People used to come from all over Central Florida to shop in downtown Tampa's Maas Brothers department store.
Established in 1886, the retail landmark presided over the heart of the city's business district until 1991, when it closed its doors for good. It has been vacant ever since, falling into moldy disrepair and facing a demolition order from the city.
A change in ownership may soon change all that, however, with this property joining others in the next phase of downtown Tampa's residential and retail rebirth.
Managed health care executive Pradip C. Patel last month paid $3.8-million for three of the four parcels on the city block bordered by Tampa, Zack, Franklin and Twiggs streets, the one that holds the Maas Brothers building.
Patel said he's likely to put residences and commercial space on the land, but Tuesday he had no details on the project.
"It's too preliminary. We have a lot of planning to do and need to find a developer," he said. "We'll know in two or three months where we're headed."
Meanwhile, Patel is wrapping up an agreement with the city to renovate the 1904-vintage downtown federal courthouse, which is near the Maas Brothers property. He's contributing more than $6-million to that project, which will include a photographic museum, an arts charter school for middle school students and offices for nonprofit organizations.
Mayor Pam Iorio said Tuesday she's pleased to see the ownership of the Maas Brothers building change hands. The previous owner, a company called 610 Franklin Inc., headed by developer Gregory Hughes, bought the property in 1998 for $1.47-million, according to state and county records.
Hughes and his company hit hard financial times and couldn't raise the nearly half-million dollars it would take to comply with the city's demolition order for the property, which was issued in 2000.
The building needs to come down, Iorio said, because of health and safety issues. She said she's confident Patel will do right by the property.
"He's a great citizen. He's a doer," she said. "He cares about the community."
A residential and retail tower on the Maas Brothers site would dovetail with plans for a similar project just a few blocks away at Ashley Drive and Polk streets, she said. There, Atlanta's Novare Group and Tampa's Intown Group are building a 381-unit, 32-story tower.
"You start to create a synergy," she said. "You're really talking about a neighborhood."
Patel comes from a family that has contributed extensively to downtown Tampa's revival.
His brother, Kiran, and Kiran's wife, Pallavi, donated $5-million to establish the Dr. Pallavi Patel Performing Arts Conservatory, which opened in November at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center.
Pradip Patel said he embarked on the courthouse project because he's committed to historic preservation. The Maas Brothers property, he said, is a wise investment.
"A lot of downtowns in big cities are coming back, and downtown Tampa is ready to do that," he said.
He pointed out that even Donald Trump, whose company this week confirmed plans to build a residential tower in downtown Tampa, sees the neighborhood's potential.
"It's ready for growth," Patel said. "It may be three or four years away, but that's how long a project like this takes."