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Historic tag may hinder project

Redevelopment of downtown's old Kress building received a blow Thursday night when the City Council voted to make the facades of the buildings next to the Kress historic landmarks.

Jeannette Jason, part of the development team that planned to build 975 condos on two city blocks that include the Kress property, said the team won't move forward with the project as proposed if the council finalizes the decision in two weeks. Instead, the team will build 573 condos on a block north of the Kress site.

The Kress building and the adjacent Newberry and Woolworth buildings will probably "stay boarded up," Jason said Friday.

The Kress building, on Franklin Street, was designated as a landmark in January.

Jason said she didn't object to that designation because it offers significant tax benefits. But the more recent designations placed on the Newberry and Woolworth facades won't.

Making them landmarks merely adds higher costs and more regulation to the project because all designs would have to be approved by an architectural review commission, she said.

Jason's plans called for restoring the Kress building and portions of the facades of the other two. But the designation approved Thursday means that the entire facade of the Newberry building would have to be preserved.

The council ruled 5-0 in favor of designation, with Gwen Miller and Shawn Harrison absent. "I'm shocked," Jason said.

The vote came just two weeks after the council voted 5-2 to move toward changing the city code to require owner consent before making a property a local landmark.

That measure passed after cigar factory owners invoked property rights as an argument against landmarking their property.

But council member Rose Ferlita said the Kress case is different.

In presentations before the council, the Kress developers had talked about preserving the facades. Designation guarantees that, Ferlita said. The "last minute" opposition to the designation was confusing, she said.

"It was my sense that they always wanted the designation," she said. "If maybe we misinterpreted that, they can come up for reconsideration. I felt the council had accommodated them based on what they preferred for the building."

Jason said her team never supported the designation. The process started when the property received a condemnation notice because the buildings had fallen into disrepair, triggering a hearing before the city's Historic Preservation Commission, she said. The commission recommended making the buildings landmarks. Jason's group agreed to designating the Kress building, but not the others.

"After HPC got involved, we negotiated through the process that we would save portions of the facade, but we didn't want them designated," she said. "The site plan has already been done, and we had already agreed how we were treating those facades in the site plan. We didn't feel the need to have them designated."

The designation doesn't make developing the property impossible, she said.

"But we were trying to achieve work force housing," Jason said. "It was going to be expensive enough and cumbersome enough to do portions of the facade."

This week, Jason's group hired attorney John Grandoff to join its legal team. Grandoff represents several other property owners in Tampa who are fighting landmark designation, including the cigar factory owners.

Janet Zink can be reached at (813) 226-3401 or jzink@spttmes.com.

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