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Ideas for old courthouse stir no passion

Two weeks before an advisory committee is scheduled to recommend a new use for the old federal courthouse downtown, key players have pulled out of one proposal, and two committee members say they may not pick any of the ideas put forward so far.

At a public hearing Tuesday, developer Mickey Owens, of Vintage I Partnership, said three people have withdrawn from his group.

Vintage I wants to turn the abandoned century-old courthouse into a 59-room hotel with a restaurant, spa and tea room. Malio Iavarone, owner of Malio's Steak House on S Dale Mabry; developer Brian Taub and financial planner Ed Kaloust don't have the time to commit to the project, Owens said. The proposal, though, is still viable, he said.

TBR Management Group wants to put a high-tech center in the building, along with an arts center, a small hotel and a culinary arts school. TBR would provide space at the center for the University of South Florida School of Visual and Performing Arts.

The final plan under consideration is for the P.C. Patel Center, which includes a $6-million pledge from Pradip C. Patel, a managed health care executive related to the donors of the Dr. Pallavi Patel Performing Arts Conservatory at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center.

Patel wants to open a photography museum, a middle school for the arts and a life skills center for high school dropouts in the courthouse. The group also announced Tuesday it is considering dedicating space in the building to the Family Justice Center, which recently received a $1-million grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to serve victims of domestic violence.

The Classic Federal Courthouse Advisory Committee is to make a decision on the proposals Oct. 12. But some committee members say it's possible they'll ditch all three ideas.

"Our recommendation could be nothing, we don't recommend going forward with any of these," said committee member and real estate executive William Bissett. "We're stewards of the building."