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Cuban Club Foundation fights to retain control of historic site


© St. Petersburg Times, published May 23, 2001

YBOR CITY -- Members of the Cuban Club Foundation vowed Tuesday to do whatever it takes to keep control of its historic building.

YBOR CITY -- Members of the Cuban Club Foundation vowed Tuesday to do whatever it takes to keep control of its historic building.

Jose Vivero, the foundation's new president, said he is working on a deal to pay off the estimated $50,000 owed in monthly payments and to restructure the remaining $842,925 debt. It may involve Century Bank of Florida, where he serves as chairman.

"This is a temporary setback," he said. "Within three or four months we can get the situation solved."

Vivero, who lived in Cuba for several years, has been a member of the foundation for about six months and became president last week. He hopes his financial expertise will help the organization out of its money crisis.

"I think it's a great piece of history and one that needs to be preserved," he said. "We want to keep it for education and historical purposes."

The Cuban Club has been struggling for years to stay afloat. The four-story building on Avenida Republica de Cuba has huge debts and needs millions of dollars in restorations. It dates back to the 1920s when Cubans came to Ybor City to work in cigar factories.

Republic Security Bank, which holds the building's mortgage, filed a foreclosure suit in Hillsborough Circuit Court on Friday seeking the $842,925, plus interest, late charges and other expenses. The foundation took out the mortgage in 1998 to cover renovations needed to make the building suitable for event rentals.

Foundation board member Patrick Manteiga, who is leading efforts to save the building, said the foreclosure did not come as a surprise. The foundation has fallen six months behind on its mortgage.

"We knew something was going to happen, but it hasn't changed our focus on what needs to happen," he said. "We have to find a partner."

Manteiga is looking for a public or private partner to take over the building's costs and to preserve it. He met with Hillsborough school officials this week about using it for performances and training sessions. He also has spoken to county commissioners about renovating it for the Tampa Bay History Center.

He expects something will be worked out before the bank forecloses.

"I think we're going to have a solution, but I think it's going to take a little bit longer," Manteiga said.

Word of the foreclosure comes as the foundation faces criticism from Refuge Ministries, a religious group that was denied use of the building for a benefit concert July 3. The St. Petersburg-based church claims the foundation wrongly rejected their offers because police said their party is actually a rave.

The club hosted a similar party last year but ran into problems when the group wanted to stay open past 3 a.m., Manteiga said. The club ended up making about $1,400 from the event, called Independence I. Refuge Ministries lost money, but wanted to hold the party at the club again this year to try to recoup its losses.

- Susan Thurston can be reached at (813) 226-3463.

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