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Saturday, May 26, 2018
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Plans afoot for Ybor City’s biggest vacant building

TAMPA — An unused Ybor City landmark, the neighborhood’s largest vacant building, could find new life if a proposal now percolating comes together.

The Oliva Tobacco Co.’s warehouse on Palm Avenue has been an Ybor City fixture for more than a century, surviving a fire that destroyed much of the area in 1908.

But the last 15 years haven’t been so kind. The Oliva family relocated their company’s offices to West Tampa in 1999, leaving the warehouse largely empty.

Several attempts to revive it, both as a hotel and as a grassroots theater and arts center, failed to bear fruit.

The effort now under discussion would rehab the building into a mix of ground-level retail space and loft apartments.

“I can’t speak in great detail about what we’re working on,” said David Hugglestone, the Ybor City-based architect working on the project. “It’s definitely not a concrete plan yet.”

Hugglestone said the potential developers are investors from Miami, but not the same group working on an apartment project on nearby city-owned land.

The Oliva family could not be reached for comment.

Hugglestone said the three-story, 30,000-square-foot warehouse remains in good condition despite its age. There is some termite damage on the ground floor and some settling, he said.

The building is clad in asbestos siding, which protected it from the devastating fire but must be removed and disposed as hazardous material if redevelopment goes forward, Hugglestone said.

Vince Pardo, manager of the city-sponsored Ybor City Development Corp., said the Oliva warehouse is the neighborhood’s largest vacant building.

Attempts to redevelop the building in 2008 ran into problems when developers couldn’t create enough parking to meet city requirements for a hotel.

Pardo pointed out the warehouse stands just down the street from the future Tampa Baseball Museum, set to open this spring in the former home of Al Lopez Sr.

“It has a lot of potential,” Pardo said.

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