Construction has commenced on the century-old Balbin Bros. Cigar Factory in West Tampa.
“After seven years since the announcement that we would transform West Tampa’s century-old Balbin Bros. Cigar Factory into a 70-room boutique hotel, we’ve finally started construction,” said Dylan Desai, representing My Hospitality Hotels, a family-operated business that acquired the factory for $1.4 million and is investing an additional $12 million in the project. “Perfecting the architectural plans took some time, and COVID caused some delays, but we’re now in full swing.”
The construction work began three months ago and is expected to be completed within a year.
Although they have not yet solidified an agreement with a hotel franchise, Desai anticipates finalizing one soon for the three-story, 35,000-square-foot historic landmark located at 1202 N. Howard Ave, which holds local designation.
My Hospitality Hotels possesses over 50 hotels, comprising various brands such as Comfort Inns, Hiltons, Marriotts, La Quintas, and Holiday Inns, scattered across Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, and Florida. The Balbin Bros. Cigar Factory represents their inaugural historic restoration project.
“We’re gutting everything on the inside,” Desai said. “The outside’s original look will not change.”
Dennis Fernandez, the city of Tampa’s architectural review and historic preservation manager, said, “It will be a significant effort because the building was in pretty poor condition. The exterior walls are being repaired and repointed. New windows are necessary,” but those will be replicas of the originals.
In 1904, the factory was originally built by the Samuel I. Davis Cigar Co. However, by 1910, they had outgrown this location and constructed a larger factory a few blocks away.
The Balbin Bros. Cigar Co. made its debut in Tampa in 1904, initially conducting operations from a building located at the intersection of Harrison and Franklin streets in downtown. Later the same year, the company relocated to a wooden factory situated in West Tampa. Unfortunately, this wooden facility fell victim to arson in October 1910, resulting in its destruction.
“In three quarters of an hour, nothing but a pile of ashes remained to tell the story of a loss estimated at $5,000,” the Tampa Tribune wrote of the fire. “Flames appeared to wrap the building on all sides at once, as if the dry wood had been carefully soaked in gasoline.” A $500 reward was offered for information that led to an arrest, but no one was charged.
In March 1911, Balbin Bros. made their new home in the former Samuel I. Davis building, marking the beginning of a new chapter for the factory. It was at this point that the factory adopted the Balbin Bros. name, which endured even after its acquisition by the Tampa-Cuba Cigar Co. in 1915.
During the early 1930s, the DeSoto Brewery briefly occupied the premises, as recorded in the Tampa Bay Times archives. Subsequently, from 1937 to 1976, the building served as the headquarters for Empire Mercantile, overseeing a network of 24 Fremac’s clothing stores. However, in 2006, a dental technology firm named Inteldent Solutions repurposed the space for office use.
Desai explained that his company’s decision to acquire the property was primarily driven by its strategic location, situated right off the West Tampa exit of I-275. Furthermore, despite the necessity for structural repairs, the building’s fundamental framework remained robust and intact.
“It’s in a great location,” he said. “And it’s survived more than 100 years for a reason.”