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Five unknown soldiers were buried in graves found in downtown Tampa construction site

A view of construction on the 50 acres of the Water Street project in downtown Tampa.

DIRK SHADD, TAMPA BAY TIMES/TNS

By PAUL GUZZO | Tampa Bay Times | Published: March 3, 2020

TAMPA, Fla.  — More than a year after an 1830s-era cemetery was discovered during construction of the $3 billion Water Street project in downtown Tampa, some, and maybe all, of the human remains have been publicly identified.

Among them, five unknown U.S. soldiers were buried in the Fort Brooke Estuary Cemetery, according to a press release issued Monday by the Office of Army Cemeteries at Arlington National Cemetery.

Those soldiers will be honored with a “dignified interment service” on Wednesday at the Curlew Hills Memory Gardens, 1750 Curlew Road, Palm Harbor.

“Soldiers from the Florida Army National Guard will provide military funeral support to the unknown soldiers who served and sacrificed in defending the United States,” reads the release.

Strategic Property Partners is owned by Jeff Vinik, who is also part of FBN Partners, a group of local investors who in 2017 loaned $12 million to Times Publishing Co., which owns the Tampa Bay Times.

Strategic Property Partners then refused to identify who was buried in the Estuary Cemetery, saying that was up to the descendants — or “stakeholders” — of the deceased.

It is unclear if there were also sets of human remains belonging to members of the Seminole Tribe.

Those remains would have been returned to the Tribe.

The Tribe has not yet confirmed or denied if they received any remains.

Fort Brooke is the military installation established in 1824 near the mouth of the Hillsborough River in what today is downtown Tampa. For decades, soldiers there waged war against the Seminole Nation.

The fort was decommissioned 1883, the land was broken into several parcels and the cemetery was forgotten until Strategic Property Partners began developing Water Street.

A historical survey of the site was conducted prior to the start of construction. So workers anticipated finding the long-abandoned Estuary Cemetery.

The remains were then exhumed and stored “securely at an interim storage facility at Cardno’s Riverview office, pending re-interment," according to a letter sent to the city of Tampa in July 2019 by Cardno, the private archaeology firm hired by Strategic Property Partners.

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