In the 11 years I have lived in downtown Tampa, the change has been constant and continuous. When I moved into the friary, there was no Curtis Hixon Park as we know it today. The “Elements” had not been built and “Skypoint” was mostly dark at night. The “Floridan” was still closed, as was the 1905 Federal Courthouse on Florida Avenue. And then slowly, growth and expansion started. The courthouse became a boutique hotel and restaurant. The Floridan opened and expanded as did the Elements. Buildings started to rise in Channelside. There are blocks of downtown being developed that I can’t remember what used to be there. And that is just on this side of the river. Remember The Tampa Tribune building? Remember the parking lot behind Oxford Exchange? Both will be finished residential complexes soon and very soon.
The slow tide of growth is becoming a tsunami of development and expansion here in central Tampa. Our community is expanding. The number of residents growing. And over the next five years, we will see more than 25,000 new families become our neighbors. Channelside. Water Street Tampa. The West River Project. Tampa Heights and Seminole Heights. All of them within our parish boundaries. All of them neighborhoods primed for expansion and already building new opportunities to live, work, and play. All of this growth within just a few miles or less of our church. Are we ready to welcome them? Are we ready to serve them? Are we ready to meet these growing needs?
During the last three years a group of intrepid parishioners explored the possibilities of acquiring property or space that would allow us to become a parish with all its facilities within a block (or two) radius. And, of course, facilities that provided for some measure of parking that we could control – at least on weekends. In the end, there were few possibilities, parking remained problematic, and escalating property prices were already out of reach and growing higher.
Here at the church we have very few facilities and no room to expand. Our parish hall comfortably holds 60 people. There is an open conference room in the upstairs office, but that is about half the size. The San Damiano Center at the corner of Florida and Madison is leased from the property owners next door, and while that can hold 100 people, it is an annual expense. And then there is parking.
The Madison Building/Grandoff Family generously donates parking in their garage each and every weekend for Mass – holidays too! They are a blessing beyond measure. Outside of the weekend Masses, weekday parking is a problem for us and for everyone downtown. If during the day someone wants to visit the church, drop by the office, or have a meeting with a staff member, they need to find parking and then pay. At night, parking is generally easy to find, but parishioners have told us they are a little nervous given our office entrances are not on main corridors of activity or traffic.
Did I mention, our parishioners live in 151 different ZIP codes? We are a combination urban-centered, neighborhood-based, destination church with limited meeting space and parking problems. Think of your Wednesday work day. Then consider a ministry meeting Wednesday evening at the church. Let’s see… traffic into downtown, parking, missing dinner with the family, the kids have to go practice, and 10 other factors – and these are some of the realities that are everyday barriers to ministry development and parishioner participation in those ministries.
Our life of worship, praise, and celebration of God’s grace in the sacraments is central to our Catholic identity. We are blessed in that we have a wonderful center of worship to live that part of our faith life. But, being a parish is more than having a church and place to celebrate sacraments. Just as key to our Catholic identity is having a center for our family life and ministry. It is important to have a place where we can live out our faith in the broader community, help our families grow and reach out in ministry to our neighbors.
The coming wave of development and growth combined with the limitations of our downtown location has become a great opportunity for this community to look ahead and seek ways to live our faith while we build our future. How? Stay tuned. This weekend and next, during Mass, we will explore the possibilities for our shared future.