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Visions of a center to celebrate a heritage

Published January 25, 2007


Fred Hearns looks at the Central Park area and sees more than just a neighborhood on the verge of a major renovation.

Hearns sees a place where life began for many of Tampa's African-Americans. He sees a community that will and should celebrate that history.

He sees a 13,000-square-foot cultural arts center and theater.

As president of the Robert W. Saunders Library Foundation, Hearns eagerly awaits the groundbreaking at the Nebraska Avenue location for a new library that should be completed by 2010. The foundation also plans to raise $3-million for an adjoining cultural center at the same site. The fundraising campaign begins in earnest Saturday night with a benefit gala featuring NAACP chairman Julian Bond.

"If you look around, every other major ethnic group in Hillsborough County has a building where they can go to celebrate their heritage," Hearns said. "This center would be open to everyone, but the African-American community needs a place to celebrate its heritage."

Bond, a noted civil rights leader, is an ideal speaker when you consider his connection to the NAACP. After all, it was Saunders who stepped in to lead Florida's NAACP chapter after state chair Harry T. Moore was assassinated in 1951.

More than 300 people are expected to attend Saturday's 7 p.m. gala at the Wyndham Westshore, but a few tickets remain. Call 813 274-5859 for more information.

* * *

Kudos to longtime community activist Jim Shimberg Sr. Shimberg made affordable housing one of his concerns long before it became one of the most important and prevailing issues of the day, endowing the Affordable Housing Center at the University of Florida in 1988. Today the center plays an important role in resolving the burgeoning problem.

The Tampa Housing Authority honors Shimberg's commitment to housing by dedicating a complex to the philanthropist on Thursday. The former Parkview Apartments in northwest Tampa will now be known as The Sanctuary at James A. Shimberg Estates.

When you consider that home is where you heart is, the designation is ideal.

* * *

Tampa Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau president Paul Catoe says rewards should go to board members and business leaders who help bring big events to town and make our city a tourist destination.

Catoe downplays his role as "just doing my job" while saluting those who volunteer their services. Of course, when you listen to Catoe talk about Tampa, you get the feeling he too would volunteer if required.

"I don't think there's anyone that loves this area as much as I do," Catoe said Monday. "God has blessed me because I have the opportunity to literally travel all over the world and talk about what a great destination this is."

For helping upgrade Tampa as a tourist and convention destination, Leadership Tampa Alumni awarded Catoe the prestigious 2007 Parke Wright III Leadership Award Monday.

Catoe, who joined the bureau in 1999, sees himself in the role for another three to five years, reasoning that the job always requires a fresh set of eyes.

"I need to go start collecting Coke bottles," Catoe joked.

That's all I'm saying.

Ernest Hooper can be reached at or (813) 226-3406.

[Last modified January 25, 2007, 00:54:50]

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