TAMPA — Seven years after it was announced that West Tampa’s century-old Balbin Bros. Cigar Factory would be turned into a 70-room boutique hotel, construction is underway.
“It took a while to get the architectural plans right and then there was a delay because of COVID,” said Dylan Desai of the family-operated My Hospitality Hotels, which purchased the factory for $1.4 million and is spending another $12 million on the project. “But now we’re ready.”
Construction began three months ago and should be finished within a year.
They have yet to finalize a deal with a hotel franchise, but Desai expects to have one soon for the three-story, 35,000-square-foot locally designated historic landmark at 1202 N. Howard Ave.
His company owns more than 50 hotels, a mix of Comfort Inns, Hiltons, Marriotts, La Quintas and Holiday Inns throughout Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and Florida.
The Balbin Bros. Cigar Factory is their first historic restoration project.
“We’re gutting everything on the inside,” Desai said. “The outside’s original look will not change.”
Dennis Fernandez, the city of Tampa’s architectural review and historic preservation manager, said, “It will be a significant effort because the building was in pretty poor condition. The exterior walls are being repaired and repointed. New windows are necessary,” but those will be replicas of the originals.
The factory was constructed in 1904 by the Samuel I. Davis Cigar Co.. They then built and moved into a larger factory a few blocks away in 1910.
The Balbin Bros. Cigar Co. arrived in Tampa in 1904 and initially operated out of a building on the corner of Harrison and Franklin streets in downtown. Later that year, the company moved into a wooden factory in West Tampa, but that was torched by an arsonist in October 1910.
“In three quarters of an hour, nothing but a pile of ashes remained to tell the story of a loss estimated at $5,000,” the Tampa Tribune wrote of the fire. “Flames appeared to wrap the building on all sides at once, as if the dry wood had been carefully soaked in gasoline.” A $500 reward was offered for information that led to an arrest, but no one was charged.
Balbin Bros. then moved into the former Samuel I. Davis building in March 1911 and the factory permanently took on their name, even after being sold to Tampa-Cuba Cigar Co. in 1915.
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In the early 1930s, DeSoto Brewery briefly operated there, according to Tampa Bay Times archives. From 1937 to 1976, it was home to Empire Mercantile, which operated 24 Fremac’s clothing stores. Then, in 2006, dental technology company Inteldent Solutions began using it for office space.
Desai said that his company purchased it primarily because it is located right off I-275′s West Tampa exit and because, despite needed structural repairs, the building’s bones remain strong.
“It’s in a great location,” he said. “And it’s survived more than 100 years for a reason.”