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No word yet on cause of downtown Tampa fires

By ABBIE VANSICKLE and JUSTIN GEORGE
Published March 7, 2007


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TAMPA - Robin Lane and Tony Cunningham bought the Albany Hotel in 1984 and hoped to be among the leaders of a downtown renaissance.

They even gave the city a $25,000 fountain on Franklin Street, a step toward transforming the empty storefronts into a charming urban neighborhood.

The dream never materialized.

The final blow came Monday, when fires engulfed the hotel and another vacant structure a block south.

Fire investigators don't know what caused the blazes.

The Albany Hotel caught fire at 10:26 p.m. The other building, a three-story structure, caught fire about 11:20 p.m., said Tampa Fire Rescue Capt. Bill Wade.

The Arson Task Force, a group of state and local investigators, spent Tuesday examining what remained of the buildings.

The damage was so severe they had to use helicopters and bucket trucks to peer into the buildings, Wade said.

By afternoon, engineers determined the three-story building at 916 N Franklin St. was unsafe, Wade said.

"The property owners will have to find a way to stabilize the building or somehow make it safe," he said.

The building is owned by Isaak Jason Associates LLC, which bought it in 1999 for $395,000. In 2003, code enforcement ruled the ceiling in the alcove entry way needed to be repaired, city records show.

The streets around both buildings are a mix of new restaurants and condos, and empty storefronts with bars on the windows.

The Albany Hotel was already set for demolition.

"We had first tried to sort of resurrect it, but it just didn't work out," Cunningham said. "There wasn't enough of a building to really save it, so to speak."

Times staff writer Jeff Testerman contributed to this report. Abbie VanSickle can be reached at 226-3373 or vansickle@sptimes.com.

Fast Facts:

136 fought blazes

It took most of Tampa's on-duty firefighters to control Monday's two downtown building fires.

Tampa Fire Rescue sent 16 firetrucks, four ladder trucks, five rescue cars and several chief officers to the scenes.

Hillsborough Fire Rescue helped out with five firetrucks, three ladder trucks, two rescue cars and a few chief officers.

At least 136 firefighters were called to the fires, according to Tampa Fire Rescue.

[Last modified March 7, 2007, 06:34:11]


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