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Idea posed for courthouse
The American Institute of Architects will explore remaking the unoccupied building.
By JANET ZINK, Times Staff Writer
Published October 23, 2007
[Joseph Garnett, Jr. | Times]
The 102-year-old courthouse in Tampa was closed in 1998 after the federal court moved. The American Institute of Architects is interested in making it a "center for the built environment," but the structure needs work. Asbestos and parking will be issues.
TAMPA - The quest to find a new use for the old federal courthouse downtown has taken another turn.
Mayor Pam Iorio has agreed to give the Tampa chapter of the American Institute of Architects six months to explore remaking the 102-year-old building into a "center for the built environment." The concept includes office space for the architects group and other organizations, an urban-planning research center, galleries, retail and restaurants.
"This is exploratory only," Iorio said. "After the AIA has had six months of additional fact finding and a business plan to show us, we would then make a determination as to whether or not to move forward on a more formal basis."
Iorio said she's committing no city money to the project but will sign a letter of intent with the AIA.
Pete Karamitsanis, president-elect of Tampa's AIA chapter, said in the coming months the group will look into funding options and tenants.
"The whole idea is to put together everybody who has something to do with the built environment. We can do research, get grants and work with universities," he said.
No one yet knows how much it would all cost to remake the building, which among other things requires asbestos removal.
"That's what the six months are all about," he said.
He expects to get help from the building industry.
"We're trying to spread the burden to different companies," Karamitsanis said.
The Hillsborough County School Board has been considering the courthouse since early last year as the location of a high school for special-needs students. But those plans have been stalled by parking limitations.
"We're not sure what the solution is," said Steve Hegarty, a spokesman for the school district. "We're going to continue to work on this and express interest until the city says we have some other deal."
Karamitsanis said parking is a problem, but he hopes to resolve the issue in the coming months.
The group also will look at the logistics of demolishing the newer section of the building, constructed in the 1930s, and environmental concerns, such as mold and asbestos.
Karamitsanis envisions the old courthouse as a central location for offices of architects, engineers, interior designers and the Tampa Downtown Partnership as well as the city's historic preservation staff.
Karamitsanis says he'll also approach the architecture schools at the University of Florida and the University of South Florida about using space there and gauge interest in a design center where companies that sell or manufacture building materials can display their wares.
"Today if you want to take a client to pick tile, to pick bathroom fixtures, to pick pavers, you've got to go to all over creation," Karamitsanis said. "There are cities that have design centers where you can take a client there and a whole lot of manufacturers or suppliers exhibit their work."
The courthouse on Florida Avenue closed in 1998 after the Sam M. Gibbons U.S. Courthouse opened two blocks away. The federal government deeded the building to the city of Tampa in 2003, and city officials asked for proposals for redeveloping the site.
In 2004, a selection committee named Pradip C. Patel's plan to invest $6.5-million to turn the building into a photography museum and charter school as the winning proposal.
But six months later, Iorio announced she wanted to move the Tampa Museum of Art into the building. When those plans fizzled in the face of overwhelming community opposition, Patel was no longer interested in the project.
Since then, the building has been mothballed. The city pays about $60,000 a year to maintain it.