by Mitch Perry
Construction is about to begin to turn the historic building on North Florida Avenue in the northeast section of downtown Tampa into a luxury Le Méridien hotel and restaurant. Officials with the city, and the Memphis-based Development Services Group (DSG), kicked off the process with a news conference on Wednesday afternoon.
"This will be an iconic structure in the city of Tampa that will anchor the north end of Florida Avenue and Franklin Street Mall and will lead to so many more opportunities that have already started to occur," Buckhorn told a crowd that included city council members, city officials, local developers and other businessmen and women.
Tampa officials chose DSG a little less than a year ago after Buckhorn put the project out to bid. The decision was based partially because of DSG's most notable achievement, a redevelopment of the 100-year-old YMCA building in Philadelphia.
When it's completed, the hotel will have 130 guest rooms, and a signature restaurant (converted from a courtroom) that customers can enter from the outside. There will also be outdoor dining on the lawn, a ballroom on the fourth floor, and a secret garden in the rear.
A main level gallery will feature the work of local artists, as well as marble and terrazzo floors and 10-foot high ceilings.
"It's a timeless and beautiful piece of architecture that's going to make a great hotel," said DSG developer Gary Prosterman, who said his team has developed 25 hotels in 17 different cities. DSG says they'll be able to it all for $25 million.
The former courthouse, which was once a U.S. Postal office, is considered one of Tampa's finest classic buildings. Until late 2011 it remained moribund with former mayors coming up empty in their attempts to do something with it — other than have it suck up city funds while keeping the air conditioning on to reduce mold.
Mayor Buckhorn said he was determined, long before he was elected mayor two years ago, to resurrect the classic structure.
"I never stopped believing that this could be returned to its glory," he said, adding dramatically that "If you know this building, if you touch the walls of this building, you know that this building is alive and that the spirit of this building will endure forever. The job for us was to go find somebody who believed in the capacity of greatness that resides in this structure."