ZEPHYRHILLS - Mayor Danny Burgess wants the city to purchase the Jeffries House, the home of the founder of Zephyrhills, Capt. H.B. Jeffries.
The home at 38533 5th Ave. was built around 1910-11 by Jeffries. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In the past, it has been used as a residence and for business offices, but in recent years it has fallen into disrepair. Burgess is trying to generate city and community support to save the house.
Jeffries, a Civil War veteran of the Union army, established Zephyrhills because he wanted to create a retirement area for old Union soldiers.
In a meeting of the city's Community Redevelopment Agency this week, Burgess outlined his reasons for buying the home.
Burgess showed council members a news article on Tampa's decision to acquire the Tampa Theatre to preserve the historic landmark. The article was "spot on," he said, showing the ability for a municipalities to get grants for such a purchase along with the moral obligation to preserve historic landmarks.
"We all love it. We all know it's part of our history. In a lot of ways, it's the home that started it all," Burgess said. "For us in Zephyrhills, I can think of no better domain worthy of preservation."
Council members asked city staff to prepare a report on the costs involved with purchasing the home and maintenance for the city council's consideration.
Todd Vande Berg, director of development, showed a PowerPoint display of photos of the historic building, saying it is in "poor" condition on the outside but not as bad on the interior. He showed areas of the windows where there has been damage.
Burgess had earlier inquired whether CRA funds could be used to purchase a preservation project. Vande Berg said the city has about $500,000 in CRA funds available.
Council President Lance Smith, Councilman Ken Burgess and Councilwoman Jodi Wilkeson were cautiously supportive, expressing interest in the project and support of the concept, but citing concerns for the costs.
"It's probably the most historic structure we have in our town," Smith said. "I'm all for looking at it," but he wanted more information on costs. Smith was also concerned about using CRA funds since economic issues have reduced the funds available.
City Manager Jim Drumm said there were two approaches: one immediate and one more long-term. The cash-out-of-pocket approach is the immediate approach. The other approach is to seek grants which may take a few years to complete.
"If we continue to wait, who knows what will happen to it at the end of the day," Burgess said. "We owe it to the city and we owe it to future generations to be able to tell the story of the history of our town."
"We should start something ourselves and not wait," Burgess added. The mayor also expressed hope that the community would get behind the project and help raise funds.
Ken Burgess brought up questions concerning the restoration of the building. He asked about what American Disabilities Act requirements would still need to be added and whether or not there were photographs of the house as it looked historically.
Drumm said that an outbuilding that has storage space on the first floor and an apartment on the second floor was probably not part of the historic look of the property and could probably be taken down. He also said it appears evident that a bathroom and a kitchen were later additions.
Wilkeson pointed out that the city had set a precedent for such a move with the Woman's Club that is owned by the city but leased to the Woman's Club with a 99-year lease.
Drumm pointed out that if public funds are used to preserve it then it must be open to public use.
Tim Pierson, president of the Center State Bank in Zephyrhills that holds the mortgage on the home, reported that the asking price is $150,000. Pierson said the bank would be willing to reduce the price as a donation.
This is a community effort, Burgess said. "I think that is a perfect example."
Councilman Kent Compton said that he would rather pursue the issue through obtaining grants rather than a cash-out-of pocket approach, but he needed to see a report with at least ballpark figures of the costs involved.
He said he understood the council's concern about the finances, but added, "We may not know the extent that the house is in disrepair, but we need to resolve that it's our moral obligation to save the house and then figure the rest out."