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Floridan Hotel owners wait for the right buyer

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From the April 9, 2004 print edition

Floridan Hotel owners wait for the right buyer to come along

City's first high-rise building faces possible renovation

Carl Cronan

Staff Writer

TAMPA -- The Floridan Hotel stands prominently in most archive photographs showing the downtown Tampa skyline in the early 20th century.

The old iron lettering atop the 19-story structure can still be seen amid the office towers that sprang up over the past three decades, only now the seemingly misspelled sign presents more of a windstorm hazard than identification.

Other than that, the city's first high-rise building still stands tall and solid, waiting for a developer with fair amounts of vision and cash to restore it to its former glory.

The current owners of the Floridan Hotel apparently are seeking a buyer for the brown brick building at 905 N. Florida Ave. An investment group called Capital LLC, led by investors from Boca Raton and Menlo Park, Calif., bought it for $2.7 million in July 1997 with plans to renovate the once-stately hotel with 400 rooms.

Capital LLC hired The Beck Group, a major contractor in the Tampa Bay area, to rehabilitate the Floridan in March 2001. The contract remains active, but restoration efforts were halted when the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that year took a heavy toll on the nation's hospitality industry.

Lately, the emphasis has been on selling rather than rehabbing the old hotel.

"We are showing it to prospective buyers at least once a month," said Casey Ellison, Beck's assistant development manager in Tampa.

Recent visitors to the Floridan say the building remains in solid condition and could be converted to apartments, condominiums or assisted living space. The only drawbacks are lack of parking spaces near the hotel and, in the rooms, ceiling heights that are shorter than most in newer construction.

"The building is definitely savable," Ellison said. "It's just a matter of time before the right person with the right formula comes along."

It might also be a matter of whether that person is willing to pay fair market value for a building that was put on the National Register of Historic Places in 1996 then condemned five years later. Condemnation doesn't doom the building to be razed, but it does mean the building cannot be inhabited in its current state.

Hillsborough County property records list the building's taxable value at $4.8 million, yet Capital LLC is asking a much-higher price, according to local historic preservation leaders. Efforts to reach the Floridan's owners were unsuccessful.

The Floridan, which opened in 1927, was considered one of Florida's finest hotels and certainly its tallest at the time. Elvis Presley slept there, as did many other visiting celebrities such as Jack Dempsey and Gary Cooper. Well-heeled visitors from northern states called it home during those winters prior to World War II, at which time it became a favorite among soldiers training in Tampa.

As emphasis shifted from downtowns to suburbs during the 1960s, so did the Floridan's opulent status. By the time it closed in 1989, it was only recognized as a cheap place to spend the night.

Commercial structures, regardless of their cultural value, will only sell for whatever the marketplace deems it is worth, noted Annie Hart, administrator of the Tampa Historic Preservation Commission. Buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places are entitled to a 20-percent federal tax credit, and those built before 1936 get a 10-percent credit.

However, a buyer must still factor in costs beyond the price paid for the property to determine whether a rehabilitation project is worth the expense, Hart said. "There has to be a meeting of the minds."

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At least there's some wheels in motion. This is better than no news i guess. I think the city would be wise to help out in that area of downtown. Maybe not directly, but how about taking some of the vacant space around the hotel and building a garage, or a new park. All the energy seems to be going towards channelside.

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