TAMPA — The city of Tampa invited developers Tuesday to convert the dormant historic federal courthouse into a hotel.
The 106-year-old building has stood vacant for 13 years, but Mayor Bob Buckhorn thinks it has the potential to be reborn as a "boutique hotel" with 100 to 120 rooms.
The four-story building features neoclassical elements, including three-story Corinthian columns at its front portico and towering windows.
Inside, there are courtrooms with ceilings up to 20 feet high, brass fixtures, ornate chandeliers, lots of oak trim and green-on-white marble wainscoting.
"I really want to get that done," Buckhorn said recently. "If you travel to other cities, those are the kind of buildings that really make those neat boutique hotels. It's got all that marble in there. I love that building."
Buckhorn is not alone in his thinking.
"The thing that they're talking about today, we told them 10 years ago," said Tampa real estate developer Mickey Owens. "That's the only use for it. It's laid out perfectly for a hotel."
The courthouse was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974 and closed after the Sam M. Gibbons U.S. Courthouse opened two blocks to the north in 1998.
The federal government deeded the building to Tampa for $1 in 2003. The city spends a little less than $100,000 a year, mostly on air-conditioning, to maintain it.
In recent years, the courthouse has been proposed as a home for two charter schools, a photography museum and offices for nonprofit organizations.
In 2005, then-Mayor Pam Iorio proposed it as a new home for the Tampa Museum of Art, but public opposition killed the idea.
In 2008, a study by the Tampa chapter of the American Institute of Architects estimated renovation costs at $18 million.
Owens, who said his idea was thwarted when Iorio decided to explore the use of the courthouse as a museum, recalled that his team estimated renovation costs at around $12 million.
Necessary repairs are expected to include asbestos remediation and water damage from a broken pipe.
In addition, a lack of on-site parking is an issue that has come up before and is certain to again.
In its request for proposals, the city says it wants to offer developers a long-term lease.
Last month, Buckhorn talked of leasing it for $1 per year for 99 years.
Because the city not only wants to see the hotel given new life, but thinks it could stimulate downtown development, officials want prospective developers to have experience in preserving and reusing historic structures, experience in hotel development and good financial references.
City officials say proposals should address the planning, design, financing, construction and implementation of the project.
Proposals are due Dec. 8.
Richard Danielson can be reached at Danielson@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3403.