Transforming Tampa Bay: Saving the good stuff


SUCCESS STORY: Construction teams continue to gussy up Tampa’s Federal Courthouse, on its way to becoming Le Meridien. - AMY MARTZ
  • Amy Martz
  • SUCCESS STORY: Construction teams continue to gussy up Tampa’s Federal Courthouse, on its way to becoming Le Meridien.

Americans have a marked tendency to throw stuff out and move on. We initially did this by wearing out the land and moving ever westward. We do this with clothes, jobs and relationships. Persuasive advertising almost always starts with the words “new” or “improved.”
Framing a compelling argument for keeping things goes against the grain of our national psyche. It’s challenging.

This week Tampa Bay will be filled with folks who want to protect what’s worth saving in terms of our communities. The Florida Trust for Historic Preservation is returning to our area for its 36th annual conference.

“Minarets to Mid-Century Modern: Preservation in Tampa Bay” explores myriad aspects of stewarding our urban landscape, from learning the intricacies of tax credits to scouting ethnic cemeteries.

As co-chair for this conference and a Florida Trust board member, I‘m most excited about sharing our local preservation success stories, like the transformational Oxford Exchange and the works-in-progress like the Federal Courthouse into Le Meridien Hotel and the Waterworks Building into the Ulele Restaurant.

Too often I’m bemoaning the tottering Jackson House or the abandoned St. Pete YMCA or the contested fate of the Belleview Biltmore. How refreshing to sing the praises of efforts from throughout the state to “Protect the Irreplaceable,” as the National Trust says in its slogan.

Florida’s habitation by native people goes back 10,000 years and Spanish explorers arrived in the 1500s, so we have lots of history, though things really cranked up around the 1880s when H.B. Plant and Henry Flagler brought their trains down into the mosquito-plagued outback.
Most development in Florida has been fast and furious, with little regard for preserving what preceded it. It wasn’t until 1978 that the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation was organized, originally to save the State Capitol Building. Its first president, Joan Jennewein, a Tampan, rallied friends from throughout Florida to lobby the legislature not to demolish the domed 1845 landmark.

The cluelesssness that could have allowed destruction of the State’s historic center pointed out the need for protecting Florida resources. Since then, the number of significant buildings and historic landscapes which have been saved is vast.

Still, the number of extraordinary places which have succumbed to the wrecking ball is greater. Our current rush toward “Generica,” a souless loop of pharmacy, bank, fast food and grocery store, threatens to overtake our authentic places. As Floridians, we can easily lose our bearings because of the sameness of our urban landscape.

This Florida Trust Conference aims to combat this sense of ennui by giving people the appreciation for and the tools to support our built history. Bringing together experts from archaeologists to lawyers skilled in writing protective ordianances, this conference aims to inspire our hearts and pocketbooks.

Everyone is invited to register for and participate in this three-day extravaganza of All Things Preservation. Some workshops, talks and parties are available à la carte, while others require a full registration (

If you are curious to know more about your surroundings or to take the plunge and buy a bungalow, you’ll be stimulated by the varied offerings. Or perhaps you just like to party in vintage settings.

Students are allowed to attend the conference free, but they must register. The free and inspiring Awards Celebration at 5:30 p.m. Friday night at the Tampa Theatre showcases outstanding examples of preservation from throughout our state. Just show up — no registration required.

Plan to join me there as the counter-force to our pave-it-over passion.

Savor our successes! 

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