As Tampa Bay Closes Historic Preservation Month, It’s Important to Talk About a Sense of Place | Columns | Tampa

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Photo via Hillsborough County Public Library

A 1920s photo of the Tarr Furniture Co. building in Tampa.

In City Council Chambers on Tuesday, Dennis Fernandez appeared before the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) to explain why the City of Tampa is seeking urgent action to terminate the demolition permit for the old Tarr Building. Downtown furniture.

Technically, at 520 N Tampa St.—and with the neighboring property at 514 N Tampa St.—Tarr’s storefront strip now consists of Moxie’s Cafe, the soon-to-be-moving Bamboozle Cafe, and First Watch. Tampa Bay History Center (TBHC) curator Rodney Kite-Powell told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay that 514 N Tampa St. was originally the Arno Hotel, erected in 1895 and one of the oldest buildings in downtown Tampa. A building once housed the Tampa Tribune.

Late last year, developer Kolter Urban paid $11.64 million for the properties, plus a small alley next to it. On Monday, Kolter, manager of the 41-story “One” residential tower in St. Petersburg, filed plans to build “One Tampa,” a 55-story, 311-unit condo tower that would be the tallest building on the coast. West Florida; condos will sell for an average of $1.35 million, according to buyer’s attorneys (about $419 million if you count the points).

Critics of the demolition pointed to the historic nature of the architecture and argued that the facade could be incorporated into the developer’s new design. Others even alluded to empty promises of development made before demolition and suggested that demolition would only be approved. if the developer withdraws a building permit (Maas Brothers is still a parking lot, after all).

Fernandez, Tampa’s architectural review and historic preservation manager, said his staff believed the structure met National Register designation criteria and had made their case to the HPC citing the city’s code and a evaluation of his office. Armed with extremely large binders for every HPC member and Fernandez staff, Kolter’s attorneys primarily cited damage to the interior of the building in their case for the demonstration permit.

The discussion painfully lasted about three hours, but in the end the HPC voted in favor of emergency action to stop the demolition permit (only Susan Swift voted no). The matter is now in the hands of the Tampa City Council, which has been formally asked to review the plot plans and suspend Kolter’s demolition permit.

“Any historic building can look like it’s impossible to restore,” HPC president Vivian Salaga said in her comments. “Downtown has already lost an indescribable number of its historic buildings due to the owners of those buildings’ lack of attention to having an attitude of civic pride and historical pride – and the restoration of those buildings falls into that category. ”

“In the story of a city, you want to see the layers of history, the layers of development.”

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Leaving the meeting, Manny Leto spoke to CL not only about the environmental impact of demolishing structures (“the greenest building is a building already built”), but also about the memory and character of the community.

Leto is a 45-year-old born-and-raised Tampeño who worked at the Tampa Bay History Center for 13 years before becoming executive director of Preserve The ‘Burg last summer. He pointed out how conservatives often find themselves on the right side of history. (Remember when the St. Petersburg Times at the time wrote an editorial saying more or less the Vinoy wasn’t worth saving?)

He touted the economic benefits of preservation, but mostly spoke poignantly about a sense of place.

“In the story of a city, you want to see the layers of history, the layers of development,” Leto said, adding that he certainly didn’t want a city in stasis or frozen in time. Instead, he wants to see periods of development over a city’s history.

Just steps from Tampa City Hall are the old Tampa Bay Hotel (University of Tampa), the Aloft Hotel, the Oxford Exchange and the Franklin Exchange, all good examples of these layers and reuse adaptive.

“It gives a city a sense of identity and a sense of belonging. Those things you might discuss are more fleeting and harder to define,” Leto added.

He knows that historic preservation departments are criminally underfunded and that you can’t save every building, but he’s adamant that the uniqueness of this layering is what sets other cities apart, whether they’re Savannah, Charleston, Key West, Cedar Key or Chicago. others.

In St. Petersburg, he would like to see the Community Planning and Preservation Commission (CPPC) take initiatives to undertake surveys and studies of historic buildings like churches. Tampa could do this with its structures like cigar factories, schools and more. In his eyes, the buildings that are studied are the ones that get attention and are funded. For Leto, developers and preservation entities would do well to work more closely to ensure that preservation is possible and beneficial to an entire community.

Leto’s former colleague at TBHC, Kite-Powell, also knows that some buildings have to come down. “We would be sitting in a forest right now or next to wooden buildings,” he joked.

But for him, it’s also important to think about the people who used certain historic structures when considering their preservation.

Kite-Powell participated in Tampa’s first-ever HPC and was part of the decisions that preserved the facades of entire blocks in downtown Tampa. He argued that certain tax breaks and historic preservation credits can help a developer get some of their money back.

But more than anything, he worries that we as a city are forgetting the little pieces and neighborhoods that are part of the puzzle and the fabric that makes a community. There is no turning back when these puzzle pieces are gone.

“The photo is gone, and now all you have are photos,” Kite-Powell said. But seeing pictures of Franklin Street and Seventh Avenue is not the same as walking down Franklin and Seventh Avenue.

“It’s a living city that has parts, some new and some old, but they come together to make the city,” he explained. “But when you lose all the old parts, you’ve lost the old town, haven’t you?”

Not if conservation can help him.

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