A big open question

Published June 9, 2006


The Fort Homer Hesterly Armory has soggy carpets, exposed wiring and a pesky asbestos problem, but that isn't stopping developers, engineers and community activists from competing for the chance to redevelop it. Monday is the last day to submit proposals to the city for redeveloping the armory on Howard Avenue. After that, a six-person committee including military reps, city officials and West Tampa leaders will review the ideas and present the best ones for public opinion. Choosing the best proposal will take months, not only because of city and military bureaucracy, but because the ideas are so wildly different.

The armory has served as a staging area for the Spanish-American War and a stage for Elvis. Soon, it could be a digital film studio. Or maybe a community center.

- ALEXANDRA ZAYAS, Times Staff Writer


The plan: Apartments on the grounds surrounding an ice hockey rink in the armory with spectator seating.

The idea: It would be a place where kids could learn to figure skate and local high school hockey teams could play, instead of having to travel to a rink in Clearwater, Brandon or Oldsmar.

Plan masterminds: The team includes David LeFevre of Tampa Ice, Hunt Construction, HKS Architecture and developer Newkirk Ventures. Mark Newkirk and his family owned Newk's Cafe downtown, which will make way for a high-rise.

A word from the sponsors: "Tampa is the only NHL city that doesn't have a public ice rink," Mark Newkirk said. "Plant High School has an ice hockey team. They drive to Brandon for that. I went to Plant, and I don't think that it's fair that they get one hour a week of practice."


The plan: A self-supporting shelter, learning center and work community for Tampa's homeless population.

The idea: People who can work but who can't afford a place to live could cultivate their own food in an outside garden and earn their keep through on-site jobs, such as car repair and hairstyling.

Plan mastermind: Helen Richards, owner of the now-closed Seabreeze by the Bay restaurant in Palmetto Beach.

A word from the sponsor: "It would solve so many problems for the city and for the county, if nothing, to get them off the streets,'' Richards said. "There's nothing to give them hope. People don't want to look at homeless in the face, and so the town dies."


The plan: A new headquarters for American Legion Post 248 in West Tampa would double as a home for retired veterans.

The idea: Tampa doesn't have as many housing opportunities for veterans as St. Petersburg does, project sponsor Eddie H. Diaz said. This would preserve the military history of the armory and house the soldiers who created that history.

Plan mastermind: Diaz of American Legion Post 248.

A word from the sponsor: "There's a lot of retired military that are in need of adequate housing or care," Diaz said. "We just feel that the opportunity is here. It's a very good property; the city has desires equal to ours. But we just need to find developers."


The plan: A place to hold community events, with offices on the second floor and retail on the first floor.

The idea: The proposal would restore the armory to a place where neighbors could gather to watch boxing matches and concerts.

Plan masterminds: Williams Holdings and architect Vivian Salaga

A word from the sponsors: "Our goal was initially to address what might be most beneficial for the neighborhood without altering the building significantly," Salaga said.


The plan: A media production center with sound stage, studio and office complex.

The idea: When filmmakers travel to Tampa, they usually have to create sound stages out of warehouses. A local production center would continue to put Tampa on the Hollywood map.

Plan masterminds: Tampa Digital Studios