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Tampa Urban League disbands

Published July 18, 2006

TAMPA - The Tampa-Hillsborough Urban League will cease to exist, its leaders announced Monday, signaling an end to an 84-year-old institution that has helped thousands in the black community.

The decision came a week after Mayor Pam Iorio said the city was willing to talk to the league's mortgage holder to help the group stay afloat and about 2 weeks after the nonprofit organization jettisoned two of its programs to another organization. Both moves couldn't save the Urban League, which has been weighed down by $3.1-million in debt since 2004.

The Tampa-Hillsborough Urban League's problems began after the city gave it the Centro Espanol de West Tampa building in 1999 as its new headquarters. A $3.1-million renovation of the historic building ballooned $2-million over budget after several unforeseen construction problems surfaced, league officials said. Soon, the nonprofit organization owed Wachovia, the city, Hillsborough County and the Internal Revenue Service, among others.

An institution that had once helped blacks break down barriers in high schools, hospitals and the police force and was renowned for its job training program began to break down. Its staff dwindled from 49 two years ago to one after the league announced the transfer of two state-funded programs to Derrick Brooks Charities late last month.

"In the last 15 months, the (Tampa-Hillsborough Urban League) sounded a clarion call to action in an effort to save the 84-year-old community service agency," interim board chairwoman W. Lois Davis wrote in a statement. "The call went to the community, civic and religious leaders, business and elected officials.

"I want to thank all of those who answered that call and unfortunately, notwithstanding the tremendous effort we fell short of our goal, your efforts were appreciated and will never be forgotten."

In a three-page news release, the Urban League board of directors wrote an account of several last-ditch efforts to save the institution. Mostly, the release seemed to shield board members from criticism while saying the city and county was slow to respond when quick aid was needed.

League officials acknowledge that the city has helped the Urban League try to find a new owner for its building. But when solutions were proposed, they said, the city never gave the league adequate feedback.

Mark Huey, Tampa's economic and urban development administrator, said the city dropped out of negotiations after Davis told him on April 10 that the city's involvement was no longer needed. Huey had helped put Wachovia and Davis together, and the two sides seemed optimistic about a solution, so the city walked away.

Now the city is unsure of what it'll do since millions of dollars are sunk in the league's headquarters. The city hoped it would find another group to move into the building - until Monday's announcement.

[Last modified July 23, 2006, 13:47:21]

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