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More than 115 possible Zion Cemetery graves found on property owned by Columbia Restaurant Group

Posted at 5:20 PM, Jan 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-07 18:17:53-05

TAMPA, Fla. -- At least 115 possible graves were found in a land owned by the Columbia Restaurant Group in Tampa, according to a press release published on Tuesday afternoon.

The restaurant ownership group said the possible graves belonged to the Zion Cemetery and were found on Columbia Restaurant Group's property on Florida Avenue.

The announcement comes just weeks after genealogy experts said they were working to connect the lost graves with their living family members in Tampa.


Experts believe Zion was Tampa’s first African-American cemetery, with more than 800 people buried there. But in the 1920s, buildings went over the grave sites along North Florida Avenue.

In Tuesday's press release, the Columbia Restaurant Group said it is actively seeking a land swap or sale that "would ensure permanent protection and preservation of the cemetery."

The restaurant ownership group bought the land in 2016 and initially hoped to develop and run a nonprofit culinary school for at-risk students in Tampa. But now, the Columbia Restaurant Group is shifting its focus to honoring Tampa's ancestors.

“We said from the beginning that we would do the right thing,” said Richard Gonzmart, president and “caretaker” of the Columbia Restaurant Group in a press release. “And this is the right thing. Let them rest in peace.”