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Tampa moves to take over troubled Memorial Park Cemetery, but only for a while

The city has agreed to take the title via foreclosure and is working to create a nonprofit that would own the cemetery in the long run.

TAMPA — The city of Tampa has insisted that it will not saddle taxpayers with the financially troubled Memorial Park Cemetery, whose owner died in July.

City attorney Gina Grimes reiterated that position on Thursday when she told the Tampa City Council, “The city is not in the cemetery business.”

It appears now that she was speaking in the long term.

The city is moving to obtain the title to the African American cemetery at 2225 E. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. through a lien and foreclosure — but only long enough to pass it on to a nonprofit group that would own and maintain it.

The city is filing the paperwork and seeking board members to create the nonprofit.

Related: With death of owner, future uncertain for Tampa’s troubled Memorial Park Cemetery

The plan drew concerns from City Council member John Dingfelder, who asked at the council meeting Thursday what would happen years from now if the proposed non-profit "fritters away?”

“We should have some sort of reverter clause," Dingfelder said, "so we can continue to control and observe the nonprofit to make sure we don’t end up in that situation decades from now.”

Still, the City Council on Thursday approved a resolution to place a $4,200 lien against the Robinson estate to recoup expenses for a third round of mowing and maintenance.

Since Robinson’s death, the city has mowed the lawn, removed trash and performed other basic maintenance, spending around $15,000 thus far on three visits to Memorial.

Related: City leaders fear Memorial Park Cemetery could become the next Zion

If the estate does not pay by March 21, a lien can be recorded the next day. Then the estate has another five days before the city is authorized to file foreclosure proceedings on the lien and take possession of the property.

“When we foreclose on the lien, by that process we will obtain title/ownership, after which we will transfer to the non-profit," Grimnes said in an email to the Times.

The 20-acre cemetery is the final resting place for some 6,000 people and home to a memorial erected to honor black soldiers killed during World War I.

Longtime owner John Robinson died and left it through an estate to his niece Wendy Scolaro and nephew William Robinson III. Neither they nor other survivors have any desire to take over the cemetery.