Tampa's Franklin Exchange Morphs Into Cool Meeting Spaces

The missing green lizard artwork is the most visible sign that change is afoot at the Franklin Exchange in downtown Tampa.

Pedestrians walking along Franklin Street between Twiggs and Zack streets see construction workers, scaffolding, covered windows and a bit of dust as The Wilson Company continues its renovation of the Franklin Exchange's three buildings -- The Tower, The Annex and The Vault.

Once completed, the multimillion dollar project will transform the city's first modern skyscraper -- the tallest building (22 stories) in Tampa when it was built in 1966 -- and the adjacent buildings into coveted urban meeting and office space within easy walking distance of City Hall, the Straz Center and museum row along The Tampa Riverwalk.

What's Next For The Franklin Exchange

The Wilson Company, led by owner Carolyn Wilson, started with the transformation of the 1923 Exchange National Bank into The Vault at Franklin Exchange. Now a special events space, The Vault was the site of Tampa Bay Fashion Week's Karma: The Shops at Franklin and has hosted several University of South Florida bachelor of fine arts thesis exhibitions.

"After the first USF BFA Thesis Show in the Spring of 2012, we decided to go ahead and make the area an events space,'' Wilson says. "It's just such a wonderful space that needs to be shared with Tampa.''

Since the last event, The Vault has been gutted. Wilson says they're holding off of events for now while renovations are underway. With offices torn down and carpet pulled up, a lot of work will be put into the unique space before the next event.

By the end of March 2013, new paint will grace the walls, a bar will be installed and decorative iron work will be placed onto upstairs glass windows as a safety precaution; the old Exchange National Bank vault, located in the back of the building, will remain untouched.

In addition to The Vault, Wilson has big plans for the first floor of the 7-story Annex building between The Tower and The Vault. All three buildings now take up the entire Franklin Street block between Twiggs and Zack.

Over the course of the next few months to a year, a new restaurant may grace the block.

"It's all a work in progress, but we're hoping to make a restaurant out of the lower level of The Annex,'' Wilson says.

Plans for outdoor seating, a canopied area and an eclectic tiled ceiling are among Wilson's ideas for the to-be-named restaurant. She plans to work with a designer to transform the space into a working, thriving restaurant.

"Wouldn't it be great? We have all of the sidewalk space around the building to use, we're already wet-zoned and you could walk around after dinner to downtown Tampa attractions like the Tampa Theatre,'' she says.

Having spent upwards of $3 million on the renovations thus far, Wilson has much in store.

Currently, she is working on choosing colors for the exterior and workers can be seen scaling the building, caulking and repairing. New graphics will grace the structure’s exterior; a replacement for the 40-foot-by-90-foot lizard is in the works.

Wilson calls herself "obsessed'' with what they're doing.

"This is a lot of fun for me,'' she says. "My bag is just full of all kinds of paint chips and I love having the freedom to do what I want to do. I can't wait to see what comes of everyone's hard work.''

Where The Past Meets The Future

A historical building once doomed for demolition, the Franklin Exchange’s new lease on life began about 10 years ago when The Wilson Company decided to focus on the revitalization of the downtown area, moving its headquarters from the Bayport Plaza in Westshore to the Exchange.

In December 2005, The Wilson Company's founder and president, Jack Wilson, passed away, leaving behind a solid, successful property management and development company to his wife, Carolyn.

Over the last 30 years, The Wilson Company has built many key developments in the Tampa Bay region and across the U.S.

The company rose to great success with the development of the Carillon Corporate Office Park, Chase Plaza, Fountain Square, Cypress Center, Anchor Plaza, Bayport Plaza, Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay and Legends Field, the spring training headquarters for the New York Yankees -- just to name a few.

"When my husband founded the company, his focus was on high-profile commercial development,'' Wilson says. "In the late 80s/early 90s, there was a crunch in commercial real estate and the company reinvented itself with affordable housing, which is now our main focus.''

Wilson says the company handed over its commercial development before ultimately establishing Florida as a national leader in affordable housing. Focusing on affordable housing as a major participant in the Federal Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program, the company built and now manages more than 9,200 affordable housing units throughout Florida.

"A couple of years ago, we revived the commercial part of The Wilson Company and took over the management of the Franklin Exchange,'' Wilson says. "We hadn't had a lease in years before Brown & Brown Insurance moved their headquarters to the Exchange about one year ago.''

The Tower is now the headquarters for Brown & Brown and consulting firm Kimley-Horn and Associates. The Wilson Company is working with Solutions General Contractors by taking raw space and converting it into offices for the companies, as well as The Wilson Company itself.

The Franklin Exchange consists of three buildings: The 22-story, 211,244-square-foot Tower (now the 14th tallest building in Tampa); 7-story, 45,357-square-foot Annex; and 3-story, 14,832-square-foot bank building known as The Vault.

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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