Carlton: Saving a sign that the Tribune was here

What will become of the concrete Tampa Tribune sign when the newspaper’s former building is demolished?
What will become of the concrete Tampa Tribune sign when the newspaper’s former building is demolished?
Published May 13, 2016

In front of the sprawling building that always looked like it was watching downtown Tampa from across the Hillsborough River stood a sign of solid concrete, flanked by floodlights and flags, weighing at least a ton.

The Tampa Tribune, it read, and The Tampa Times, in that particular lettering of a newspaper and a city institution.

Soon, the building on prime real estate on the west riverbank will make way for shiny new residential mid-rise apartments, with restaurant space and impressive views of the bustling Riverwalk and downtown beyond. The big Miami developer that bought the property last year is expected to begin demolition later this year.

And last week came the huge news that my own newspaper, the Tampa Bay Times, bought the Tribune itself, the end of its 121 years as a daily.

A city bulldozing a path to what's next means losing things that can't be replaced, even if long-timers will always see ghosts of buildings that once were. Still, century-old bungalows fill with new families and old brick cigar factories house modern businesses. And, sometimes, we manage to save at least something.

This week, people flocked to the closed Colonnade for an auctioned-off memory from a restaurant there 80 years. The old 1940s Goody Goody restaurant sign won a variance to go up in its new location in fancier Hyde Park — the kitschy green sign with its cartoon hamburger so well-known that when it was driven to its new home, motorists pulled over to take pictures.

The sign in front of the Trib withstood decades of fierce Florida storms, fallen politicians and a million stories that made a town. Shouldn't it be saved?

City officials didn't exactly have this matter on their radar, even with my helpful suggestion that the sign might find a home in the park directly across the river.

"I'm not in the sign business," Mayor Bob Buckhorn said. "It would be nice for someone to preserve it, but the city doesn't do that type of stuff."

Next stop, the Tampa Bay History Center, which notably saved the 1920s terra-cotta letters from the old Maas Brothers department store.

Curator Rodney Kite-Powell looked closely at the Trib sign and said moving the entire thing — a monolith about 13 by 3 feet and 6 inches thick — wouldn't be practical. But it's possible the letters could be removed, remounted and exhibited.

"Maybe the concrete part is not the important part," said City Council member Harry Cohen, thinking along similar lines. "I could see a lot of places the letters would be neat."

By now I thought it prudent to actually ask the company that bought the building — and, you know, that actually owns the sign — about any plans to demolish, save, sell or donate it.

And got back an unexpected reply.

Arturo Pena, vice president with the Related Group, liked the idea. He said they were meeting with the design team "and everyone loves the concept of building it into the design somehow. This is not set in stone and subject to change, but something we will seriously consider."

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I'm not sure "set in stone" was a pun, but this was great to hear. Wouldn't it make the building-to-come that much more interesting with history in its midst?

"Wow," said Kite-Powell when I told him this possibility. You could tell the idea of it staying where it's always been appealed to his history museum guy sensibilities. "It would almost serve as a memory to the building," he said, "and to the institution that was the Tampa Tribune."

Sue Carlton can be reached at