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Law firm to give old building life

By MICHAEL CANNING, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 12, 2002


LAW FIRM REHABS OLD PIECE OF DOWNTOWN: The north side of downtown has stubbornly resisted redevelopment and economic revitalization.

Not even the recent arrivals of the Courtyard by Marriott hotel and the towering Sam Gibbons U.S. Courthouse have invigorated the district.

Don't tell Vanessa Cohn. She just can't stop falling for old buildings.

She and her husband live in one, a Tudor Revival in New Suburb Beautiful. Together they've operated their law firm, Cohn, Cohn and Hendrix, from a 1900 house in Hyde Park North. The firm now needs more room, so they've bought and rehabilitated the old Southern Furniture Exchange Building at 1110 N Florida Ave. They expect to move in by late next week.

Cohn said she hopes refurbishing the 1926 three story brick commercial vernacular will help bring more life to north downtown. But if not, Cohn is still satisfied. "We think Tampa is a great place to live," she said. "We appreciate the opportunity of contributing any way we can. And what better way than to help preserve or develop the city's historical structures?"

Cohn said $1.7-million has been spent on acquiring and rehabilitating the building. It had been boarded up for decades, and "was basically a shell inside." It recently received national and state historic building status.

SOHO GOES CREE-O: Et toi! is pronounced "eh-twah," and it means "And you!" It's a party call-to-arms. Etouffee is "EH-two-FAY," rice smothered in crawfish and vegetable stew. Cajun and Zydeco are separate music genres.

We bring you this creole cram since, until now, a creole-themed restaurant has been an unfilled niche on Restaurant Row.

Po'Boys Creole Cafe is scheduled to open in mid August at Howard Avenue and Platt Street. Co-owner Damian Burdick said it will be a casual lunch and dinner spot with full liquor bar, lots of sports on the eight TV screens, and patio seating under an existing wood trellis.

That trellis remains from the days of the building's former occupants, which included Right on Platt restaurant and Soho Liquors.

Food items, ranging from $4 to $10, might include gumbo, jambalaya and red beans and rice served in bread bowls, po boys, etouffee and fried pickle chips. Sunday brunch will feature eggs benedict, crawfish omelets, beignets, bananas foster and chicory coffee.

A NAME LIKE SEVEN 17 SOUTH is bound to bring a restaurant some luck. The address alone didn't do it for J Ryans on the Grill, nor its successor Chandler's, which recently closed.

So now Seven 17 South will open today at that address on Howard Avenue. This time new co-owner Ron Stewart and new chef Joe Chouinard think they've got the formula: traditional Pacific Rim on one side of the menu, and traditional Italian on the other.

None of this fusion business.

So the segregated menu can beckon with bistecca for two, risotto, or perhaps sizzling whole snapper, crab lollipops or sushi/sashimi platters.

Well-traveled Tampa Bay foodies will recognize Chouinard as the former chef of Pacific Wave and Redwoods in St. Petersburg. SoHo tipplers will recognize Seven 17 South's striking fir wood bar back -- and Billy the bartender's 10-ounce martinis -- from the Chandler's days.

Lunch and dinner will be served. Dinner entrees will range from $11.95 to $22.95.

A STIRRING AT DOWNTOWN'S GATEWAY: But no real takers yet at the striking 1949 building strip that stretches from 912 to 922 E Kennedy Blvd. It's recent makeover by owners Terence and Trish Moore brought a splash of tasty colors -- semolina, lavender, dill pickle, nimbus blue and eucalyptus green -- to this dreary section of the Kennedy corridor.

And now another flurry of interior renovation has brought about talk that a restaurant and an art gallery are moving into the 912 and 914 units.

Trish Moore said the construction work is simply routine "vanilla shelling" -- drywalling, finishing bathrooms and the like -- so that the units show better to prospective tenants.

Only prospects have emerged so far. She said several restaurateurs have inquired, as have ice cream, clothing, art gallery and memorabilia businesses. But no takers.

But Moore remains convinced that businesses will see what she sees in the location. She's particularly determined to get a restaurant into 912, despite City Council's recent denial of a liquor license.

The side-by-side strip of buildings currently have two tenants -- Tribeca Color Salon and Window Classics.

EXPERIENCED RESTAURATEUR WANTED: That's what a sign says in front of the old Hydeaway bar and Bacchus restaurant on S Howard Avenue.

The South Tampa haunts, once packed with beautiful 20-somethings, closed in March after filing for bankruptcy protection. Now, it looks like they want to reopen.

The details are anyone's guess. President Corey Riina and her attorney Frederick Lowe aren't saying much, and the phone number on the sign goes to an answering machine.

This much is true. Riina listed debts of $336,652 and assets of $46,100 when she filed bankruptcy. She also broke a five-year lease with Buddy Henry, co-owner of Heidt & Associates, which owns the property. About three years remain.

Court records show the restaurant is attempting to reorganize.

Whatever happens, any new eateries will have to compete with the new MacDinton's and Mac's Sports Pub down the street.

-- Reporter Susan Thurston contributed to this report. Do you know something that should be everybody's business? Call 226-3382, or e-mail citytimes@sptimes.com.

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