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Italian Club acquires Ybor's Ferlita Macaroni Factory for preservation

In December, a city board blocked the demolition of the Ferlita Macaroni Factory at 1609 N 22nd St. It could now be renovated into a community center or sold, Italian Club officials say.

ATOYIA DEANS | Times Staff

In December, a city board blocked the demolition of the Ferlita Macaroni Factory at 1609 N 22nd St. It could now be renovated into a community center or sold, Italian Club officials say.

YBOR CITY — The historic Ferlita Macaroni Factory, which has been surviving on something similar to death row, going from appeal to extension to denial, appeared to be saved from demolition this week.

After months of discussion and negotiations, the Italian Club agreed to acquire the rundown building at 1609 N 22nd St. and stabilize it with the help of the Ybor City Development Corporation.

The Italian Club first thought about acquiring the rundown building months ago, but members found too many restoration problems.

Then the Ybor City Development Corporation considered taking ownership and turning the building into a community center. But the YCDC, a nonprofit that works as an advisory committee for the city, worried it didn't have the know-how or guarantees on funding.

In the end, both groups, along with neighborhood leaders, decided to stop thinking too far ahead about restoration and work together on the first step everyone wants: preservation.

The Italian Club's decision came during a meeting Tuesday between club officials, the YCDC and neighborhood leaders. Although they were confident in the agreement, Les Thompson, who bought the building in 1985, still needed to sign off on it.

Giuseppe Ferlita built the factory with ornate columns and entries in 1923 but it fell into disrepair over time. Thompson hoped to renovate the building but could never obtain financing or insurance, according to his attorney.

Over the years, the building's roof collapsed, its walls buckled and mortar crumbled to the point where bricks can be removed by hand. Thompson has estimated it will cost nearly $200,000 to stabilize the building; city officials put the cost at less than $75,000.

In February 2009, Thompson applied for a demolition permit. After neighborhood protest, he offered to donate the building to a nonprofit for free, drawing interest from the Italian Club. Thompson was planning on receiving tax benefits from the donation.

But club officials backed away because of parking issues and the scope of the project.

Thompson then continued with his demolition plans until a city architectural review board blocked him in December. He appealed the decision to the City Council, and a March hearing was scheduled.

But before that could happen, Tony LaColla, president of the Historic Ybor Neighborhood Civic Association, urged the YCDC to take the building. He sketched out a financial plan, using various grants and tax programs, to stabilize it and turn it into a community center.

YCDC officials felt that plan was too risky but it spurred another round of discussions that led the Italian Club to take possession of the building.

The YCDC pledged to try and secure up to $100,000 in tax increment financing dollars, which funnels property tax money back into neighborhoods, to stabilize the building. In the future, YCDC and Italian Club officials said, the building could be renovated into a community center or sold.

Justin George can be reached at (813) 226-3368 or jgeorge@sptimes.com.

Italian Club acquires Ybor's Ferlita Macaroni Factory for preservation 01/28/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 27, 2010 4:51pm]
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