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Owner of Ybor City's Ferlita Macaroni Factory wants building demolished

TAMPA — Less than six months after a wrecking crew tore through the 1913 Gary school, another historic building is on track to meet the same fate.

The owner of Ybor City's 1925 Ferlita Macaroni Factory submitted an application this week to demolish the blonde brick relic of the district's Italian heritage.

Les Thompson, who has owned and managed the building since 1985, says it was in a deteriorated condition when he bought it. He planned to restore it, but never did.

Last summer, city officials discovered part of its roof had collapsed. Thompson is president of his family-owned company, which specializes in metal roofing.

Historic preservation manager Dennis Fernandez said the city offered him a low-interest loan to get the building stabilized.

But Thompson, declaring economic hardship, wants to tear it down instead.

Fernandez calls the possible demise of the Ferlita Macaroni Factory yet another chapter in Tampa's ongoing story of demolition by neglect.

• • •

Right now, other Tampa buildings are quietly deteriorating — the water-damaged cigar factories of Palmetto Beach, the Union Station Hotel.

The structures will sit vacant for years until calamity strikes. They'll catch fire, or, in the case of the Gary School, they'll just cave in on themselves.

This summer, when a quarter of the historic school gave way to an avalanche of red bricks, the city had no choice but to order its demolition.

Owner John Simon's company happened to be in the demolition business. He did the job himself.

Early this year, the city passed a "demolition by neglect" ordinance that gives the historic preservation department more authority in enforcing the care of Tampa's most valuable buildings.

"The city will go on all day long about how they're doing what they can," says Tony LaColla, president of the Historic Ybor Neighborhood Civic Association.

"But we're not seeing that."

• • •

In 1912, Giuseppe Ferlita started the pasta company from his home in West Tampa. He dried the macaroni on his porch and delivered it by horse and carriage to his customers.

Pasta was a dinner table staple when cigar factory workers came home, said Rodney Kite-Powell, a curator at the Tampa Bay History Center. The macaroni company was a success.

After an expansion to a West Tampa factory, Ferlita built the Ybor factory at 1607 N 22nd St. Its columns and ornate entries echo those of the ethnic social clubs nearby.

The company moved its operation back to West Tampa in 1936, and the building has since undergone a series of owners. Grandson Ken Ferlita recalls it once served as a water bed mattress storage facility.

Through the years, the building has been in and out of code enforcement. Neighbor and preservationist Fran Costantino recalls calling the department numerous times after seeing homeless people sleeping inside the building.

"If there ever was a poster child for demolition by neglect," Costantino said, "there should be a picture of Les Thompson."

Thompson offered no explanation for his decision to demolish the building, other than to say it was deteriorated.

Fernandez says it can be stabilized.

The Barrio Latino Commission, which makes decisions for Ybor's historic buildings, will hear Thompson's case for demolition in April.

Meanwhile, LaColla wonders if Ybor residents could use Community Redevelopment Area money to buy it and turn it into a neighborhood center. He plans to bring up the idea at a March 4 community meeting.

"I drive by the building every single day and I've always admired how beautiful it is," LaColla said. "It has so much potential. ...

"It needs to be saved."

Alexandra Zayas can be reached at azayas@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3354.

Fast facts

Upcoming meetings

The Ybor City Development Corp. will meet with the community at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday to get ideas on how to spend its redevelopment funds. The possible purchase of the Ferlita Macaroni Factory may be discussed. They'll meet at the Italian Club, 1731 E Seventh Ave.

The Barrio Latino Commission is scheduled to hear Les Thompson's case to demolish the historic building at 9 a.m. April 21 in City Council chambers, 315 E Kennedy Blvd.

Owner of Ybor City's Ferlita Macaroni Factory wants building demolished 02/27/09 [Last modified: Friday, February 27, 2009 11:43pm]
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