Tuesday, November 20, 2018
  • Bay Buzz
  • From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Historic Stovall House headed toward conversion to private club serving alcohol

The Stovall House is one step closer to serving booze and putting up overnight guests now that the Tampa City Council has given a first nod to transforming the historic Bayshore Boulevard estate into a private club.

The decision came around 1 a.m. Friday after more than six hours of often emotional input from an overflow crowd of South Tampa residents.

The council voted 4-2 to approve a rezoning request and a special-use alcohol permit for the 2.6 acre property, anchored by a home listed on the National Register of Historic places.

A final vote is scheduled Sept. 20.

Council members Mike Suarez and Charlie Miranda voted against the measures. Council member Yvonne Yolie Capin was absent for health reasons.

Nearly 60 people, roughly divided between supporters and opponents, spoke before the council. At least a dozen said they were attorneys. Legal terms like "bootstrapping" and "legerdemain" peppered the testimony.

Many more people watched from the packed council chamber. When the hearing began about 6:30 p.m., Chairman Frank Reddick said 78 people were waiting downstairs to speak.

Supporters said the club would be a calling card for Tampa, a  way to attract top talent to the city.

They praised developer Blake Casper, founder of the Oxford Exchange, as a visionary who is helping Tampa create a new image as an elite city.

"It is an oasis that is clearly in a residential setting, but also claims Bayshore Boulevard as its front door," said Nancy Walker, who called the club a good fit for her neighborhood. "It's what makes South Tampa South Tampa."

Opponents cast themselves as people with a deep stake in the decision as nearby residents who want to see their quiet streets remain free of the noise, traffic and, possibly, intoxicated drivers.

"Keep our children safe! He forgot that part," said an emotional Kurt Kumagai, president of Keep Bayshore Beautiful, a group formed to fight Casper's project. Kumagai banged his fist on the podium.

The public scrap had been in the making for months, ever since Casper paid $9.5 million in March for the property at 4621 Bayshore Blvd. Waged on social media and in the streets, it pit neighbor against neighbor.

The two sides wore t-shirts with dueling messages. For the most part, tempers remained in check.

Some speakers borrowed lines from mob films.

Casper referenced The Godfather in describing a conversation with one opponent. Another supporter said he had been called a rat after posting positive comments in the neighborhood's Nextdoor social media group.

A nearby property owner, Dennis LeVine, said he was concerned about actual rats that might be attracted to dumpsters the club would require.

Casper said he wanted to do something special on the property but that if his proposal were rejected, he would put the property up for sale.

"We will protect the neighbors' peace and privacy," he said, while creating a "social club like no other."

Some supporters have raised the specter of high-rise condo on the parcel if Casper's plan were rejected, but city staff members said current land-use rules prohibit that.

Casper's attorney Truett Gardner said under questioning that he couldn't predict exactly how many members the club would have, saying only that Casper planned to limit membership so it wouldn't become crowded.

Before the vote, council member Miranda counseled the crowd to accept the decision and not let bad blood linger on the streets of the neighborhood known as Bayshore Beautiful.

"You live there," Miranda said. "I want you to be friendly with each other."

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