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Boutique hotel proposal latest sign of Ybor City's evolution

The new $46 million boutique hotel is proposed for the 1400 block of E Seventh Avenue.
Published Nov. 5, 2014

TAMPA — Ybor City still pressure-washes the sidewalks every two weeks, but it's shedding its old one-dimensional image as a drunken weekend party zone.

The latest sign of the trend: A five-story boutique hotel proposed last week for a 1.3-acre site that has seen Rough Riders, gangsters, club kids and drag queens.

"I think for Ybor and for Tampa this is a very important project," said architect Alberto Alfonso, whose firm is designing the 187-room hotel on the 1400 block of E Seventh Avenue. "There's a lot of history there."

Two buildings on the block have been home to the Czar nightclub, and before that the Pleasuredome, Tracks and El Goya, a disco and gay bar with a huge dance floor and a reputation for fabulous drag shows.

Decades before, the block also was home to the El Dorado, Tampa crime boss Charlie Wall's notorious gambling house and bordello.

Farther back still, it was the site of one of Tampa's oldest restaurants, Las Novedades. In 1898, the restaurant was the scene — as the legend goes — of "the Charge of the Yellow Rice Brigade," when a detachment of Teddy Roosevelt's 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry rode their horses into the dining room.

Now a partnership that includes several prominent Tampa families has applied to build a hotel with over-the-sidewalk balconies, a mid-century Havana style and an estimated value of $46 million.

The development team includes property owner Broadway Development, a joint venture between the families of Joe Capitano Sr. and the late Alfonso Garcia Jr., plus Anthony Italiano, Alex Walter and Sam and Casey Ellison.

Rounding out the team is HRV Hotel Partners, an Atlanta-based hospitality development and project management firm. Developers are talking to prospective hotel operators known for running upscale "lifestyle" hotels similar to Tampa's new Le Méridien and Epicurean, Frank Capitano said, as opposed to mid-range "select service" hotels such as Courtyard by Marriott or Holiday Inn Select.

To accommodate a rooftop bar, pool and fitness center, the hotel would need approval from the city's Barrio Latino Commission for a 60-foot building height, 15 feet higher than the city's limit. Plans call for placing the rooftop amenities so they will not be visible from the street. Construction could begin in the spring, with an opening in fall 2016.

The proposed hotel isn't the first to be dreamed up for the property, but unlike others it hasn't been tripped up along the way.

"It has attracted hotel developers for many years," Capitano said of the block. "We just have never been able to get the deal done for a variety of reasons."

Tampa officials say the hotel project is the latest step in Ybor City's decades-long evolution from dead zone to weekend party strip to well-rounded urban center with its own base of residents and employers.

"We're really seeing a renaissance in Ybor right now," said Bob McDonaugh, City Hall's top development official. "What's always interesting is the fact that the No. 1 use of space in Ybor is office space. People always think it's restaurants or nightclubs, and it's not."

The city discourages office uses on the first floor of buildings on Ybor's commercial strip, but there are a lot of offices on the second floors of those buildings, said Vince Pardo, manager of the city's Ybor City Development Corp.

This summer, a survey of 262 Ybor City companies found that more than 80 percent of the respondents said not only was business growing, but they expected to add employees in the coming year.

Forty-one new companies, most of them technology firms, had opened since 2013, 10 in this year alone. One renovated cigar factory was home to five tech firms, according to the report, which was written by Jim Mennie, an adjunct professor in the business department of Hillsborough Community College, and was sponsored by HCC's Ybor campus, Hillsborough County and the Ybor City Development Corp.

Still, restaurants comprised the largest number of businesses with 13 percent of the total. Retail stores accounted for another 10 percent. Tied at 8 percent each were technology firms and bars or nightclubs.

Tampa officials expect the development climate to improve as the new elevated connector between Interstate 4 and the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway takes heavy trucks off 21st and 22nd streets. Both streets will get on-street parking and bike lanes aimed at slowing traffic.

Both the new hotel and the diversification of development in Ybor City reflect an encouraging trend that's emerged over the last five or six years, said Don Barco, owner of King Corona Cigars on Seventh Avenue.

It helped a lot, Barco said, when the city reopened Seventh Avenue to traffic on the weekends — ending an experiment that seemed determined, he said, to create another Bourbon Street — and when the city removed parking meters from the street.

When people stereotype Ybor as an entertainment district, Barco said, they overlook the architecture, history and culture that give the historic district a distinct sense of place and make it an attractive place to live or work.

"There's this perception that Ybor City is a place to go and get plastered or whatever," he said. "Ybor City is a community. People forget that."

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