BARTOW – Bartow City Commissioners learned at a workshop last week that it would cost about $1.3 million to fix the Thompson & Company Cigar Factory.
Gregory Fancelli, an interested party in the property with prior experience restoring historic structures, has proposed renovating the cigar factory and turning it into an attraction for the city. Policymakers, though, are unsure about potential uses for the space.
Fancelli said the factory could be designed as a public event space. It would have six bathrooms and a small kitchen to handle catering. He also suggested a separate building maintaining the theme for shops or event space.
Vice Mayor Billy Simpson said commissioners have to decide what would be most appropriate there.
“We need answers to what we are going. We still have homework on this on how we go forward,” Simpson said. “We don't have a game-plan to move forward.”
Another question raised in the discussion is whether or not the city should consider selling the property.
Ultimately, commissioners decided that Fancelli would return on Feb. 22 to present more specifics about what can be done and, at that time, commissioners will consider what would be its best use.
Commissioner Trish Pfeiffer has been organizing for years to save the structure and have it benefit Bartow. Pfeiffer came equipped to the workshop with a page of people who have said they favor saving the structure. She said she felt Fancelli's willingness to help should be taken seriously. He understands, she said, the importance of history and his background shows that.
In 2014, Fancelli fixed and moved the Tudor House in Lakeland less than a mile west. It is now a restaurant on South Florida Ave. Fancelli is also currently working on the Lester House in Lakeland.
Commissioner James Clements expressed his desire to save the structure, but also asked if Fancelli was intending to buy it and whether its theme would remain. Mayor Leo Longworth said he is getting closer to feeling something can be done, but noted that he is concerned about the consequences of a failed venture.
“Failure is always a concept,” Fancelli said. “It is a challenging piece of real estate. If this were in downtown Tampa, it would be a totally different thing. On our end, we have to allow the building to be as flexible as possible.”
Scott Sjoblom said that he was not as tied to the historic significance of the building so much as he was interested in creating something to help Bartow. Sjoblom said he understands the desire to save the structure, but that it is not his foremost concern.
“I think we can preserve the space in the city's best interest,” Sjoblom said. “Now let's see if a plan can be worked through.”
To Longworth, not only do commissioners have to consider what to do with the cigar factory, but they have to address the larger picture of the entire area in east Bartow.
“That area needs a master plan — and (to) tie the cigar factory to what has to be done,” Longworth said. “We have to be proactive in our vision of growth than reactive.”
In closing, Longworth encouraged Fancelli.
“Help me,” he said. “Bring back some info and maybe (we) can make some movement in preserving.”