How a local newspaper publisher is fighting to preserve a piece of Ybor City history

Cuban Club Theater manteiga
The Cuban Club is a labor of love, but its role in the community is bigger than culture alone.

Patrick Manteiga, the publisher of La Gaceta and chair of the Cuban Club Foundation board, is targeting leadership support in his quest to secure $1.2 million for crucial renovations to the Cuban Club in Ybor City.

Freshman Florida Rep. Susan Valdes is sponsoring his appropriations request, but despite her inexperience in the Legislature, Manteiga hopes others will join her support.

“Sometimes it’s just the right people at the right moment,” Manteiga said. “I’m not going to solicit 100 people in the House and the Senate. I’m just going to take the advice of the leaders.”

The Cuban Club is a cultural center of Ybor City’s long and rich Cuban history. Manteiga describes the historic building’s history with pride and awe.

“It’s one of the few social clubs that you can still walk through and tell a story. Stories of grandmothers lined along the walls of the ballroom as their granddaughters danced with young Cuban gentleman [while they] watch with a watchful eye and love can blossom,” Manteiga beamed. “There’s the coffee-room where old men used to go to play dominoes and drink beer and have coffee. All of those rooms are still there.”

That’s unique in a city where there are plenty of historical buildings, but most have been renovated to a point where the historical rooms where Tampa’s Cuban heritage played out are no longer recognizable.

But the Cuban Club’s history is in jeopardy.

The building suffers from serious water intrusion from its old roof, leaky balconies and aging windows.

The $1.2 million is a key funding goal that would allow the club to begin repairing its ails born of a century’s existence in the community. The club could try to raise the money privately and seek other matching grants from various sources, but that process would take far longer than tapping the state for renovation funds the building needs now.

For example, the nonprofit group that runs the club recently made repairs to its roof to temporarily shore up leaks. But if more permanent repairs aren’t made quickly, those repairs will give way and the money spent to make them will have been all for naught.

Manteiga’s appropriation quest is not the first on behalf of the historic building. A $1 million appropriations request in 2017 for structural repairs was successful. Manteiga solicited sponsorship from two freshmen lawmakers in that case — Sen. Darryl Rouson and Rep. Sean Shaw.

To bolster support for this year’s ask, Manteiga plans to gather letters of support from community groups. He plans to speak with Sen. Tom Lee who serves on the Senate’s powerful Appropriations Committee. He’s also hoping to gain support from Rep. Jackie Toledo and Democrats in the Tampa Bay region.

The Cuban Club is a labor of love for Manteiga, he admits, but its role in the community is bigger than culture alone.

“Ybor continues to be a tourist attraction,” Manteiga said. “Buildings like this are a center that people can tour, and want to tour.”

The foundation has agreements with groups that offer ghost and historical tours. Those activities serve as a way to draw commerce to tiny Ybor City. Visitors then spend money at other places — restaurants, shops, hotels.

“If I was a developer, I would gut the Cuban Club and put in offices or a restaurant; get rid of the theater because theaters aren’t profitable,” Manteiga said. “To keep it the way it is requires me only to be able to rent it for events and, therefore, it’s not as profitable. Our only goal is to protect and restore it. It’s the most complex building in Ybor City.”

It’s early days for Manteiga’s request. But he hopes to gain enough support, or perhaps, more importantly, to not draw any opposition, to get the funding into the budget. It’s a project on which Manteiga expects to spend as much as 35 hours a week working.

Janelle Irwin Taylor

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in Tampa Bay since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as senior reporter for WMNF News. Janelle has a lust for politics and policy. When she’s not bringing you the day’s news, you might find Janelle enjoying nature with her husband, children and two dogs. You can reach Janelle at [email protected].


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