In the mid-1990s, Atelier Architecture principal Vivian Salaga and partner John Tennison were on the hunt for their next project. What they found was the historic 45,000 square-foot former Tampa Heights Methodist Church on the corner of Ross and Central avenues, which Atelier purchased in 1997 and began converting into the Sanctuary Lofts in 2002.
“Everyone said, ‘How crazy are you?’” Salaga says with a laugh. “Apartments seemed like the only logical thing to do with the building. We wanted it to be an economic generator for the neighbor-hood.”
For decades, the church had sat empty and partially fire damaged, a far distance from its heyday in the early 20th century. Built in 1910 by architect Frank Winn, the church hosted Tampa’s biggest names, including the Mabrys (now known for Dale Mabry Highway), the Linebaughs (Linebaugh Avenue) and the Blakes, whose name still adorns the exterior of the building. During Atelier’s renovations, almost the entirety of the building’s interiors were rebuilt, but the stained glass windows, one grand stair-case and the whole brick exterior were retained.
“In those days the craftsmen were so wonderful that we didn’t have to do any-thing to the brick but clean it,” Salaga says.
Despite Salaga and Tennison’s clear passion for reviving the historic neighborhood, not everyone was sold on Tam-pa Heights around the new millenium.
“Financing was the biggest challenge,” Tennison says. “We were turned down for five years.”
Funds ultimately came through, and today, the 32 one- and two-story apartments (including four that make up the former sanctuary space, complete with hurricane-reinforced stained glass) have had few vacancies since construction finished in 2004. The units marry the old and the new, with restored 9-foot fan windows next to modern black and steel finishes. To identify historic architecture, newly constructed walls were painted in color while original walls were kept cream.
Both Salaga and Tennison say they’re thrilled to see other developers and residents putting their faith in Tampa Heights.
“[In Tampa Heights], people can live close to work and are able to walk their dogs on the sidewalk — the way people should have the opportunity to live,” Tennison says.
“It’s a joy to see the beginning of rejuvenation,” Salaga adds. “People believe they could have economically viable businesses here, so it gives the younger generation hope they can do it too.”