TAMPA — The old Balbin Bros. Cigar Factory is closer to becoming a boutique hotel than it has been in years, records filed with the city show.
In late 2016, a Tampa hotelier and a Louisiana-based hospitality company partnered to buy the 35,000-square-foot property at 1202 N Howard Ave in West Tampa. Last month, developers began filing rezoning applications with the city. Later this month, they are scheduled to meet with a review committee.
Plans call for the four-story factory to be transformed into a 70-room hotel with an in-ground pool. The filings show plans to keep the historic cigar factory’s exterior intact.
The factory was built in 1904. Like others from the period, it was constructed with high-ceilings and tall windows so workers could have plenty of light and a breeze while they rolled and prepared cigars.
The project’s developer, Mike Desai, could not be reached for comment.
"It actually is in surprisingly good shape,'' Desai said of the factory after the 2016 purchase. "I think the structure of the roof limited a lot of deterioration of the building. …We don’t anticipate too many problems, but it’s like opening a can of worms with an old building.''
A city zoning hearing for the project is scheduled for Dec. 12.
Of the roughly 200 factories that operated in Tampa from the late 1800s through the mid-1990s, only about two dozen are still standing. Ybor City’s Oliva Cigar Factory is now an apartment building, for example.
Near the Balbin Bros. site, two other former cigar factories are also in the midst of being developed.