Tampa’s historic Jackson House finally has a deal on the table

TAMPA — After more than two years of negotiations, the city of Tampa and its largest private parking lot company have agreed to a proposed land swap that would allow for the restoration of the Jackson House, the city’s last segregation-era Black boarding home.

Via email, 717 Parking co-founder Jason Accardi called it “a win – win deal … to restore the house while preserving our private property rights.”

Once restored, the barely standing historic downtown structure at 851 E. Zack St. would become a Black history museum.

But first “there are some conditions the city has to meet” before the deal is finalized, said Alis Drumgo, the city’s deputy administrator of development and economic opportunity. One is for the Tampa City Council to approve the agreement.

It was scheduled for a vote at Thursday’s meeting but was removed from the agenda Tuesday afternoon “due to an unresolved title issue,” Drumgo said. “Once the city gets the property, then we’re able to establish a partnership with the Jackson House and turn over the property necessary to support the restoration.”

To create a city-required 10-foot fire code buffer between property boundaries, the restoration requires Accardi and his brother John Accardi to provide the Jackson House with 2,100 square feet of their neighboring parking lots.

The house was built before such buffers were needed but construction cannot commence without adhering to today’s codes. In exchange, the city will give the Accardis two neighboring properties.

One is a 9,172-square-foot vacant public right of way that runs behind the Jackson House and the parking lots. When that land was offered over a year ago, the Accardis turned down the deal.

“We have been in ongoing negotiations with the Jackson House Foundation and the City for quite some time,” Accardi said, “and the requests and terms associated therewith have changed and evolved over that time.”

This deal added “conditions that everyone would be satisfied with,” Drumgo said, plus the second piece of neighboring property. Located on the corner of Nebraska Avenue and Twiggs Street, the city and the Florida Department of Transportation each owns a piece of it.

Drumgo did not have that property’s exact size but estimated that it is under 10,000 square feet.

If the deal is approved, the Accardis will get more land than they give up.

Through numerous limited liability companies, they currently own around 38 acres in the Tampa area, with a market value of around $111,000,000, according to the Hillsborough County Property Appraiser’s website. Of that, about 14 acres are parking lots in downtown and Ybor City.

With such a portfolio, why didn’t the Accardis just give the needed buffer land, which totals 10 parking spaces?

“Unfortunately, there are extensive details that go into arrangements such as this,” Accardi said, “which simply cannot be viewed from a macro perspective.”

For the deal to be finalized, the Accardis must also amend a lease with Enterprise Rent-A-Car, which uses a piece of their property.

FDOT must agree to vacate its piece of land, which is now an active right of way separating the Accardi parking lot from the city property that currently has a Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority bus stop. When contacted by the Tampa Bay Times, FDOT provided a statement saying the agency is working with the city.

“We’ve got a little bit of work to do,” Drumgo said. “But the real work is the restoration.”

The 24-room Jackson House was built at the turn of the 20th century. James Brown, Ella Fitzgerald and Cab Calloway stayed there, and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. visited. It closed to the public in 1989.

Accardi said that his company purchased the neighboring parking lots in 2008 and, since then, provided the former family owners “with free parking while they were living at the property, helped with minor repairs to the exterior and landscaping.”

But as the family owners and then the Jackson House Foundation nonprofit struggled to raise the necessary $2.5 million needed to restore the structure, the two-story, 4,000-square-foot building fell into such disrepair that the city considered condemnation for safety reasons.

Then, in recent years and under the leadership of Carolyn Hepburn Collins, the foundation secured more than $2 million for the cause. Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik’s Family Foundation donated $1 million of that.

The holdup has been a deal for the buffer land. The city got involved two years ago when the Accardis and the foundation were at an impasse.

“They have been phenomenal about just working through this process with us,” Drumgo said of the Accardis. “I think, over the years, they’ve probably been unfairly vilified for their role in” the stalled negotiations.

The city and the foundation’s feelings seem to have shifted now that the deal is nearly done. A year ago, Collins said that the Accardis “don’t seem to respect our city’s history and the importance of preserving it.”

According to an email obtained by the Times through a public information request, in July 2022, the city drafted an unreleased statement for Mayor Jane Castor that said the Accardis’ refusal to part with their land was “extremely frustrating … I wish they would join those of us trying to preserve an iconic piece of our past.”

And, in recent months, the City Council discussed taking the buffer land through eminent domain.

Being framed as the bad guy has bothered Accardi, he said. “Throughout this process, our company (717 Parking), our family, and children have felt the effects of the false narrative. We have always supported the Jackson House including the restoration of the property and its history.”

And now, the city and the foundation consider the Accardis to be an unofficial partner in the venture.

“You have to be considered a partner to mutually agree to get to this point,” Drumgo said.

Collins said that she hopes the partnership grows. “They may decide that they want to become an official partner … if there’s some other things that they want to do … I am grateful for them.”