ST. PETERSBURG — The iconic former Union Trust Bank building at 895 Central Ave. has sat vacant for decades, making St. Petersburg residents wonder what would become of it.
Now we have an answer: It is the future home of J. Fiore’s Contemporary Steakhouse, a three-story, 12,000-square-foot restaurant and lounge. Construction is underway now, and it is expected to open later this year.
Here are five things to know about the forthcoming spot.
Who’s behind it?
It’s the brainchild of entrepreneur Jim Fiore, who hails from Pennsylvania but retired to Tampa Bay five years ago after a long career as a senior manager for the Xerox Corp. The move to Florida came when he opened a Sky Zone Trampoline Park franchise in Clearwater.
Fiore said he’s a business guy always looking for the next venture.
“People think I’m crazy, but owning a restaurant is on my bucket list,” he said.
He noticed the building when he moved to downtown St. Petersburg after a year living in Tampa. He was excited by its architecture.
“That’s the whole reason I’m doing this restaurant, because if it was just a regular building, I probably wouldn’t be doing it,” he said.
Fiore is putting together an experienced team to help him run the restaurant, including his lawyer Adam Itzkowitz, who is the vice president of operations.
“I’m really excited because I think St. Pete needs something like this,” Fiore said.
The building’s history
The building dates to 1926, the height of the city’s first big real estate boom. It was designed by Tampa architect M. Leo Elliott, who was also responsible for the old Tampa City Hall, Centro Asturiano and the Italian and Cuban clubs of Ybor City.
The bank failed in 1930, but after reorganizing it eventually became the largest state-chartered bank in Florida. In 1996, Union Trust’s successor Nation’s Bank moved out, leaving the building vacant for the next two decades.
In 2016, Miami-based developer Related Group bought the block and, in 2017, broke ground on a 368-unit apartment building called ICON Central. A 15,000-square-foot, three-story section of the original bank building was preserved.
Related sold the apartment building to Camden Property Trust in 2021. But nothing had been done with the bank building until now, amid another real estate boom in the city.
Fiore worked out a deal with the landlord, Miami-based real estate investment firm Tricera Capital, to lease the ground floor, mezzanine and lower level.
The mezzanine originally only ran the width of the building, so Fiore extended it to the front of the building. He said doing so not only created room for more seating but will add to the ambiance.
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Tables and a long bar will fill the main dining area, which features large windows that start in the mezzanine and will bring in natural light.
The lower level is the basement, where the bank’s enormous vault remains. That level will house a bar and an intimate lounge in the vault.
Fiore hired interior designer Angie Wetzel of InterLux Interiors to create the restaurant’s look.
She approached the design with appreciation for the historical space and tried to preserve as many architectural details as possible, but some were beyond salvaging.
Riffing on Fiore’s name — which means “flower” in Italian — she came up with the showpiece: a large-scale prismatic chandelier that hangs from the ceiling, through the mezzanine to the main dining area, and resembles a flower without being too on the nose.
Because one of St. Pete’s many treasures is The Dalí Museum, Wetzel took inspiration from the artist’s iconic melting clock motif and designed metal sculptures for the wall that will slightly distort everything they reflect.
To let those elements shine, Wetzel opted for whites and muted tones in those spaces.
In the downstairs bar, Wetzel wanted to create a chill vibe and was inspired by the reflection of the water on the boats out by the St. Pete Pier. She designed elements for the walls and ceiling to mirror those reflections and metal “bubbles” on the ceiling to give the feeling of being underwater.
The nautical inspiration carries into the vault lounge, which will be decorated in a monochromatic rich blue with a centerpiece dome in the ceiling that recalls a port hole. An element from the original bank remains here: a wall of safe deposit boxes that will be obscured by blue tempered glass.
The food and drinks
Fiore is currently interviewing chefs to execute his vision of high-quality steaks and seafood, plus sides, appetizers and desserts. In the vault, he said he wants to serve a high-end tasting menu.
Information from Times archives was used in this report.