The Tampa Jewish Community Center on Monday celebrated the launch of its $26 million project to transform the historic Fort Homer Hesterly Armory into a new community center.
The organization also unveiled a new name for the facility: the Bryan Glazer Family JCC, in honor of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers co-chairman who has pledged $4 million to the project.
When work is completed next year, the armory at 522 N Howard Ave. should have more than 100,000 square feet of community space. The center is expected to open in September 2016.
"This is the beginning of something special," Mayor Bob Buckhorn said. "This is the beginning of what Tampa will look like 10 years from now."
Many others joined Buckhorn in linking the center to a wave of development taking place throughout the city, including Jeff Vinik's revitalization of the southern end of downtown, the conversion of the old federal courthouse into the high-end Le Meridien Hotel, the rebirth of Water Works Park and the completion of the neighboring Riverwalk.
"The (building's) iconic history will never take a back seat to what this is going to offer, but what is going to happen is, this will be a catalyst for change," Hillsborough County Commission chairwoman Sandy Murman said. "We're all referring to Jeff Vinik. He's given us the redevelopment bug, and it has certainly hit West Tampa."
Facilities will include an event center with seating for more than 650, an outdoor pool, indoor track and gym. The space will also house an Innovation Center for Israeli startup companies that wish to do business in the United States, said Jack Ross, executive director of the Tampa Jewish Community Center.
In April, City Hall signed a 10-year lease to put a new city art studio in the building. The studio will host programs that have been crammed into the city's dilapidated Hyde Park Art Studio near Swann Avenue.
Monday's ceremony drew community members and elected officials, including U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, state Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, state Rep. Dana Young, R-Tampa, and Tampa City Council member Harry Cohen.
In 2013, the armory, vacant since 2004, was added to the National Register of Historic Places. The military history of the site goes back to 1898, when Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders camped on the property before sailing for Cuba during the Spanish-American War.
Completed in 1941, the art deco-style building hosted speeches by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and President John F. Kennedy, who spoke there four days before he was assassinated. It also welcomed crowds for pro boxing and wrestling matches, plus concerts by Buddy Holly, James Brown, Elvis Presley, the Doors, Pink Floyd and the Ramones.
Glazer said his interest in the project piqued early on, especially as the recently married Buccaneers co-chairman thought of the experiences he'd like his future children to have one day.
"This area needed a spark," Glazer said. "The most important thing for me is that it's actually for the entire community. It's for not just the Jewish community, it's everybody. … It's going to be a fabric of this area."
The idea, Ross said, is to make these programs and opportunities available to all residents while honoring the historic relevance of the armory and the city with collages adorning the revitalized site.
"It's like a YMCA on cultural and educational steroids," Ross said. "Imagine bringing this broad spectrum of relevancy to the Tampa Bay community, all encompassed with a historic restoration project."