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Jeff and Penny Vinik donate $1 million for Jackson House

The gift from the Tampa Bay Lightning owner and his wife will help preserve the African American landmark in Tampa.
The Jackson House in downtown Tampa in February. The historic building was a rooming home for African Americans including celebrities during the segregation era. On Monday, Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik announced a $1 million gift toward its preservation.
The Jackson House in downtown Tampa in February. The historic building was a rooming home for African Americans including celebrities during the segregation era. On Monday, Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik announced a $1 million gift toward its preservation. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Nov. 18, 2019
Updated Nov. 18, 2019

TAMPA—Thirty years since the final guests stayed at the Jackson House, Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and his wife, Penny, have given $1 million to preserve the historic rooming house that sheltered African American visitors during segregation

The Viniks’ gift, made through their charitable family foundation, goes a long way toward saving the historic structure, which has deteriorated badly over the years.

“As Tampa continues to grow and change, it is critical that we invest in preserving the unique and valuable history of those who laid the foundation for our progress,” said Jeff Vinik in statement. “Tampa’s diversity is our most valuable asset.”

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said the deteriorated state of the building, originally a private home built around the turn of the 20th century, means it will likely have to be largely rebuilt.

“It’s in such a stage of disrepair that it’s more than likely we’re just going to be able to take as much of the original structure as we can. And then just rebuild,” Castor said Monday about the two-story house at 851 E Zack St. near the county courthouses and Union Station.

RELATED: Jackson House in need of major repairs

Whether the house will move from its current location, which is wedged between parking lots, is a decision for the nonprofit foundation that has worked to save it, Castor said.

Originally constructed as a two-room cottage in 1901 by Moses Jackson for his family, the building was enlarged to become a rooming house in 1912. Over the ensuing decades, it became a temporary home for railroad porters, out-of-town visitors and black celebrities, including James Brown, Ella Fitzgerald and Cab Calloway.

In recent years, the building had to be stabilized by wooden beams to keep it from falling over — courtesy of a gift from the Lightning.

A nonprofit Jackson House Foundation was formed to save the structure. Earlier this year, foundation officials announced a $1.5 million capital campaign to save the building. Vinik’s gift goes a long way toward that goal.

State Rep. Dianne Hart and State Sen. Darryl Rouson are seeking state aid and Castor said the city will seek grants to help cover whatever costs remain.

“Our history is imperative. Future generations need to understand how this city was built and who built it,” Castor said.

Dr. Carolyn Hepburn Collins began trying to save the Jackson House nearly seven years ago when she was the president of the local chapter of the NAACP.

She continued that work as chairwoman of Jackson House Foundation. On Monday, she celebrated the gift that made saving the house “a reality.”

“On behalf of the Jackson House Foundation Board of Directors, we are eternally grateful for the generous time and resources (that) have made saving the Jackson House a reality,” said Collins in a statement. “From the support of Mayor Castor and the city council to the infusion of critical support from Mr. and Mrs. Vinik, we are thankful and we encourage everyone to join this effort to preserve our history.”

Vinik is part of FBN Partners, a group of local investors who have loaned a total of about $15 million to Times Publishing Co., which owns the Tampa Bay Times.