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Tampa's Sportatorium sells for $695,000, to become piano conservatory

The Sportatorium, longtime home to Champion-ship Wrestling from Florida, went for $695,000 at auction on Saturday. The building, at 106 N Albany Ave. in South Tampa, was bought by the owner of the Musical Arts Piano Conservatory.
The Sportatorium, longtime home to Champion-ship Wrestling from Florida, went for $695,000 at auction on Saturday. The building, at 106 N Albany Ave. in South Tampa, was bought by the owner of the Musical Arts Piano Conservatory.
Published Feb. 28, 2016

TAMPA — They sat in folding chairs and stood in the back of a worn-out warehouse, all eyes trained on the center of the room, looking for a few minutes of spectacle.

"Let's get ready to rumble!" Vincent Gess shouted into a microphone.

In a sense, the crowd offered a return to form for the building just off W Kennedy Boulevard. The nondescript stucco structure at 106 N Albany Ave. was the site of Tampa's Sportatorium, where throngs of fans would show up for weekday wrestling matches, among the first to be televised around the country.

But instead of seeing one last fight, the weekend crowd came to watch the building — and a slice of Tampa's history — be auctioned off.

After a few minutes of bidding, the former site of the Sportatorium was sold for $695,000.

The auction didn't come down to the building's history, to the fact that the fights held there for more than two decades were sent on videotapes to be broadcast on TV stations up the East Coast, or that big-name wrestlers like Terry "Hulk Hogan" Bollea, Andre the Giant and "Nature Boy" Ric Flair paid visits. Bidders didn't think much about Championship Wrestling from Florida, as the show was known, even though it helped spawn a billion-dollar industry.

As bidders appraised the building, they said it just seemed like a good piece of real estate.

It's a block off busy W Kennedy Boulevard in bustling South Tampa, and it has 7,500 square feet, including enough space for two storefronts, an apartment or offices upstairs, and a warehouse in the back.

The winning bidder, Judith Cataldo, liked that the venue has high ceilings and a historic feel.

But its role as the "beautiful Sportatorium," as announcer Gordon Solie described it to viewers around the South and Northeast? Cataldo said that history wasn't much of a factor.

She plans to renovate the building to make room for a piano performance space and a few studios. In a few years, she hopes to move her business, the Musical Arts Piano Conservatory, from its location next door. In the meantime, she'll probably lease it out.

"It's going to be a performance of a sort," Cataldo said. "We're going to wrestle with the keys."

Still, Cataldo does think she'd like to bring back one aspect of the Sportatorium.

The warehouse still has the poles that held up the turnbuckles and ropes for its elevated ring. Maybe, she suggested, that would be a good place to build a recital stage.

Maybe it would be a good place to put on a show.

Contact Thad Moore at tmoore@tampabay.com or (813) 336-3434. Follow @thadmoore.