TAMPA — The big mystery surrounding the Valencia Garden restaurant is over.
A day after surprised politicians and power brokers mourned the closing of the 82-year-old restaurant, wondering what would become of it, the University of Tampa stepped in with the answer.
Along with an unnamed company, it announced Thursday the purchase of the city block that includes the Valencia Garden.
UT plans to develop on it.
The purchased tract is bordered by Kennedy Boulevard on the south, Brevard Avenue on the east, North A Street on the north and North Boulevard on the west.
The university now owns outright 57,760 square feet of the block, or about 45 percent. The university's portion doesn't yet include Valencia Garden but negotiations with the unnamed third party are ongoing. The intent is to hand over the historic building and the remainder of the block to UT.
"Over time, title to the tract purchased by the company is expected to revert to the University of Tampa," the statement said.
Development of the block, which includes three buildings and 130,000 square feet, will help address academic and other space needs, the university said.
Due to a confidentiality agreement, the university would not comment on sale details, future uses or disclose the identity of the third party purchaser.
The Valencia Garden has long marked the gateway to downtown at 811 W Kennedy Boulevard, a prime location near city and county halls for power lunches since 1927.
From 11 a.m. to 1 a.m., founder Manuel Beiro and his wife ran the cash register, tended bar and washed dishes for more than 50 years, nurturing the restaurant's reputation as an authentic Old World eatery "as Spanish as Spain itself," Beiro used to say.
Countless campaign dinners and election parties were held there as legislators and local leaders came to network and trade handshakes for votes.
The restaurant remained in Beiro's family after he died, first with his son-in-law Sam Agliano and then grandson David Agliano.
The family hasn't revealed why David Agliano decided to sell, but his brother, Frank Agliano, indicated the long hours running the restaurant have taken a toll. David Agliano declined to comment Thursday.
"I honestly cannot give you a specific reason as to why," his brother, Frank, said Thursday. He is president of Gator of Florida Inc., which owns the property the Valencia Garden sits on. "The decision to sell was an extremely emotional one for my family after 82 years of history with the Valencia, and was a difficult decision to make."
Frank Agliano said the restaurant's name, murals, paintings and pictures were not sold. He left open a possible resurrection elsewhere.
"This was a real estate transaction of land and buildings," he said. "It also marks the end of the era of the Valencia at that location."
The university owns a growing number of lots surrounding the Valencia, and Frank Agliano said its latest purchase is just another piece of the puzzle.
"It is a perfect acquisition for the university since it fits so perfectly into their future plans," Frank Agliano said. "I feel certain it was a good decision."
City of Tampa economic development manager Mark Huey called the sale to UT great news.
"The University of Tampa is one of the treasures of our greater downtown," he said. "All that they've done over the past years to bring more students to the campus and programs has been great."
Times staff writers Janet Zink and Robbyn Mitchell contributed to this report. Justin George can be reached at (813) 226-3368 or firstname.lastname@example.org.