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Friday, Aug 22, 2014
Steve Otto Columns

Otto: If this guy is nuts, we should all be

Published:

Is Morris Hintzman nuts?

Several speakers, including Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Hintzman himself, had fun with this line I used in a column to ask about the sanity of building a project such as MiraclePlace.

I used the line half in jest, knowing that when Hintzman first told me about the mammoth project to add 52 apartment units and several periphery buildings to Metropolitan Ministries on Florida Avenue that it was as good as done. The dedication last week only sealed the deal.

And MiraclePlace is the real deal. One of the speakers at the dedication called it the “single most important project completed in our community.”

That speaker was Martin Silbiger, former chief of staff at Tampa General Hospital, dean of the College of Medicine at the University of South Florida and so much else.

I suppose “important” is a subjective measure when talking about the value of things. My guess is that in the not-too-distant future we’re going to spend a half-billion dollars on a new baseball stadium and I’m sure there will be editorials and speeches calling it the most important downtown project (or wherever) building in our history. I’ve heard the same thing about Tampa International Airport and the University of South Florida, and it would be hard to quibble about any of those.

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But if your idea of what’s important is about a community’s conscience or its determination to reach out to those families whose lives have been shattered — men, women and children who have fallen through those unseen but very real cracks — then MiraclePlace is that important.

I have to go back a few decades to a very cold night when I met Morris Hintzman.

I was doing one of those stories that reporters often do; slipping into the world of the homeless with plans to spend a couple of nights sleeping in shelters (I made it through one) and trying to get a sense of what life was like in the darker corners of our community.

I was standing on a Florida Avenue street corner at the edge of town.

Across the street in an empty lot, a group of men huddled around a large can, reaching hands close to the rising flames.

The man standing next to me watching this was notable only because he reminded me of comic Tim Conway, who used to be on the old “Carol Burnett Show.”

I don’t how we got into conversation, but he told me he was going to build a shelter that would be comprehensive and change this part of town. I suppose that’s when I used that “You must be nuts” line.

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But in the next few years, the Methodist minister did all of that, one program, one project at a time.

Today, three decades down the line, Metropolitan Ministries has more than 100 employees and thousands of volunteers. In 2011, more than 22,000 families came to the ministries’ outreach centers for assistance with food, housing and utility bills.

Hintzman shows no sign of slowing up. The dedication last week was what he calls “phase one.” At the same time they cut the ribbon, they broke ground yards away on a new chapel, a youth enrichment center and a gymnasium.

After that, the third phase will be an elementary school with district school teachers.

Is Morris Hintzman nuts? If he is, we can only hope it’s catching.

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