Tampa Jewish Community Center details plans for historic armory

Published Sept. 29, 2012

TAMPA — Nutritional seminars and health screenings are coming to the historic Fort Homer Hesterly Armory, the first of many services expected to transform the site where John F. Kennedy, Elvis Presley and professional wrestlers once appeared into a Jewish Community Center serving south Tampa.

JCC leaders said Friday the University of South Florida and Tampa General Hospital plan to rent space at the facility, also slated to house a fitness center, a gymnasium outfitted for league sports and a swimming pool.

USF and TGH expect to offer complementary fitness services at the JCC-based center, such as wellness seminars, health screenings and physical therapy.

That's the start of the projects proposed for the former armory, said Jack Ross, executive director of the Tampa Jewish Community Center. Also in the works:

• A "premier" facility for weddings, Bar and Bat Mitzvah celebrations and other events. JCC leaders are negotiating with a yet-unnamed partner to run it.

• A cafe that observes Jewish kosher dietary guidelines.

• A pre-school to open in addition to existing JCC pre-schools in north and south Tampa.

A survey of the Jewish community revealed pent-up demand for these services, Ross said.

"They would like to see the JCC south campus become the epicenter for Jewish communal life in the south end of Tampa," he said. "And that's what we're hoping."

The JCC also sought input from the west Tampa neighbors of the historic armory. Membership to the JCC is open to all, regardless of religion. The organization has not yet determined what it will charge to join.

Other community requests for the new location: A theater for film festivals and local productions and a professional-quality artists studio. The JCC is also interested in a center where elementary-school students could learn about the harms of bullying, racism and anti-Semitism.

The Tampa JCC announced in January plans to sign a 99-year lease with the option to buy the armory building, which has been empty since 2004, and 5 acres on the southern part of the parcel. The armory sits between Howard and Armenia avenues, south of Interstate 275 and north of Kennedy Boulevard.

The goal is to open the new center by the beginning of 2015, Ross said. The JCC is preparing a capital campaign to cover the costs, the details of which will be shared soon.

Letitia Stein can be reached at or (727) 893-8330.