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A Times Editorial

Tampa right to look to use historic buildings

For years, practicality and cost in designing public buildings has largely trumped architectural style. But now cash-strapped cities, including Tampa, are rediscovering a terrific asset — historic properties built in healthier times that add character to entire neighborhoods. Mayor Bob Buckhorn is looking for proposals to redevelop Tampa's old federal courthouse and Water Works Park, among the historic properties shown here. Putting these properties to better use will ultimately make the city a better place to live.

Fort Homer W. Hesterly Armory, West Tampa, c. 1941, 11.4 acres

Originally used as Army staging ground for the Spanish-American war. Used by Army Air Forces during World War II. Signature Art Deco design — stucco, fluted top, curved parapets, scored detailing. Earlier proposals to rehabilitate the armory, an iconic events venue on prime real estate in an established neighborhood, fell through when the economy tanked. It is bordered by main thoroughfares and minutes from downtown and South Tampa.

Sulphur Springs Water Tower Park, North Tampa, c. 1927, 13 acres

Developer Josiah Richardson commissioned this 214-foot tower to supply his recreational destination. Design is called "Hollywood Gothic" — catwalk, turret top, observation deck. Closed in 1970s. Later a drive-in theater. City bought park in 2002. This central location with easy access, plentiful parking and sloping vista to the Hillsborough River has the potential to host a number of events, including weekend markets, with better maintenance and improved landscaping.

Free Library, Tampa Heights, c. 1915, 35,212 square feet

The second of two Tampa libraries funded by 19th century industrialist Andrew Carnegie, this yellow, brown brick and rusticated granite building has a cast stone entablature over the main entrance and 16-foot ceilings. It's on the National Register of Historic Places. This building is underutilized as a city office building. With good bus service, it's well-situated to become a much-needed community center for nearby neighborhoods.

Old federal courthouse, Downtown, c. 1905, 106,000 square feet

The oldest significant building in Tampa, it also served as post office and customs house. Eclectic Renaissance Revival style, with formal facade, marble, rusticated granite. Monumental stairway into portico, with grand entrance framed by Corinthian columns. This extraordinary building occupies an entire city block. It has potential as an urban hotel, retail, sundries, food hall, tourism/transit hub that would enliven the business district.

Water Works Park, Tampa Heights, c. 1902, 5 acres

This Hillsborough River brick pump house used to supply water to a growing population. Once included a botanical garden, winding pathways and a spring-fed pond. Original vegetation is mostly gone, but the spring exists and still pumps water. Master plan calls for restoring park with pavilions, play areas, boat slips. Proposals pending for cafe, markets and galleries. Sweeping views of river and downtown. Could spark redevelopment of vacant areas to north.

Tampa right to look to use historic buildings 11/25/11 [Last modified: Friday, November 25, 2011 3:30am]
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