On Dec. 8, 1941, the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Fort Homer W. Hesterly Armory was inaugurated at 522 N. Howard Ave. in Tampa.
Exactly 75 years later, the building was re-opened as the Bryan Glazer Family Jewish Community Center
with more than 100,000 square feet of community space.
"My heart is racing," says Jack Ross, Executive Director, on Wednesday, Dec. 7, the eve of the ribbon cutting and grand opening ceremony.
For him, the state-of-the-art facility represents "five years of intense collaboration with some of the best creative, intellectual and professional people," he's ever worked with. It's named for Bryan Glazer
, co-chairman of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
, who pledged $4 million to the project. The Florida Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott put in more than $7 million. Hillsborough County contributed $1.3 million. The entire project cost a total of $30 million.
Over the last three-quarters of a century, the property has served as a camp site of the Rough Riders
(the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry Regiment raised in 1898 for the Spanish-American War); the site of an Elvis Presley performance; speeches by Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy; and one of the original venues for professional wrestling, Ross says.
"But even more than that, you also have the Tampa history," he adds. "You have thousands of people who attended graduations, weddings, cotillions, convention meetings. So, we as an organization have the privilege of not only restoring a landmark property, but we had the opportunity to repurpose the facility and relaunch it into a new bright future."
The building is divided into a member section on the west side and a non-member section on the east side.
The member side houses a more than 50,000-square-foot fitness and aquatic center, known as the Diane and Leon Mezrah Family Aquatic Center
. There's a multisport gymnasium and indoor track, yoga, spin, Pilates, and Group Ex classes. Anyone can become a member, and fees range from $49-$159, Ross says.
The non-member section houses the Roberta M. Golding Center for the Visual Arts, a premier fine arts center operated by the City of Tampa
in conjunction with the Tampa Museum of Art
in partnership with the Hillsborough County Board of Commissioners
. There's also a large event space
, a social service center operated by Tampa Jewish Family Services
, and the Florida-Israel Business Accelerator
The accelerator is a landing pad for Israeli high-tech companies who want to launch in the United States, Ross explains. It assists these companies by aligning them with corporate strategic partners and getting their products ready for the U.S. market.
Anyone can use the event space for meetings, weddings, banquets and other occasions.
"Flexibility and versatility was the mantra in developing the whole building," Ross says.
Furthermore, a pre-school will be added to the property, although details of this second phase of the project are still in the works.
Ross says the importance of the center is three-fold. It revived and repurposed a historic landmark; it will have injected $30 million into the local community and hundreds of jobs by the time both phases are complete; and it’s a gathering spot for all faiths, creeds and religions.
"We are building community at a time when our country seems divided," he explains. "This is the great communal gathering spot. This is a place to come to gather and grow."