Tampa has few architectural gems like the historic federal courthouse. So it's encouraging that Mayor Bob Buckhorn has chosen an apparently strong bid to remake the shuttered building as a boutique hotel. Buckhorn still needs to negotiate a deal with the development team. But this is a good opportunity for the city to make some money, liven up north downtown and return a local landmark to public use.
The 107-year-old courthouse has been vacant for 13 years, and the city spends about $100,000 a year to maintain it. With its three-story Corinthian columns, elevated portico and imposing facade of marble and brick, the courthouse occupies a city block. It is the oldest building of significance in Tampa, and it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.
The team Buckhorn selected, Tampa Hotel Partners, will self-finance the $22 million project. As he hammers out a deal, the mayor should look for the hotel to draw both visitors and local residents alike. A first-floor restaurant open to the public could become a meeting place the area needs. The courthouse's ideal location and architectural significance give the city the leverage to push for lasting equity in any deal.
The private bidders include local business people who have long been active in Tampa's civic life, including Stephanie Ferrell, an architect and former head of the county's preservation board. This is Buckhorn's first stab at joining hands with the business community to promote historic preservation, and the terms he crafts will shape future public-private partnerships. He should negotiate a deal that benefits both sides. For the public, that means enriching the downtown experience and adding another destination in the local effort to build heritage tourism.