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Central Tampa News

Campaign to save Tampa’s Jackson House gaining momentum

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Published:   |   Updated: September 27, 2013 at 04:09 PM

TAMPA — A campaign to save the historic Jackson House is falling in place days after Tax Collector Doug Belden and businessman Marvin Knight announced they would lead the effort.

Local artists, preservationists and business people have joined the project.

“The word is spreading very fast,” said Belden. “It’s a good community effort.”

Belden is pulling together a team of volunteers that includes architect Carlos Alfonso, former Tampa city councilwoman Linda Saul-Sena and lawyer John Grandoff. Students from the University of Tampa and the University of South Florida also are part of the group. And representatives of the Tampa Hillsborough Human Rights Council have spoken with Knight about helping out.

A civil engineer, and owners of landscaping, window repair and air-conditioning businessses also have offered support.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s staff has scheduled an Oct. 10 meeting to address future plans for the 112-year-old rooming house.

During segregation the house at 851 Zack St. was among few establishments where blacks could find lodging. It was a haven for entertainers such as Ella Fitzgerald, James Brown, Billie Holiday and Cab Calloway when they played nightclubs on Central Avenue.

It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Florida’s Black Heritage Trail and is a locally designated landmark.

At Thursday’s Tampa City Council meeting, former councilwoman Linda Saul-Sena presented a framed painting of Jackson House by artist Taylor Ikin called “Ella Slept Here” for display in City Hall’s lobby.

Councilwoman Yvonne Capin lamented a lack of money in the city’s 2014 budget that might help with the building’s restoration. “To me it’s a very sad statement about how important our history is to us in our city,” she said. “We really need to take that into consideration.”

Belden said he wants to use private money and not rely on “ a single dime of taxpayer’s dollars.”

Councilwoman Mary Mulhern said she had plans to organize a fundraising event for the house.

Artist James Vann created a photo collage depicting the house and its original owner, Sarah Jackson, encircled by portraits of some of her famous guests. He has donated it to help the restoration effort.

“It possibly could be used in an auction or reproduced as posters ... to help raise funds for the restoration and/or as memorabilia!” Vann wrote in an email.

The house has fallen into such disrepair that code enforcement inspectors fear it could collapse unless basic repairs are made. Owner Willie Robinson Jr. faces daily fines if he doesn’t do minimal repairs, but he has said he has few resources to cover the costs.

Robinson inherited the family homestead from his mother, Sarah Robinson, who died in 2006 at age 89.

Belden said he hopes to persuade city officials to “not set a time frame (for code enforcement matters) as long as we can show we are progressing. It takes time to raise funds and get commitments.”

Bracken Engineering has estimated it will cost $1 million and take three years to complete needed repairs.

Robinson applied months ago to establish the Jackson House Foundation to allow tax-detuctible donations, but his request remains pending. “I’m going to see if we can expedite that,” said Belden who has contacted a lawyer to help out. “That can trigger potential funding.”

For more information, visit www.jacksonroominghouse.com.

ksteele@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7652

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