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Competitors Detail Plans For Old Courthouse

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By ANDY REID [email protected]

Published: Aug 31, 2004

TAMPA - One plan turns the old downtown federal courthouse into a school that targets some of Tampa's neediest students.

Other plans turn the building into a hotel that caters to some of Tampa's most affluent visitors.

What three final proposals share is a promise to restore the courthouse, built in 1905, and help create a catalyst for downtown development.

The city's Classic Courthouse Advisory Committee heard detailed proposals from the three development groups Monday.

After a public hearing in September, the committee plans to make a recommendation to Mayor Pam Iorio.

City officials expect Iorio, as early as October, to decide which option to pursue and take before the Tampa City Council.

``We have to have a developer to find out which path we are going to go down,'' said Del Acosta, city historic preservation manager. ``It's an integral building to downtown.''

The federal courthouse building, 611 N. Florida Ave., has been empty since the U.S. District Court moved to a new building a block away in 1998.

The federal government turned the building over to the city last summer for $1.

The city last year started soliciting proposals from groups interested in renovating and leasing the building.

Preserving the building, creating reasons for people to come downtown and doing it without creating a financial risk for the city are among the goals.

The three finalists, narrowed from six in July, are:

* Vintage I Partnership proposes converting the courthouse to a 58-room hotel, with restaurant and cigar bar. The project would be financed by selling the units as condominiums, which owners would then rent out as hotel rooms.

* TBR Management Group proposes a 40-room hotel, educational technology center and arts spaces. It would be financed through a federal restoration incentive program that allows projects which qualify to sell tax credits to raise money.

* Pradip C. Patel, a managed health care executive, proposes opening two charter schools: one a middle school for the arts and the other to help dropouts graduate from high school. It would also provide a new home for the Tampa Gallery of Photographic Arts and offices for nonprofit groups. Patel would provide the $6 million needed to start the renovation.

All three proposals could require city help, including waiving building fees, tax incentives for historic preservation and covering operations costs if tenants come up short.

``I'm hoping to see some development downtown. My personal opinion is this is not the way to go,'' City Councilwoman Mary Alvarez said about the proposals.

The city can't afford to renovate the courthouse on its own and needs private sector involvement, Councilwoman Linda Saul-Sena said.

``It would be a marvelous catalyst for redevelopment in that area,'' she said.

The committee plans to hold a public hearing, which has yet to be scheduled, to gauge community support before deciding which plan to recommend.

Reporter Andy Reid can be reached at (813) 259-8409.

http://tampatrib.com/floridametronews/MGB7O44KJYD.html

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