West Tampa may have to swap a community meeting place for a Dollar General store

TAMPA - The building is a little shabby with cracked pavers and a rusting soffits.  Even the sign is dated.  But word that the 40-year-old West Tampa Convention Center may soon meet with the wrecking ball was met with disappointment at the "House of Fades" barber shop.

"I've been to numerous weddings, all kinds of events. It's a nice place to keep going. It's been around for a long time," said hair cutter Shombie Harris.

Harris was also disappointed that the plan is to replace it with a Dollar General Store.

"There's one in every neighborhood -- at least two or three, so why would I want another one here?" asked Harris.
 
Dr. Dennis Alfonso says selling the property was a difficult decision. As President of El Centro Espanol de Tampa, the civic association that owns the convention center, he's seen the membership dwindle from nearly 10,000 in the 1940's to under a hundred today.

"The median age of the members is probably close to 80 years of age, so we haven't been able to attract a younger group of people that would want to come and support it," said Dr. Alfonso.

Big-box dollar stores often generate community opposition, especially in tidy historic neighborhoods.  But there seems to be little organized resistance along the stretch of Columbus Drive where the store might provide an economic jolt.

"We only have two employees here.  With the dollar store, I'm sure they'd increase it to more employees," said Dr. Alfonso.

Still, there's a sense of regret that the younger generation in West Tampa is losing something valuable.

"Maybe the people are just getting tired and somebody needs to take it over and not tear it down," said Harris.

That's unlikely, as repairs to the building would cost more than a million dollars. Centro De Espanol has a contract with Dollar General contingent on approval by the Tampa City Council.

Thursday night council members tabled the issue until July 19.

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