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Citizens Organize to Save Historic Mann Wagnon Park Buildings

Mann Wagnon Memorial Park is a peaceful hideaway in the middle of the bustling city of Tampa off Nebraska Avenue. It's where the Museum of Science and Industry got its start as the Museum of Natural History back in the '60s before becoming the MOSI on Fowler Avenue that it is now. Today, the park is home to Moses House and Community Stepping Stones-- a non-profit organization that offers an after-school arts program for at-risk youth.

Hillsborough County wants to demolish the three aging buildings at the 90-year-old park in Sulphur Springs and replace them with a new multi-purpose facility. But some folks are worried about the displacing of the non-profit organizations that are housed there. 

Credit Amy Martz
Mann Wagnon Memorial Park covers 3.5 acres of land along the Hillsborough River in Sulphur Springs.

The wooden buildings are around 90 years old and though they look sturdy, they're not up to city codes.

"The number one enemy of historic preservation and the number one thing that people always say is that it's too far gone, it's old, it's not repairable and that isn't the case here," Amy Martz with Tampa Preservation Inc., said. "That's not the case for most historic buildings. They're saying that they're not up to code, but we can easily bring them up to code, we were never even given the opportunity."

The county plans to replace those buildings but doesn't have a plan for where the programs would go.

A group of advocates for the program met at the park to organize opposition to the plan. Founder of Community Stepping Stones, Ed Ross, said the displacement of these groups "could risk the safety and well-being of many teens who now are receiving mentoring, education and job-training."

Ricky Durrance is a former student of Community Stepping Stones.

"I don't know about everyone else but I take it pretty personal," Durrance said, "because this is my family and in a way it's kind of harming the family we're building and I take it very personal and it's a very good place and I don't want to see it go."

The county will hold a public meeting on Thursday night at 6:30 p.m. in the Spring Hill Center to introduce their plans for the historic buildings.

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