TAMPA — For the second time this year, a West Tampa cigar factory on Albany Avenue has a new owner who will restore and seek historic landmark designation for the building.
On Friday, developer Omar Garcia announced that he purchased the Bustillo Brothers y Diaz Cigar Factory at 2111 N. Albany Ave. for $2.8 million.
He hopes to convert the 33,000-square-foot brick structure into an apartment building with 40 units and build 10 townhomes on the 1.5-acre property’s open land.
The apartment building will be named Cigar Lofts at Albany, said Garcia, who previously converted a downtown Tampa office building at 220 Madison Ave. into student housing.
Dennis Fernandez, the city of Tampa’s architectural review and historic preservation manager, said a hearing to rezone the cigar factory property from industrial to residential is “tentatively scheduled” for Jan. 20.
The Bustillo factory is a short walk from the Y. Pendas y Alvarez Cigar Factory at 2301 N. Albany Ave., which was purchased earlier this year by the Boscaino family. It is being converted into a winery and bar.
“It is going to be transformational for the area,” Garcia said of the two cigar factories being restored. “This is going to breathe a lot of life back into West Tampa.”
He said it is too early to provide a construction timeline but, like the Boscaino family did for their factory, will seek local historic landmark designation for the building. Such designation prevents future owners from altering the original historic look of a building’s exterior.
The factory opened around 1901, said the Tampa Bay History Center’s Rodney Kite-Powell, and “claimed to have been the largest in Tampa at the time, but it is better known for two other reasons.”
In 1902, the mayor of West Tampa — when it was its own city — was also employed at that factory as a lector, someone who entertained the cigar workers by reading to them.
Accused of fomenting a strike that year, he was “kidnapped by vigilantes who were going to send him to Honduras but only made it as far as Key West before returning him to West Tampa because the workers threatened a larger strike if he was harmed,” Kite-Powell said. “It is a classic Tampa story of how far the power structure would go to maintain peace in the cigar industry.”
Then during another strike in 1910, a factory bookkeeper with a history of tangling with the unions was shot and killed as he sought to enter the building, according to news archives.
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Two Italian immigrants were arrested and charged with the crime. They were kidnapped from the jail and lynched.
“It’s not our prettiest history,” Kite-Powell said, “but it’s Tampa history.”