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Oxford Exchange Revives UT Neighborhood, Tampa

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. - Photo by Julie Branaman
When University of Tampa (UT) student and self-proposed tea connoisseur Chase McMillian first stepped foot into downtown Tampa's new Oxford Exchange, he thought to himself, "I'm not in Tampa anymore.''

Sitting at 420 W. Kennedy Blvd., directly across the street from UT, Oxford Exchange boasts a tea room and retail shop concept in a historic area of downtown Tampa, offering breakfast, brunch, lunch and afternoon tea in a meticulously renovated more than 100-year-old building.

"It honestly looks and feels like something you'd get to experience in Manhattan or Los Angeles,'' says McMillian, who normally gets his tea fix from Fletcher Avenue's Kaleisia Tea Lounge. "But we're lucky enough to have it right here in Tampa.''

Over the course of two years, the early 1900s building was painstakingly converted into a swanky commercial space using top-of-the-line marble, brass and brick; specialized architects where brought in during construction to ensure the natural beauty of the historic structure remained intact during the restoration.

"We used a lot of marble and brass finishes and all of the reclaimed wood we could find from the original building,'' says Oxford Exchange Developer Blake Casper.

The renovation of the historic building into a new-use development is something Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn would like to see a lot more of in the area, having witnessed a number of developers in Florida tear down useful buildings with great bones and history.

"There's a lot of value in these kinds of buildings,'' Buckhorn says.

The brainchild of Casper, whose Caspers Company owns more than 50 McDonalds fast food restaurants in the Tampa Bay area, was thought up in an attempt to revamp an unused building into an iconic destination for residents and tourists to enjoy breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea.

Now home to a restaurant, bookstore, home decor shop and even popular Tampa Bay area names such as Buddy Brew Coffee and TeBella Tea Company, the 24,000-square-foot Oxford Exchange is bringing the building back to its roots, which once served as an open-air venue of local shops.

"I was enthralled by the details; it feels interesting and inviting,'' says Tampa resident and University of South Florida alumnus Noel Russell. "It seems to attract a certain type of person: A little quirky, but with really good taste. I'm really excited to see how the overall community reacts to it.''

Welcoming The Exchange

Since opening, Oxford Exchange has been the recipient of high praises from customers, surrounding businesses and tenants.

Eric Cardenas, the University of Tampa's director of public information and publications, sees the university and its students taking advantage of everything it has to offer; meetings with student leaders and senior administration have already been held at the multiuse space.

"It's very convenient for the entire UT community,'' says Cardenas, who believes students could potentially benefit from part-time jobs at Oxford Exchange. "Anytime an individual invests the kind of resources it took to create Oxford Exchange is a positive undertaking for the entire Tampa Bay area. The owners transformed an unattractive, underutilized building into a dynamic venue that will surely attract customers from all around.''

Just storefronts down from the Exchange, Mise En Place has been welcoming guests to the underdeveloped, historic part of Tampa for more than 20 years. Mise En Place Owner Maryann Ferenc calls Oxford Exchange "iconic,'' seeing it as a catalyst for development and activity in the area.

"Caspers Company are community players,'' she says. "Oxford Exchange is going to draw all types of people that may not have come to the neighborhood before. It's giving the community a sense of place while bringing out the very authentic flavor of the area.''

The University District

As the gateway to downtown Tampa, the neighborhood, which Ferenc calls the University District, has really come alive since the opening of Oxford Exchange.

Cardenas agrees, seeing the lavish development as a magnet for the neighborhood. Drawing in residents, Cardenas believes similar tenants in downtown Tampa and the surrounding areas can encourage students to thrive in Tampa beyond their education at the area's universities.

"Our 7,000 students live, eat, shop, work and recreate in downtown Tampa,'' Cardenas says. "Most students, when they graduate, end up wanting to stay in Tampa to contribute to the area culturally and intellectually.''

Oxford Exchange is open Monday through Saturday from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Expansion plans are already underway with the Caspers purchase of additional space next door.

Alexis Quinn Chamberlain, a Florida native and freelance writer, can often be found barhopping on South Howard Avenue, walking around her North Hyde Park neighborhood and daydreaming with her boyfriend and Chihuahua at Curtis Hixon Park. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.
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