TAMPA — Champions of historic preservation marked a victory Tuesday when an architectural review board told the owner of an old pasta factory he couldn't tear down a decaying building.
"The deterioration has been self-imposed," said Leigh Wilson-Versaggi, a member of the Barrio Latino Commission that oversees the Ybor City historic district. "What it does to a neighborhood is unconscionable, is disgusting. And I think we need to be stewards of this community."
Attorney Michael LeBarbera told the board that leaving the Ferlita Macaroni Factory building standing posed an economic hardship for owner Les Thompson. Simply stabilizing the structure, which has had no roof since it collapsed in 2007, would cost nearly $200,000, he said. Rehabilitating it fully would cost more than $1 million.
Thompson bought the building on 22nd Street in Ybor City in 1985. It's worth about $51,000, according to the Hillsborough County property appraiser.
"He never has been able to obtain financing, never been able to obtain insurance on the building," LeBarbera said.
Giuseppe Ferlita built the factory at 1607 N 22nd St. in 1923. Its columns and ornate entries echo those of the ethnic social clubs nearby.
The company moved its operation to West Tampa in 1936, and the building changed hands multiple times. Owners have been cited numerous times for code violations.
The walls are buckling and bowing, and the mortar has crumbled to the point where bricks can be removed by hand.
"I understand the heritage. I understand the history. Emotionally, I hate to be here," LeBarbera said. "It's a landmark. It's a landmark that we can't save, we can't finance and we can't afford to fix."
Ethan Loeb, another attorney for Thompson, said if the demolition permit wasn't granted, it would be considered a taking of personal property and could end up in court.
"If we cannot demolish this structure, there will be no economically feasible use left," he said.
City officials, though, said the building could be stabilized for less than $75,000.
Dennis Fernandez, the city's historic preservation manager, said Thompson knew the building was in a historic district when he bought it more than 20 years ago, but has taken no steps to maintain the structure.
And he said that with Ybor City blossoming, there are plenty of options for redeveloping the property with the building in place.
"Sometimes it just takes some time to come up with solutions and allow for redevelopment to happen," Fernandez said.
Thompson was originally scheduled to go before the Barrio Latino Commission in April to request the demolition permit. But that was delayed as he tried to work out a deal to donate the building to the Italian Club. In the end, the social club determined that renovations would be too expensive and the property didn't have enough parking.
Nearly 20 people spoke out against the demolition request.
"It is a very special building," said Fran Costantino, one of Ybor City's most vocal boosters. "You cannot be afraid of litigation. You have to do the right thing, and that is to save this building."
Don Barco owns a cigar bar in an Ybor building about the same age as the old pasta factory. Over the years, he said, he has had to make numerous repairs, which the owner of an old building should expect.
"This is one of the most irresponsible ownership of buildings that I've seen in Ybor City," he said, noting that if all the district's property owners were so lax the district would cease to exist.
Commission members agreed.
"There's plenty of evidence of neglect through the years," said commission member Steve Marlowe.
Thompson said after the hearing that he doesn't have immediate plans to appeal the decision to the City Council.
"I'm tired of fighting over a little old building that's not worth anything but romance," he said.
Janet Zink can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3401.