence that we're good neighbors."