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Developer buys Ybor buildings

Each year around Christmas, tiny Jack Shiver would wander into the sprawling Kress department store in Ybor City with the dollar or two his father gave him.

The presents he bought there were always the same: a tiny bottle of Evening in Paris perfume for Mom; a decanter of Old Spice for Dad.

"It was such an imposing building . . . at least that's how I remembered it as a very small boy," Shiver said.

Today, Shiver is 50 years old. And he now owns the Kress building in Ybor.

Shiver last week paid approximately $900,000 to buy the building and the neighboring Kress annex from Ybor's Gonzmart family, of Columbia Restaurant fame. The Gonzmarts put the building and others up for sale after the death of family patriarch Cesar Gonzmart in December 1992.

The buildings, three stories high and 30,000 square feet in all, are among the last large vacant buildings along Ybor's bustling Seventh Avenue. Located on the 1600 block of Seventh, they are in the heart of the redevelopment going on in the old cigar town. The buildings have been vacant for about 12 years.

Shiver, who has been among the leading redevelopers of Ybor, said Friday he is planning to turn the boarded-up buildings into a group of small stores. The old Kress lunch counter in the bottom of the Kress will be turned into a restaurant, he hopes. He expects the renovation work will cost him $600,000 to $700,000 and hopes the first of it will be complete in about six months.

"I'm putting everything else on hold for this building," he said.

Shiver estimated that the building was built about 70 years ago, when bustling Ybor was the hub of commerce in Tampa. With 12-foot windows and its marble nameplate, the building was once one of the most prominent in Ybor.

"The Kress was just a magnificent example of what Ybor was," Shiver said. "It's big, it's got gravity and it's spectacular in its own way. Just like Ybor was, back when Ybor was the tail that wagged the dog and Tampa wasn't very much."

Because of his enthusiasm about Ybor and his ties to the area, Shiver was the ideal buyer for the building, said Casey Gonzmart, who now handles much of his family's business interests. As with other buildings the Gonzmarts have sold in recent years, the family wanted to be selective in who they sold the Kress to.

"Jack is very familiar with Ybor," Gonzmart said. "In addition, his expertise (in renovating Ybor buildings) was something my mom Adela thought was important."