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Neighborhood Report

Grant revives fire station museum

Work on the Tampa Firefighters Museum, in an old fire station on Zack Street, was at a standstill. Then the state stepped in with a big check.

Published June 30, 2006

A $900,000 state grant to restore a 1911 fire station on Zack Street has blown the dust off a decade-old dream to open the Tampa Firefighters Museum.

Before the state awarded the grant late last month, the museum's bank account had $2.50, said board president Jim Judy.

Construction has been at a standstill since 2003, when the state cut funding for historic preservation programs. While the museum group finished the exterior of the building at 720 Zack St., the interior remains raw.

Yellow caution tape ropes the rails of an unsafe wooden stairwell. Old air conditioning ducts hang in the holes replacing firefighter poles. Slabs of wood are stacked in closets where firefighters once hung their gear.

In August, all that will change. Construction will resume. And maybe - just maybe - the grant will be enough to gain the museum a certificate of occupancy. Judy hopes the museum will open within the year.

"I like to compare ourselves to the little engine that could," he said.

Former Mayor Dick Greco gave the firefighters group the old firehouse in 1995 on condition that the board turn the building into a city museum.

The board received a few small state grants to begin restoration, but after funding was cut, construction costs always outweighed the money made at chili cookoffs and other fundraisers.

Judy said he was pleasantly surprised that Gov. Jeb Bush didn't veto the grant, as he did for several other projects in Tampa, including the Riverwalk. Florida TaxWatch had listed the firefighter museum as a budget "turkey" on its list of recommended vetoes.

In addition to the state's $900,000 state grant, the museum board received $50,000 from the city, which will be used to match another $300,000 state grant given last year.

The board is made up of 25 firefighters and civilians who will run the museum. Plans for the museum include classrooms to teach kids about fire and health safety, a memorial gallery to honor fallen firefighters and an exhibit about the evolution of communication in firefighting.

The museum will feature antique gadgets from an operational fire station across the street, including a 10-foot marble switchboard with light bulbs and knobs that takes up half a room.

City Fire Marshal Todd Spear doesn't know exactly what it was used for but said he'll find out before it goes on display.

"I'm hoping the grant will get our doors open, unless construction costs throw us for another loop," Spear said. "At least it will get us close."

Alexandra Zayas can be reached at or (813) 226-3354.

[Last modified June 29, 2006, 10:59:16]

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