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Building name honors Karl's public service

The Fred B. Karl County Center is named for the former county administrator who bargained to buy the building.

By BILL VARIAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 22, 2001


TAMPA -- It's been a decade since former County Administrator Fred Karl looked out of an office window at the Hillsborough County Courthouse and thought tall thoughts.

County employees worked in 22 offices scattered across downtown Tampa. And there, at a corner of E Kennedy Boulevard, stood a modern 28-story building -- vacant.

Today, the shiny semicircle high-rise is the center of county government. And on Wednesday, commissioners christened it with a name -- Fred B. Karl County Center -- after the man who made it happen.

"This is very important to me," said Karl, 76, after a ceremony in the County Center lobby Wednesday morning. "It says the life that I lived, the things that I tried to do and the sacrifices I've made had some meaning."

More than 100 friends and family members turned out for the ceremony, during which a bronze plaque bearing Karl's image was unveiled. His wife, Mercedes, said her husband had not been so touched by something since he served on the Florida Supreme Court.

"I want to thank you, particularly for doing it during my lifetime," said Karl, who has Parkinson's disease and diabetes. "I'd much rather be here in person than in spirit."

Several speakers praised the man who played leadership roles in Tampa and the state.

Karl was state representative and senator before he was Florida's last elected Supreme Court justice. He moved to Tampa from Volusia County in the 1980s, becoming the county attorney before he was chosen county administrator in 1990.

He also ran for governor, spent a brief tour as interim president at Tampa General Hospital and won the Bronze Star and Purple Heart in World War II.

"This building is dedicated to serving the public," said Commission Chairwoman Pat Frank. "We're naming it after Karl, who also served the public."

During Karl's four-year tenure as county administrator, Hillsborough sealed deals for a new downtown hockey arena and a spring training facility for the New York Yankees. He also was instrumental in the creation of a county-sponsored health plan for the poor.

The County Center originally was called the Mack II Building. It was built as a speculative commercial office complex, but opened during a sharp economic downtown and sat vacant.

Karl negotiated a bargain-basement price of $30-million. Now, seven years after it opened as the County Center, it gets a new name.

"As I walk off into the sunset . . . I'm filled with gratitude," Karl said.

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