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Dispute over new nightclub comes down to a matter of taste

© St. Petersburg Times
published January 11, 2002

TAMPA -- Architect Ken Kroger says the public doesn't need to grasp his vision for a modern-looking nightclub complex in the heart of the city's Historic District. Should an artist be shackled because some people -- albeit loud, stubborn people -- just don't get it?

"Architecture is sometimes esoteric -- it doesn't mean that everybody understands it," Kroger said of the proposed building at 15th Street and 7th Avenue, which will include three-story vertical steel protuberances and ocean liner motifs.

But a vocal body of critics insists Ybor City -- a nationally designated historic area rich with old brickwork and Latin-style balconies -- is the wrong place for Kroger's esoterica. On Thursday, their battle to keep Kroger's design out of Ybor took an odd twist, pitting elected officials against the city-appointed body that is supposed to guard the area's historic flavor.

The dispute started with City Attorney Jim Palermo telling Patrick Manteiga, publisher of La Gaceta, a newspaper, that he had no standing to appeal the Barrio Latino Commission's decision last month to approve the nightclub design. Manteiga could not be considered an "aggrieved party" under the law, Palermo said, because he did not own property within 150 feet or face special injury from the project.

Manteiga said he had a special interest in stopping the building because for 80 years his paper had worked to preserve Ybor's heritage. "This is a bigger issue than 150 feet," he said. The city agreed to give Manteiga 30 days to explore his options with a lawyer.

But with Manteiga's appeal threatened, the City Council -- where the nightclub design enjoys little support -- looked for ways to stop the project.

Council member Mary Alvarez suggested the city might have standing as an aggrieved party, since it owns a parking garage close to the proposed complex. On her motion, the council asked the mayor to appeal the Barrio Latino Commission's approval of the design. The appeal would then come before the council itself.

That would pit the City Council against the commission, the city-appointed board which oversees architectural plans in Ybor. Complicating it further: City Attorney Palermo represents both bodies, as well as the mayor.

Council member Linda Saul-Sena, who dislikes the nightclub design, called the arrangement "schizophrenic" and said the council ought to have its own lawyer.

The proposed nightclub design has drawn petitions, angry letters and a steady stream of naysayers to City Hall. Council member Shawn Harrison described the nightclub design as "kind of strange-looking" and an odd fit for Ybor. "It sounds to me like it could still be stopped," Harrison said after the meeting.

Asked by a reporter what she thought of the proposed building, Alvarez made a gasping sound. "It's horrible," she said. "Have you see it?"

Palermo walked up and smiled. He reminded her the matter was pending before the council and advised her to stop talking.

-- Christopher Goffard can be reached at 813-226-3337 or

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