Parts of downtown Tampa that have fallen into disrepair are getting a shot in the arm from the Republican National Convention.
There's a block downtown between Florida and Franklin that Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn calls the final piece of the revitalization puzzle for the city.
During the RNC, that block will be party central. But after the party's over, that's when the Mayor said the real celebration will begin.
Back in the day, that block was bustling.
"In its heyday, Franklin Street was the epicenter of downtown Tampa," Buckhorn said. "People came down to shop on the weekends, people were down there, literally, 18 hours a day, there was a lot of pedestrian traffic."
Part of it is now getting a facelift, paid for by RNC party promoters. They'll play host to giant V.I.P. shindigs every night of the convention, spending thousands that we will benefit from, long after the partys are over, by rehabbing what amounts to an entire city block: the old Kress, Woolworth and J.J. Newberry buildings.
"Ultimately, we want a developer to get in there and re-do that building, just as we've done with the Floridan, just as we're doing with the old federal courthouse, that's the last piece of that puzzle on that block," Buckhorn said.
Those buildings may sit in the shadows of their newer, higher neighbors, but as people who live there exit their homes, imagine what all the empty storefronts could become for them once the convention is over.
"There's an excitement that we haven't seen in probably a decade, and getting that Kress done is part of it," Buckhorn said.
You can look straight through the buildings, from Florida to Franklin. They are huge, cavernous spaces, but in need of some serious updates.
"They submit a plan that's going to bring it up to fire code, and make it safe for people," said Debra Sue Warshefski with Tampa Fire Rescue. "And then we review that plan, and then advise if that plan will work."
Sprinkler and alarm systems, emergency lighting, wiring and plumbing are all newly in place on just the first floors. Rows of the original, graceful lighting and beautifully ornate plaster reliefs hang as they have now for more than a century.
Barricades will cover the curvy deco banisters to block access to the basement and upper floors.
The parties start August 26th.
"That's gonna be from 6 to 8 p.m." Warshefski said. "And then, the 27th through the 30th, will be from 10 until 4, and that's 10 at night, until 4 in the morning. A party every night, which is gonna be interesting."
The welcome signs have been hung on banners right outside the Kress building.
"From Bayshore Boulevard to the Kress Building, those are the kinds of legacy projects that this community will benefit from for a decade after this," Buckhorn said.
All three spaces will need to be inspected before the insides can be transformed into whatever theme they will become. Mayor Buckhorn said he's excited for the exposure and can't wait to see what evolves after the RNC.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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