TAMPA — A City Council vote that would relieve the owners of the old Woolworth and Newberry buildings downtown from having to preserve the facades has been postponed indefinitely.
Had the agreement been to put a vote, a majority of council members said Thursday they would have supported leaving it in place. Mayor Pam Iorio has said killing the agreement to facilitate downtown development was something she wanted to accomplish before leaving office in the spring. The building's owner has long argued that leaving the facade in place makes the property difficult to renovate.
City Attorney Chip Fletcher pulled the item from the council's agenda late Wednesday.
His reason he gave: He couldn't get a firm commitment from the building owners to commemorate the historic Civil Rights era sit-ins that occurred there.
"We need some clarity on what they're proposing," Fletcher said.
Jeannette Jason, a principal in the owners group, had suggested installing a plaque on the site, but Fletcher said it wasn't clear how that would be done.
Iorio has made turning downtown into a residential neighborhood a priority. Four years ago, she unsuccessfully fought the council's efforts to protect the facades. Iorio proposed revisiting the issue now that the council has almost all new members.
Her move raised the ire of preservationists and some people in the black community, who argued that the historic events that occurred there should be honored by protecting portions of the buildings.
The executive directors of the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization and the Hillsborough County City-County Planning Commission also weighed in, tying the facades to the success of light and high-speed rail, pet projects for Iorio.
In letters to the council, the planning commission's Bob Hunter and the MPO's Ray Chiaramonte argued that the facades will enhance the experience of people who pass through a proposed rail station just blocks from the buildings.
In the midst of the downtown building boom several years ago, the block of Franklin Street that holds the Woolworth and Newberry buildings and the old Kress department store was rezoned to accommodate condominium towers. The towers were never built, and the buildings sit vacant. The Kress building is protected with a historic landmark designation. The Woolworth and Newberry buildings are not.
In 2006, the City Council designated the facades of the Newberry and Woolworth buildings as historic landmarks. Jason pursued a legal challenge to the designation, and a mediator negotiated a compromise to protect the facades through a contract rather than a landmark designation.
Janet Zink can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3401.