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Supporters seek to save historic Jackson Rooming House

Published:   |   Updated: November 22, 2013 at 07:00 AM

The supporters of Tampa’s historic Jackson Rooming House, located at 851 Zack St., appealed to Tampa City Council this morning for a 60-day extension of a potential demolition order to allow time for a non-profit group to buy and stabilize the dilapidated structure.

“A number of people have contacted me who are willing to step up and stabilize it,” Linda Saul-Sena, a former city councilwoman, said. “We’re putting a deal together with people that want to save this piece of Tampa history.”

Saul-Sena asked council members to support an extension and to ask Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s staff to grant it. Without that extension, Jackson House could be torn down by the end of next month.

The 112-year-old house housed Ella Fitzgerald, Cab Calloway and Martin Luther King Jr. during the decades when segregation was in force in the South. It is one of the few remaining pieces of the city’s former African American business community centered on Central Avenue.

City officials have given Jackson House owner Willie Robinson until the end of this month to come up with a plan and funding to stabilize the house, which has fallen into such extreme disrepair that the city says it poses a threat to the public.

Robinson said this week he doesn’t have the tens of thousands of dollars to meet the city’s requests and will demolish the building.

Saul-Sena said she and other supporters had reached a deal with Robinson last week under which he would donate the house to a non-profit – the Jackson House Foundation – that would stabilize it and begin the restoration process.

Saul-Sena said Robinson changed his mind on Monday, leading to the new effort to buy it from him outright.

“This project is too big for one person,” Saul-Sena said.

Councilwoman Yvonne Yolie Capin support the preservation effort.

“The city cannot have a clear conscience when it comes to that home,” she said. “It is of African American origin, but it’s American history.”

Other council members were skeptical that the rush to preserve the house would work.

“What proof do you have in writing that someone can secure the $50,000 to get this done?” Councilman Frank Reddick asked Saul-Sena. “No one has put one dollar in the bank.”

Councilman Mike Suarez doubted Saul-Sena’s group could raise the money and meet the city’s requirements even with a 60-day extension.

“In this timeframe, there’s no way they’re going to do it,” Suarez said.

Buckhorn said he’s willing to work with Saul-Sena and Jackson House supporters -- if they can prove they’re serious.

And the sooner they do that, the better.

“She needs to show us the money,” the mayor said. “If I were to see credible evidence that they have real resources -- not just happy talk -- we’d be willing to work with them.”

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Twitter: @kwiatrowskiTBO