Make us your home page

Saving Tampa's old federal courthouse a bargain at this price

While downtown Tampa is often viewed as having all the Old World charm of Deadwood, the city is, in fact, populated with many interesting, albeit overlooked and neglected buildings.

But for some odd reason so many of Tampa's elderly structures have been treated as if they were architectural vagrants.

Most cities treasure their edifice legacies. Tampa seems to regard its aging bricks and mortar as if they belong in hospice care.

To this day, if you honor Tampa's rich history, you cannot help but still feel a pang of regret that the old Maas Brothers Department Store building was allowed to decay and slowly decompose before our eyes until there was no other alternative but to raze the structure.

So it was heartening to see Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn announce the other day he would be willing to sell the now vacant 106-year-old federal courthouse building at Florida Avenue and Zack Street for a lousy, stinking $1. Such a deal.

Still, the courthouse is not exactly a handyman special. There are just a few little things here and there that need to be fixed up, for, oh, let's say a mere $18 million or so, give or take a million here and a million there.

But for a developer with a vision — and the requisite oodles of money — the old federal courthouse could be turned into a thing of trendy beauty.

For 13 years since the stately doyenne of Florida Avenue closed, as the judges moved up the street to the Sam M. Gibbons U.S. Courthouse, the old digs have sat empty.

If you believe in ghosts, the building's long history of mob trials, biker trials and political corruption trials must keep the walls busy with whispers.

An effort by former Mayor Pam Iorio to promote the building as the site for the city's art museum went nowhere, even though it was a pretty good idea. Other proposals have included turning the courthouse into a charter school, or a museum or business offices.

The latest idea envisioning the rebirth of the old courthouse seems centered on renovating the building to accommodate a hotel. "And how did you enjoy your stay in the Santo Trafficante suite? Enjoy breakfast in the Charlie Wall Cafe."

Because the building is on the National Register of Historic Places, any renovation will be subject to various restrictions. Still, with its 20-foot ceilings, elaborate chandeliers and imposing Corinthian columns dominating the front portico, the place — to use a decidedly unarchitectural term — is very cool.

There is some water damage, and whoever assumes custody of the building will have to do something about asbestos, which unfortunately seems to be have been all the rage back in 1905 when they built the darn thing. Who knew this stuff could kill you?

It is estimated simply fixing what ails the courthouse could cost a bundle. On the other hand, any developer willing to take on the courthouse gets the property for a $1. Not altogether a bad deal when you think a few blocks away Tony Markopoulos paid $6 million for the old Floridan Hotel before pumping at least a reported $18 million more to bring back that property to its former glory.

The courthouse could be yet another crown jewel in Tampa's rebirth as a thriving urban center. If only a creative developer is willing to give the old grande dame a reprieve.


A column Oct. 30 about the pending trial of indicted former Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin White incorrectly identified White's father. Kevin White is the son of the late Gerald White Sr.

Saving Tampa's old federal courthouse a bargain at this price 11/02/11 [Last modified: Thursday, November 3, 2011 3:28pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours