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Bar association builds new home

Downtown Boardroom or restroom? Dimensions tell how wide wallets were opened.

By Amy Scherzer, Times Staff Writer
Published February 22, 2008


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After nearly 15 years of planning and almost two years of construction, the Hillsborough County Bar Association and its supporting Hillsborough County Bar Foundation have a new home: the Chester H. Ferguson Law Center.

"We're ecstatic that this building has finally come to fruition," said Caroline Black of the Sessums Mason Black & Caballero law firm and president of the bar association. Black said it took a decade to acquire the property at 1610 N Tampa St. and approve the 17,000-square-foot Mediterranean design by Fleischman-Garcia Architects.

"I believe less than 10 major bar associations have their own building," said Black, who will participate in the dedication and ribbon cutting Wednesday with foundation president Margaret Mathews of the Akerman Senterfitt law firm.

The Hillsborough bar association is the largest in Florida with more than 3,700 members. Local attorneys and law firms raised $5-million to build the two-story center adjacent to the Stetson University College of Law's campus downtown.

The largest donation came from the family of the late Chester Ferguson, founding patriarch of what is now Macfarlane Ferguson & McMullen. He was "a well-respected leader and mentor to many Tampa lawyers," Black said.

All the rooms can be rented by the hour, starting at $30 for a conference room up to $900 for the ballroom. Nonmember and nonprofit rates are also available. Well-known caterer Rita Carlino will provide in-house food service.

A first floor "donor wall" holds portraits of major supporters, including existing paintings of Ferguson and lawyer Reece Smith. Three others - of Barry Cohen, Steve Yerrid and the late David Kerr - were commissioned from nationally recognized artists by Tampa portrait broker Clare Robbins.

Other naming opportunities enticed enough donations to make a walk through the building feel like a docket of Tampa's most prominent lawyers. First floor amenities include the Bill and Ruth Wagner coffeehouse and Barry Cohen Hall with its 180-seat ballroom.

Up the wide staircase, arrive at the plush John C. Bales sitting area for the bar association offices.

Just beyond you'll see the William Reece Smith boardroom, the Bill Gillen Sr. memorial mediation room and the William Schifino lawyer referral office.

The smaller the donation, the smaller the space that bears the givers' name.

Lawyer jokes are inevitable for the four bathrooms named for Judge James S. Moody Jr.; Catherine Novack; Barbara Twine-Thomas and the Merlin Law Group.

Amy Scherzer can be reached at scherzer@sptimes.com or 813 226-3332.

If you go

Opening the doors

The ribbon cutting, dedication and tours of the Chester H. Ferguson Law Center take place from 5 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at the center, 1610 N Tampa St. For more information, call 221-7777.

[Last modified February 21, 2008, 20:01:15]


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