Ybor City may soon see a striking new four-star, contemporary hotel sprout up along the main drag of Seventh Avenue, backed by some of Tampa's most influential builders and families.
If approved and built, the hotel would include highlights of classic Havana and Tampa architecture, blended with elements of sleek, contemporary design. Along the way, backers plan to resurrect “Las Novedades,” one of Tampa's original restaurants, reborn into a new space inside a four-story,180-room hotel wrapped in balconies overlooking the street.
“From a philosophical standpoint, American cities are all starting to look the same,” said Alberto Alfonso, chief architect on the project, whose office is just down the street from the site. “Ybor City, by contrast, is about as diverse and individual as you can get. This hotel would embrace all that diversity, all that independence, all that history, and amp it up.”
Initial budgets for the hotel could top $46 million and, if approved, construction could come within months, joining a wave of new investment in an area at the heart of Tampa's history and identity as an immigrant landing pad and cigar making capital of the world.
Today, backers of the project will present their plans to the Barrio Latino Commission, which reviews proposed projects for style, scope, mass and historic features. Besides the boost of economic development, much of the hotel backers' pitch will be their personal family stories, and their lineup includes many of Ybor City's luminaries.
❖ ❖ ❖
Partners include Alfonso as architect, plus Broadway Development Inc., which is a joint venture between the families of Joe Capitano Sr. and the late Alfonso Garcia Jr., plus C. Samuel Ellison who recently left the construction giant Beck Group to join his son Casey at EWI Construction. A national hotel developer HRV Hotel Partners has also signed on. (The backers are negotiating with a lead hotel brand, but declined to identify it.)
In his Ybor City office just down the street from the hotel site, Alfonso keeps a wall covered with photographs for inspiration on the project: Photos of Havana in the 1950s, Tampa cigar factories, futuristic light fixtures in modern homes, claw-foot tubs with exposed copper piping, rows of hammocks around rooftop pools and ivy-covered trellises over shady courtyards.
Alfonso has designed a number of striking local structures. That includes the futuristic Nielsen Media Research campus in Oldsmar and the $77 million Tampa International Airport Airside C terminal, with a sweeping, curvilinear roofline that seems to float above.
For the hotel market, Alfonso designed the main lodge and clubhouse for the new “Streamsong” golf and spa campus south of Bartow that's a signature project for The Mosaic Co.
A significant part of the Alfonso Architect firm story is the personal history of its founder, who was raised in the house of his father, Carlos, an architect in Havana. The family fled Cuba in 1960 and Carlos Alfonso began a practice in Tampa.
Frank Capitano is leading the project for his family, which originally purchased the land in 1989 with an eye toward future growth.
They've seen several nightclubs come and go on the property, including the Czar nightclub, and they've recently cleared out the three remaining buildings for redevelopment. Those structures will remain and become a corner feature of the new hotel.
The Capitano family founded the Radiant Oil Co. in 1931 and grew the business into one of the area's prominent fuel station and convenience store chains. The family is also credited with helping revive and sustain the Italian Club of Tampa on Seventh Avenue.
❖ ❖ ❖
EWI Construction will lead the building of the hotel, and firm founder Casey Ellison largely credits his father, Sam, with building momentum.
“It was largely my dad's reputation that was able to get the hotel brand that we're targeting on the phone and come down here,” Casey Ellison said. Once in Tampa, they showed off the Oxford Exchange in downtown, which EWI built.
“Seeing the Oxford really gave permission in a way for people to think bigger,” Casey Ellison said — to think about using higher-end materials and better design to altogether reinvigorate a historic space into a new use. New hotels, office buildings and restaurants across Tampa are all showing great financial success, he said. “We're able to tell a great story with Tampa, and now in the last 10 years all the pieces have started to fall into place and we can back up that story with great numbers.”
As with the Oxford, Casey anticipates building a new, hidden steel structure to act like a skeleton for the hotel, so architects can retain features like ornate facades, exposed brick walls, and wood ceiling beams.
Longtime developer HRV Hotel Partners would be the formal hotel operator of the site. The Atlanta-based firm has built similarly scaled hotels across the country, including the Renaissance hotel in the historic district of Charleston, S.C., the W Hotel in downtown Atlanta and is currently renovating four hotels in Key West, including the 554 Keys, the Hampton Inn and The Gates boutique hotel.
❖ ❖ ❖
This new Ybor hotel would join a wave of redevelopment in one of Tampa's most historic and quirky districts. Once the center of cigar-making in America, Ybor was the destination for thousands of immigrants from Cuba, Spain and Italy. On Seventh Avenue is a statue of the area's namesake, Vicente Martinez-Ybor.
A number of developers also see new potential in Ybor. Ariel Quintela, a partner in a development company, has two projects underway, the Blues Ship Cafe at 1300 Seventh Ave. and a renovation of the 114-year-old Oliva Cigar Factory at 2008 19th St.
Meanwhile, veterinary clinic chain founder Darryl Shaw is buying up land around the area, and is looking to highlight Tampa's role in the Cuban War of Independence. Quintela and Shaw recently purchased the Don Vicente de Ybor Historic Inn at 1915 Avenida Republica de Cuba.
Even some national brands are venturing into the area perhaps best known now for its nightclub scene, including Buffalo Wild Wings recently opened a restaurant on Seventh Avenue.
Capitano said he's been nurturing ideas for this site for more than a decade, and has seen opportunities come and go with the ups and downs of the economy. “For years, I heard my father tell stories of growing up in Ybor City, and then watching things being torn down to make way for things like the Crosstown,” Capitano said. “After all these things were torn down, this is our opportunity to build from the ground up and add back to the neighborhood.”