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Restoration of historic Tampa courthouse as boutique hotel gets go-ahead

TAMPA — The City Council on Thursday approved a long-term lease that clears the way for Tampa's historic but vacant federal courthouse to be reborn as a boutique hotel.

"We're just really enthused about what we can make happen with this beautiful old courthouse," said Gary Prosterman, the owner and principal of Memphis-based Development Services Group, the lead company in the team chosen to restore the courthouse. "I think of all the real estate projects I've been involved in, this will be the most fun in terms of 'before' and 'after' photos."

Outside, the courthouse boasts three-story Corinthian columns at its front portico, tall windows and neoclassic design. Inside, it has courtrooms with ceilings nearly 20 feet high, oak trim, brass fixtures, ornate chandeliers and green-on-white marble wainscoting.

The 107-year-old courthouse on N Florida Avenue was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974 but has been closed for about 14 years. The federal government deeded it to the city for $1 in 2003. Maintaining it requires the city to spend nearly $100,000 a year, mostly on air conditioning to limit mold.

Under the terms of the lease, construction will start Dec. 1 and end by May 31, 2014. The $25 million-plus construction project is expected to employ 425 workers, and the hotel is expected to have a staff of 100.

The hotel will pay the city rent of $1 a year for the first two years, $10,000 annually for years three through 30 and $15,000 a year for years 31 through 60. For the first 20 years, the operator will be required to run the hotel at least on a par with a three-star or three-diamond hotel as rated by a rating agency such as AAA. After that, the lease does allow some additional uses on the property, including offices, residences or a school.

Under no circumstances, however, can any part of the courthouse be used for a pool room, dance hall, pawn shop, gambling den, adult book store, second-hand store, illegal massage parlor, beauty school, barber college, auction house, flea market or church.

While a competing developer offered the city a cut of the hotel project's receipts, city officials said Prosterman's company has direct experience converting historic buildings into luxury hotels. In 2010, the company won the Pennsylvania Historic Preservation Award for Adaptive Reuse for converting an old YMCA building into the four-star Le Meridien Hotel in Philadelphia.

"It was not money that was the deciding factor," city economic opportunity administrator Bob McDonaugh told council members. "It was the experience of the developer, someone who had done a similar project."

The council also approved:

• Spending $290,000 on temporary fencing and $516,200 on summer-weight khaki uniforms for police working outside the Republican National Convention.

• A resolution calling on the Legislature to repeal Florida's controversial "Stand Your Ground" law, which is at the center of the second-degree murder case of neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman's fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin.

• A special use permit to allow sales of beer, wine and liquor during events at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park. Nonprofit organizations can apply for permits to sell alcohol at events at the park, but city officials say the application process is cumbersome. Making it easier could help Curtis Hixon compete with big concert venues like Coachman Park in Clearwater and Vinoy Park in St. Petersburg. A final vote is scheduled May 3.

Richard Danielson can be reached at Danielson@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3403.

A signature sandwich

More than a century after emerging as the quintessential Ybor City cigar worker's lunch, the Cuban is officially Tampa's signature sandwich. By City Council decree adopted Thursday, the "Historic Tampa Cuban Sandwich" must be made with Cuban bread scored on top with a leaf from a palmetto palm frond, plus ham, mojo roast pork, Genoa salami, Swiss cheese, yellow mustard and exactly three dill pickle slices.

A signature sandwich

More than a century after emerging as the quintessential Ybor City cigar worker's lunch, the Cuban is officially Tampa's signature sandwich. By City Council decree adopted Thursday, the "Historic Tampa Cuban Sandwich" must be made with Cuban bread scored on top with a leaf from a palmetto palm frond, plus ham, mojo roast pork, Genoa salami, Swiss cheese, yellow mustard and exactly three dill pickle slices.

Restoration of historic Tampa courthouse as boutique hotel gets go-ahead 04/19/12 [Last modified: Friday, April 20, 2012 1:03am]

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