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Tiny congregation patiently awaits new synagogue

The president hopes to break ground for the temple in the spring on a 3 1/2-acre lot in Tampa Palms.

By MELIA BOWIE, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published October 20, 2002


TAMPA PALMS -- In the first three years of its life, New Tampa's first synagogue has moved from a medical office to a hotel at the University of South Florida.

This month it moved again, to Compton Park in Tampa Palms.

"People looked at USF as kind of out of New Tampa," said synagogue president Dr. Mark Weissman.

In 2000, members paid $265,000 for a 3 1/2-acre lot in residential Tampa Palms about a mile east of Bruce B. Downs Boulevard. The land, across from Stonington village, was originally set aside for a Catholic church. A Tampa couple bought it at auction, then sold it to the temple.

Now organizers are raising funds and waiting on blueprints before they can build.

"Hopefully, we can get the whole thing rolling by November and break ground by spring," said Weissman.

The congregation, which is not yet affiliated but operates under Conservative guidelines, hopes to see a revised set of architect renderings Oct. 26. And while the initial financing is there, members are still seeking contributions.

"Realistically that's going to be $400,000 (for) the whole nine yards," Weissman said.

Construction on the first phase of the 5,000-square-foot sanctuary was initially planned for 2001. But the congregation switched builders, delaying the timetable.

Tampa-based Hyde Park Architects is designing the structure. Avalon Building Corp. of Tampa Bay, based in Tarpon Springs, has offered to do the job at cost.

Early plans called for a 15,000-square-foot synagogue with classrooms, offices and a sanctuary. Members say those features will remain but new sizes have yet to be determined. The sanctuary "is going to be contemporary," said principal architect Charles Jordan. Residential in scale with earth tones and two-tone beige walls, "it's going to be a Ten Commandments motif (with) wide windows shaped like a tablet."

Planners are debating a campus-style layout versus one large, connected building. Both will conform to Tampa Palms' landscaping requirements, with plenty of trees, setbacks and meandering drives.

The key, they say, is room to grow. Membership has fluctuated between 30 and 40 families since the New Tampa synagogue's inception.

"That's just starting to grow as a place for Jewish people," said Daniel Staffenberg, director of the TOP (Tampa Orlando Pinellas) Jewish Foundation. He estimated about 15,000 Jewish families live in Tampa, although no one has a clear idea as to how many live in New Tampa.

"We're the baby congregation in Tampa," Weissman acknowledged. "Where we really have the opportunity to build from is people coming into the area. We're not getting a lot of people from other (established) temples, we're getting people who don't belong anywhere else ...

"It goes back to that old saying: If you build it they will come. That's what we're waiting to see."

-- Melia Bowie can be reached at bowie@sptimes.com .

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