Floridan: Eyesore to Icon

When it opened in 1927, Tampa’s 18-story Floridan Hotel was called the state’s tallest building. For the last two decades, it’s been called many other things — with “eyesore” probably topping any list. The venerable hotel, officially shuttered in 1987, had become a monument to plywood and roosting vultures.

What nobody called the erstwhile 1920s-’40s icon was “love at first sight.” Until, that is, Antonios Markopoulos happened along last April.

“I was fascinated by the (Renaissance Revival) architecture,” recalls Markopoulos. “From the minute I walked in, I felt that the Floridan embraced me. I visualized life again.”

Where others had seen a forlorn symbol of downtown’s decline, Markopoulos envisioned a reincarnation of its hey-day as an opulent destination for the well to do. Where other, ultimately unsuccessful, entrepreneurs had seen scenarios ranging from “affordable housing” to an assisted living facility, the 60-something Greek native saw an upscale, 220-room, boutique hotel with fine dining – topped off with two penthouses.

A lot of paperwork, tax credits and $6 million later, he was the owner-developer. Renovation costs have been estimated between $16 million and $20 million.

The admittedly ambitious goal is to open by the summer of 2007.

The city, the Tampa Downtown Partnership, preservationists and anybody else that cares to see an emblem of urban blight eliminated have been ecstatic over Markopoulos’ restoration plans.

“This is as important psychologically as physically,” assesses Christine Burdick, president of the TDP. “There are no great cities without symbols of their past.”

To Rodney Kite-Powell, the Tampa Bay History Center’s curator, the return of the Floridan validates a key preservation principle: history also means opportunity.

“A successful Floridan project would show that historic preservation can, and does, work as a viable business model,” notes Kite-Powell.

“The Floridan’s reopening as a boutique hotel would further solidify the fact that the north end of downtown will be populated 24 hours a day.”

Markopoulos’ venture underscores a basic, developmental rule of thumb: timing is everything. In the case of the Floridan, the right person at the right time.

First, Markopoulos is flush. In September 2004, he sold the Days Inn on Clearwater Beach for $40 million. He didn’t need financing for the Floridan.

Second, he has experience. He’s been in the hospitality business for 35 years; he knows how to run – and rehab — hotels. He won’t rely on a flag operator. He’s beyond hands-on; he’s literally been in all the Floridan’s crawl spaces and sub-basements.

Third, he hit Tampa just as downtown revitalization was finally materializing. Among projects proximate to the Floridan (at Florida Avenue and Cass Street) are: 975 condominiums as part of the Kress and Woolworth redevelopment; a 450-unit condo tower (including 12,000 square feet of retail) on the old Maas Brothers location; the 20-unit Arlington condominium; the 40-condo Residences of Franklin Street; the 12-condo Carriage House; and the four-unit Franklin Street City Lofts.

“When I was investigating the Floridan,” explains Markopoulos, “it became apparent that restoring it as a center of commercial activity would be a key part of Tampa’s downtown transformation. The Floridan will offer historic lodging for travelers, but more importantly, it will offer future generations insight into our history.”

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