Frozen in time, the majestic federal courthouse building in downtown Tampa was an undiscovered treasure in the heart of the city. For over 13 years, its contents remained a mystery to downtown workers and visitors who passed the stately columned entrance and marveled at the beauty of this structure.
The building was constructed in 1905 by supervising architect of the U.S. Department of Treasury, James Knox Taylor, and was originally designed as a U.S. Post Office. Later, it served as a customs house and courthouse, where many of Tampa’s infamous mob trials played out. On June 7, 1974, the Beaux Arts style building was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.
Owned by the City of Tampa, 601 North Florida Avenue was vacated by the federal courts in 1998, when a new courthouse was constructed a few blocks to the north. Fully aware of the historic value of the structure, city leaders paid to keep the building air-conditioned to prevent further deterioration of its architecture, while waiting for the right opportunity to return the building to its former glory.
That opportunity became reality in June 2014, when the historic courthouse building re-opened its doors to the public as Le Méridien Tampa, a luxury, full-service, boutique hotel that incorporates culture, art and cuisine to help guests discover or “unlock” their local destination during travel. Providing an eclectic mix of modern European style with its historic courthouse elements, Le Méridien is a sensory delight for locals and out-of-towners alike. The $26 million renovation took over a year and a half to complete, and was led by Memphis developer Gary Prosterman of Development Services Group, Inc.
As guests walk up the steps and through the massive 4-story columns, they know that they’ve arrived at a destination that is totally unique to Tampa. Inside the second-floor entrance, French-inspired restaurant Bizou Brasserie provides an invitation to dine and drink in style. Flanked by marble walls and wood ceilings, the former courtroom is transformed into a warm, inviting space to gather for breakfast, lunch, dinner or even Sunday brunch. Thursday and Friday “Work Release” happy hours offer a great meeting place for downtown workers and residents to relax and unwind in a lively environment with an attentive service staff. Le Méridien has quickly become a favorite with Tampa’s legal and medical community, serving as hotel partner for the USF Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation (CAMLS).
When visiting Le Méridien Tampa, be sure to look for many historic elements that are incorporated into the building’s construction, including repurposed doors and courtroom elements. On the first floor in “The Hub” lobby area, the business center is constructed of an original judge’s bench, complete with emergency buzzer and nameplates, and the host desk in Bizou Brasserie is actually a former witness box. The renovation of this majestic building, which was overseen by the Tampa Historic Preservation Commission, ensures that many elements of this treasure will remain a part of the city’s history for many generations to come.