When the Florida Department of Transportation announced their plans to add toll lanes to I-275 in what is now known as the Tampa Bay Express project, Tampa Heights residents reacted in shock last year.
FDOT officials said that as part of the ultimate construction of the project, there are properties in Seminole Heights and Tampa Heights that will be have to be removed – including the former Faith Temple Missionary Baptist Church on Palm Avenue that in the past five years has been transformed into a community center by the Tampa Heights Junior Civic Association.
Those plans haven’t changed, but Tampa House Democrat Ed Narain and Brandon GOP state Senator Tom Lee were able to save the day to an extent by getting a $1.2 million appropriation into the state budget that will allow for the property to be physically relocated somewhere else in the community.
On Thursday, Narain and Lee were joined by Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller and neighborhood active Lena Young-Green in celebrating the news at the Tampa Heights Youth Community Center.
“The old Faith Temple Church serves as a save haven and educational center and a community resource for the Tampa Heights community,” said Narain. “This is truly a community treasure, and I’m proud to stand up here as a representative who was able to go to Tallahassee to start the process to get the funds to relocate this center.”
Senator Lee said that when done well, public service is a “team sport.”
Maintaining that bipartisan spirit, Commissioner Miller said he told Narain when he was elected in 2014 that as a member of the minority party in the Florida House, “you gotta learn how to work across the aisle,” and said that he told him that the first person he should get to know was Senator Lee.
Another Republican not in the room also received some love from the Hillsborough Democrat.
“I don’t say this too often, but thank you Governor Scott,” Miller said, eliciting laughs from members of the community who also attended the press conference.
Although the community is strongly opposed to FDOT because of the TBX project, as well Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s support for the TBX, Young-Green thanked both them for allowing the community to take over the church when it laid vacant in 2010.
“The mayor not be 100 percent behind us, but it was the city who took the lease from the Dept. of Transportation and then subleased to us because state law required that,” she said.
The construction is part of a DOT study completed in 1996 that includes widening I-275, adding express toll lanes and changing some exits. Young Green says the way people think of cities has changed since then. “There is a paradigm shift. There was a time 20-30 years ago when everyone was running from the urban area, running out to the suburbs and lots of roads were created.”
“There is a change in the air, and the Department of Transpiration has not caught up with the fact that more roads are not the solution,” she added.
Senator Lee told the audience that the funds for the relocation of the building were allocated to the Dept. of Economic Opportunity, and said he was confident that it wouldn’t be revoked if the money isn’t spent in the following year. He added that the Dept. of Transportation is assisting in looking for a new site for the community center.
The physical property encompasses about 1.75 acres.
Officials with the community center say a national search has just been initiated to find a firm that an engineers to determine how the physical move of the property will occur.
Young Green also broke down emotionally for a moment when she thanked Narain and Lee for working together in 2015 to pass the The Arthur Green Jr. Act , which addressed the controversial 2014 death of her late husband.
Green was cuffed and restrained by Tampa Police for swerving into traffic and sideswiping a couple of cars. The police officers were unable to recognize Green’s symptoms of hypoglycemia, a diabetic emergency. Within minutes, he lost consciousness and died soon after. The legislation is aimed at helping officers appropriately identify a diabetic emergency, avoid misidentification and prevent future tragedies.
Young Green is suing the city of Tampa for Arthur Green Jr.’s death.