1. Hillsborough

City shuts down remodeling at West Tampa cigar factory, spurring new call for landmark status

Despite repeated warnings, a developer failed to obtain permits for work on the Santaella building, according to city of Tampa authorities. Tenants were ordered to vacate.
Published Jan. 11, 2019

TAMPA — For $3.6 million, Michael Hettrich purchased a piece of West Tampa's past on Monday — the Y. Pendas y Alvarez Cigar Factory and its iconic clock tower.

Meantime, two miles away, the city of Tampa ordered a stop to remodeling work on the Santaella Cigar Factory that Hettrich bought last year.

Despite repeated warnings, Hettrich failed to obtain permits for the work or to certify that new electrical work is safe, according to city authorities. On Friday, artists who rent space in the Santaella building were ordered to vacate and power was shut off.

It marked the third time the city ordered construction on the project stopped.

Hettrich said he thought he had all the proper permits and sees the delays as a part of doing business. He said the work now under way will restore each factory to its former glory.

But his latest shutdown is driving people with an interest in historic preservation to seek more safeguards for Tampa's century-old cigar factories.

West Tampa art commune wonders what future holds under new landlords

"We have to do anything and everything within our power and the limits of the law," said Tampa City Councilman Guido Maniscalco, who represents West Tampa. "They are the castles of our neighborhood."

One option, he said: Have the city declare all cigar factories historic landmarks, providing some level of government oversight. Neither the Santaella nor Pendas factories carry this designation.

Typically, it is property owners who seek out landmark status, but it comes with a burden: Changes to the exterior must follow city guidelines meant to preserve its original appearance. Owners do have access to preservation grants.

Historic designation does not preclude modernizing the interior, but Maniscalco said landmark status might scare owners from cutting corners that could endanger the buildings.

In 2006, the City Council considered declaring all of Tampa's cigar factories historic landmarks but a group of owners argued successfully that the move would infringe upon property rights.

Linda Saul-Sena, a member of the City Council at the time and a backer of landmark designation, said it is time to reconsider that decision.

"Instead of looking at the greater good of the community, the city administration was afraid of making property owners angry," she said. "When you buy a cigar factory you have a responsibility to protect it."

Of the 200 or so factories that operated in Tampa's cigar-making heyday, from the late-1800s through mid-1990s, only about two dozen remain. Half of them carry historic protection.

Only one factory, the Regensburg in Ybor City owned by J.C. Newman Cigar Co., still produces cigars. The others are either vacant or have been put to other uses.

Ybor City's Oliva Cigar Factory is now an apartment building, for example, and Argosy University occupies West Tampa's Berriman-Morgan Cigar Factory. Both are protected historic landmarks.

One of last wooden cigar factories reopening soon as Ybor City apartments

Since 1998, the three-story, 58,000-square-foot 114-year-old Santaella factory has been used as artist lofts. Hettrich and his business partner Phil Farley purchased the building in March for $3.2 million, allowed the artists to stay, and promised improvements.

It had been "put together with bubble gum and duct tape," Hettrich said. "We are upgrading everything."

This includes rebuilding shaky walls, he said, and adding a new events center.

City officials remain skeptical.

"We don't know the extent of their work or the potential risk," said Dryden, with construction services. "It is impossible to know if it is safe."

Said Tampa Fire Marshal John Reed, "There were conditions inside that met the definition of being immediately dangerous to life and health."

Fire sprinklers were covered, stairways had no rails, and electrical modifications were never inspected by the city, Dryden said.

Hettrich's record in construction also has the cigar factory advocates worried.

He is still facing a felony charge in Pinellas County from October 2017 that he did contracting work without a license. In 2015, his Artisan Group in Cook County, Illinois, was ordered to pay a client nearly $424,000 over fraudulent construction services. And last February, his business partner Phil Farley pleaded guilty to negligently causing the release of asbestos in the development of St. Petersburg's Urban Style Flats apartments.

Still, tenants at the Santaella building like what Hettrich has done for the factory so far.

"The vibe of the building and the plans for its upgrade are very exciting," said Joe Murphy, who built a recording studio there. "The owners assisted me in my build out and are always on site."

Longtime tenant Kerry Vosler, on the other hand, loves the new studio the landlord built but had to cancel a portrait-painting workshop she scheduled for next week.

"The owners told me everybody in the building is a business partner, but you don't throw business partners under the bus like this," Vosler said.

Want to buy some time? West Tampa cigar factory with iconic clock tower is up for sale

The Pendas factory, Hettrich's new acquisition and until recently home to Tampa Tarp, will be converted into office space and its 120-foot clock tower restored, he said.

When will work begin on the 110-year-old building?

Hettrich laughed.When he gets the permits, he said.

Times senior researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Contact Paul Guzzo at or follow @PGuzzoTimes.


  1. Addison Davis, the superintendent of Clay County District Schools, was chosen Tuesday as the new Hillsborough County school superintendent. [OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times]
    The School Board’s vote is unanimous for Davis, who calls himself “an accelerator.”
  2. Smoke from the Levy County controlled burn travelled across three counties in order to reach Hillsborough. []
    Commuters saw the smokey, hazy skies as they drove home. Strong southern winds are carrying the smoke from a prescribed fire in Levy County.
  3. Joseph Hernandez Hall is home to the University of Florida's chemistry department, where a faculty member recently resigned after officials discovered he failed to disclose his strong ties to China. While at UF, the faculty member also held positions at two Chinese universities, including vice president and dean. The faculty member was not named in a report obtained Tuesday from the Florida Legislature. [University of Florida]
    They also collected grant money from the U.S. government while never disclosing their outside work in China.
  4. Muhammad Abdur-Rahim points out the location of a former African American cemetery in the old Clearwater Heights neighborhood, where he grew up. Archaeologists have begun surveying the land using ground penetrating radar. [JAMES BORCHUCK  |  Times]
    Marked graves were moved in the 1950s, records show. But unmarked graves may have been left behind.
  5. Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, center, vehemently declines to turn over the key to the city to members of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla at downtown's Lykes Gaslight Square Park on Tuesday. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  TImes]
    The mayor puts her own stamp on the Tampa tradition with schoolchildren and her office dog, Alcadesa.
  6. Jaclyn Campbell, 23, left, braves the cold temperatures while walking with her colleague Tysjah Pitchford during their lunch break in downtown Tampa in December. [OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times]
    Temperatures Tuesday reached the 30s for the first time since 2018. Wednesday will start there, too.
  7. A driver was hospitalized and an entrance ramp to northbound Interstate 75 was blocked Tuesday morning after a semitrailer overturned, troopers said. [Florida Highway Patrol]
    The driver failed to negotiate a curve. He was hospitalized with minor injuries and cited for careless driving.
  8. Speed cameras work similarly to these Clearwater red light cameras. Although 151 localities around the country use cameras to catch speeders, no city or county does in Florida. [Times]
    The city has no plans to install them and Florida has no law authorizing them. But one expert says it might help reduce speeding and crashes on Tampa’s scenic thoroughfare.
  9. A runner jogs past the scene of the Jan. 9 fatal crash on Bayshore Boulevard in which a driver killed a pedestrian, 70-year-old George Gage. The scenic street has seen its share of tragedies in recent years, but data shows it isn't close to being one of the most dangerous streets in Hillsborough County. [OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times]
    Two tragic crashes that claimed three lives have dominated headlines, but the iconic street isn’t among the top 20 most dangerous roads in Hillsborough County.
  10. The heirs of the man who owned Memorial Park Cemetery in east Tampa are trying to abandon the property. The city of Tampa is scrambling for a way to continue maintaining the African American burial ground, the final resting place for more than 6,000 people. [JAMES BORCHUCK  |  Times]
    The owners want to abandon the African American cemetery in east Tampa, where around 6,000 people are buried.