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Lykes asks to destroy buildings

The Lykes Family filed demolition permits Tuesday on two downtown buildings recommended for preservation by a city review board the day before.

On Monday, the Architectural Review Commission said the buildings have local historical and architectural significance and voted unanimously to approve their designation as historic landmarks.

Both buildings, on a city block bounded by Kennedy Boulevard, Tampa, Franklin and Madison streets, have been vacant since early this year when the last tenant, Wolf Brothers clothing store, was turned down for a renewal of its lease.

"I'm sitting here trying to read their minds as to why they would do this," said Harriet Plyler, past president of Tampa Preservation Inc. "The lawyers may be saying, "the hell with it; down goes the building.' "

Once the ARC approves landmark designation, the recommendation goes to the City Council, which has its own public hearing.

Now that demolition permits have been filed, the city attorney would have to invoke emergency designation, which would delay demolition up to 45 days until the City Council meets to determine whether the buildings deserve historic landmark status.

City Council members were expected to hold a public hearing about the buildings and then vote on whether to designate them as landmarks.

Officials for the Historic Tampa/Hillsborough County Preservation Board say the filing contradicts discussions they had been having with the Lykes about a potential land swap or purchase of the buildings.

"We were not surprised. We expected that might happen," said Stephanie Farrell, board director. "However, we didn't think it was a productive response given our clear desires to find other uses for the buildings."

The city could use the buildings for a housing and community center for the arts. It also would provide office space and classroom space for arts organizations.

In exchange, the Lykes would receive either payment for the buildings or two vacant city blocks.

"As we said the other day, we are open to any offers, and nothing has changed in that regard," said David Mechanik, a lawyer for the Lykes family. "But the Lykes have to protect their legal interest."

City Council approval doesn't mean the buildings would be saved from demolition. Property owners must simply get special permission to renovate or demolish a building with landmark status, Farrell said.

"It was on a list of buildings for potential local landmark designation, and when they became vacant, there was a concern," Farrell said. "We want to recognize the property owner's wants and desires, accomplish a real need in the community in terms of providing a home for arts organizations and also save and use two important historic buildings."