The old federal courthouse used to be one of the most imposing buildings in downtown Tampa. That was before federal officials decamped to a new skyscraper and left the old building to the harsh Florida elements. After being left empty for for decades, the courthouse is now the Le Meriden hotel. Today's grand opening has been a long time coming.
The courthouse is nothing if not imposing. Massive Greek-style columns flank an imposing set of stairs that led up to the main courtroom. Starting today, those steps will lead to the Bizou Brasserie restaurant and 130 starkly modern rooms. But the architects have preserved as much of the flavor of the old courthouse, which was started in 1902.
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn was on a tour last week, showing off the old building that has become quite new. He says restoration of the courthouse is another piece in the puzzle of how to revive downtown Tampa.
"So much has happened in the last three years, but this one is special," Buckhorn said. "This one took probably the most historically significant building downtown, that had been abandoned, boarded up and was leaking and full of mold, and turned it into something spectacular.
The main ceremonial courtroom has been turned into a ballroom, and the old holding cells - they're guest rooms too, minus the bars.
The leaders of the project are the Development Service Group from Memphis. Owner Gary Prosterman said the building fits the image of the hotel brand.
"The DNA of Le Meredien is a chic design with innovative program to combine the old with the new," Prosterman said. "It's a timeless and beautiful piece of architecture that is going to make a great hotel."
The finished project will have 130 rooms, a restaurant with outside dinning and a secret garden.
One of the people having a part in this restoration project is Tampa historic restoration manager Dennis Fernandez. He said the building stood out during its time from the other wood framed buildings.
The courthouse was made out of granite and terra cotta brick.
"It really had a goal of showing stability not only with the city itself but with the federal government as well," Fernandez said.
As it stands, the building flaunts 20 foot high ceilings, marble and three-story columns.