Entrepreneurs Plan Cigar Theme for Long-Vacant Gore Building

Local entrepreneurs are planning to buy the long-vacant, 95-year-old Gore Building at 238 N. Massachusetts Ave. and restore it, likely with offices, residences and a restaurant. The structure would take on a cigar theme and a new name — the Eli Witt Cigar Co. — as a nod to its history.

One likely tenant: Madden Branded Goods.

“If all goes well with the building at 238 N. Mass, such as with closing, construction, and so on, we are hopeful that Madden Branded Goods will be a tenant in the building,” said Steve Madden, a principal in both Madden Branded Goods and West Point One, which plans to close on the property next month, after due diligence is completed.

Jon Kirk, principal architect with Straughn Trout Architects, told the Lakeland Historic Preservation Board’s Design Review Committee last week that the design focuses on the heritage of the cigar company that occupied the space in the 1940s through the ’60s.

The exterior signage design, with cigar-themed shapes and an internally lit component, was approved by the committee, as a nod to the building’s history.

“It’s a better branding opportunity for the tenants to be in this building,” Kirk told the board. “I think that’s a brand that would do well here in Lakeland.”

The cigar end and angled wrapper are part of the planned design of the main exterior sign.

The building fronts Massachusetts Avenue at Bay Street across from the Lakeland Police Department headquarters.

The next phase for architects at Straughn Trout is the design to convert the building to mixed-use redevelopment, consisting potentially of housing, dining, and office space.

First is approval for improvements to the structure and approximately 7,000 square feet of interior build-out for office and future tenant space, Kirk said.

The next phase of planning, includes 3,100-square-foot retail/flex space on the first floor. The planned design for the second floor includes office space or residential use.

The two-story commercial building was built around 1926 as the Seaboard Service Station. It was transformed into a grocery store in 1938 and housed Victory Grocery and Monarch Grocery. At some point, two one-story outbuildings were added.

Passersby might recognize the building for its terra cotta tiles and glazed inset tiles along the roof wall. “These features reflect the Mediterranean Revival style that gained mass popularity in early 20th Century in Florida,” said Emily Foster, the city’s historic preservation specialist.

In the mid-20th Century, the building served as the wholesale distribution center for Eli Witt Cigar company. Which is something Kirk said the potential owners want to honor.

“We picked up on this idea of the cigar label being the overall brand for the facility,” he said. “It’s conceived that it would pick on that theme.”

The result of Kirk’s presentation is the consensus that the signage remains like it is. It does not have to go before the board again. 

“Thank you for keeping the history into account and pulling that in,” said committee member MeLynda Rinker. “This is phenomenal.”

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