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Monday, Dec 11, 2017
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22-story tower planned using Kress building

TAMPA — The historic S.H. Kress & Co. building in the 800 block of North Franklin Street could soon become part of a 22-story tower, half filed with boutique hotel rooms and half with residences, as a pack of local developers are presenting plans to redevelop the historic block.

Walson Ventures LLC officials confirmed they are working on plans for a “rebirth” of “one of Tampa’s most recognized and ornate downtown landmarks.”

“The 1929 iconic building at 811 N. Franklin Street is symbolic of the re-emergence of downtown urban spaces,” Walson officials said in a prepared statement, saying they are “committed to working closely with Mayor Buckhorn and the City of Tampa to continue the revitalization of North Franklin Street with a renaissance of this grand structure.”

A planning application for the Kress site filed with the city calls for 190 hotel rooms, 58 multi-family residential units, 1,354 square feet of office use, and 15,217 square feet of restaurant space, with 124 parking spaces incorporated inside.

This is the same team of developers that hope to develop a new-yet-historic-style hotel in the heart of Ybor City. That group includes C. Samuel Ellison, Casey Ellison and Anthony Italiano of EWI Construction, plus Tampa developer Alex Walter of Walson Ventures. They would be joined by Atlanta-based hotel developer HRV Hotel Ventures, and Tampa-based Alberto Alfonso is listed as architect.

EWI is notable locally as the developer that renovated century-old structure on Kennedy Boulevard into the Oxford Exchange building that’s become a hugely popular venue.

The project would by no means level the Kress structure, said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn. Rather, it would use the historic elements as structure, inspiration and facade for the new project. Very preliminary site plans filed with the city Monday clearly show the three distinct storefronts remaining, with a rectangular tower above — a thin rectangle shape that runs North/South, perpendicular to the Kress and seemingly hovering above it.

“Like the renovation of the federal courthouse into the Le Meridien and the Waterworks building into Ulele, this will bring one of the most historic structures in Tampa back to life,” Buckhorn said. “This is why I did my state of the city address in that building. With the Carter block project one block north, and now the Kress building, you’re starting to see the development wave move north up Franklin Street and really stabilize North Franklin.”

Buckhorn said he’s not privy to which hotel brand will emerge at the site, but he expects it will be a boutique-style venue that takes advantage of the historic style and flavor of the Kress building, perhaps to the extend that developers of the Le Meridien hotel nearby renovated the former federal courthouse into a luxury hotel.

At a press conference Monday, Buckhorn said the developers have not asked for any city tax dollars, though some may be available for enhancements such as streetscapes and lighting, which he said would be more than paid for by the increased property tax revenue generated by a major hotel.

Though the buildings are now empty shells, he’s hoping the developers will add in historic features that pay homage to the Civil Rights-era sit-ins at the Woolworths lunch counter. Franklin Street, he said, would remain a slow-traffic, walkable boulevard and by no means renovated into a high-traffic thoroughfare. Preliminary floor plans show a vehicle entrance off Florida Avenue, up into a parking deck, and a building lined on its ground floor with six restaurant, bar and coffee shop slots, plus a lobby that connects Florida Avenue and Franklin Street.

Even with the opening of Le Meridien and the Aloft hotel downtown, Buckhorn said, “I think we could handle another two, maybe three significant new hotels.”

The Kress is currently owned and managed by Jeannette Jason and her father, Miami-based commercial real estate broker Doran Jason. Parts of the retail block date back to the early 1900s. A previous plan put forward in 2005 would have called for a building roughly twice the size of the one being presented Monday, Jeanette said, but that plan languished amid disputes over historic presevation and then the economic downturn.

“I think it’s important to the community,” to maintain elements of the historic structure, Jeannette Jason said Monday. Though she acknowledges the new owners will have the final say, and their plans are still in development, she expects they’ll honor the historic site. “The community has shown how much they love the Kress building, and there is a lot of history on that block.”

The 800 block is actually comprised of three retail structures, with a former J.J. Newberry store on the north side, then the Kress in the middle, and a former Woolworth site on the south side, which was the site of Civil Rights-era lunch counter sit-ins, and was the last to close in the early 1990s. The structure retains below-grade basements, a rarity in the downtown Tampa area.

The building now is on the National Register of Historic Places, and most of the space went dormant in the early 1980s, though the space has seen some special event activity over the years, including as a party venue during the Republican National Convention.

The project stands one block south of another dormant building that’s set for redevelopment into an apartment tower — one of several projects planned in or near the heart of Tampa.

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