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Showdown on demolition of 2 historic buildings set

The long-running dispute between Lykes Bros. Inc. and local preservationists over two historic downtown office buildings heads for what could be a decisive showdown today.

In a hearing likely to last at least half the day, Lykes will present arguments on why it believes it does not make business sense to preserve the First National Bank and Tampa Gas Co. buildings, which the city has made historic landmarks.

Lykes applied for demolition permits for both buildings, but in April failed to convince the city's Architectural Review Commission it could not put the buildings to a "reasonable beneficial use" or earn a reasonable return from using them.

The buildings sit side by side on the south side of Madison Street between Tampa and Franklin streets, where Lykes has said it eventually plans to build a corporate headquarters.

Lykes has appealed the commission's denial to the City Council. At least five of its members would have to vote to overturn the denial before Lykes could get permission to raze the buildings.

The council is scheduled to consider Lykes' appeals at 9 a.m. in rooms 11 and 12 of the Tampa Convention Center. Each side will have 90 minutes to present its arguments.

Neither representatives of Lykes nor the Architectural Review Commission returned calls from a reporter Tuesday.

Lykes, which has the burden of proving the commission's denials were flawed, contends that preserving the now-vacant buildings presents an economic hardship. After hearing evidence from preservationists, the commission rejected that claim.

In making its decision, the council can consider only the economic considerations for Lykes. The agri-business conglomerate has sued the city and the review commission in state and federal court, and Tampa officials estimate that defending the suits could cost $500,000 or more.

While that potential cost has unsettled several council members, their attorney said Tuesday they could not take it into consideration.

Similarly, council attorney David Carr said, because Lykes is appealing the commission's denials, the council must base its decisions on the existing record _ not on any new evidence presented or comments from the public.