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Tampa’s old Arturo Fuente Cigar Co. building to be restored, get a new life
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Tampa’s old Arturo Fuente Cigar Co. building to be restored, get a new life

Tampa’s old Arturo Fuente Cigar Co. building to be restored, get a new life

TAMPA — The Vicente Nieto and Bros. Cigar Factory turns 100 next year.

But if Liana Fuente has her way, the building at 2708 N 18th St. won’t look a day over 70.

Her grandfather, Carlos Fuente Sr. of the famous Fuente cigar family, purchased the Ybor City factory in 1956 and then expanded its size by around two-thirds so that his father and company founder and namesake, Arturo Fuente, could live on the second floor while employees rolled stogies on the first.

Arturo Fuente Cigar Co. later sold it and moved into a larger building.

Then, a year ago, Liana Fuente purchased the Vicente Nieto and Bros. Cigar Factory and is now working toward restoring the 7,000-square-foot structure while adopting it for modern use.

“I see this as my gift to the city from my family,” Fuente, 44, said. “But I also really want to create a space that is supportive of women.”

When completed, likely by next year, the first floor will be retail — a bar, a florist and event space, all women owned, Fuente said. The second floor will feature five apartments. The basement, for now, will be storage.

“It’s going to be very much a work/play kind of thing,” said Fuente, formerly the vice president of brand development for the family company. She left that job two years ago to pursue other endeavors, including real estate. This is her first project.

The exterior will be restored to look as it did after her family built their additions. She plans to seek local historic landmark designation of the cigar factory, one of 25 remaining throughout Tampa from its era as cigar capital of the world. Such status will help prevent future owners from modernizing the exterior or razing the structure.

And while the interior will be modernized, it will pay homage to the building’s roots.

Historic photographs of her family and their employees will be hung.

Vestiges of cigar rolling will remain part of the building, like the pulley system that transported the tobacco between floors.

She sees a prize possession in the chalk scribblings of names of Fuente cigars on a second floor wall. Some of those lines are still being rolled, some discontinued decades ago. Cigars would have been stacked on shelving under each name. Fuente believes the handwriting is her grandfather’s.

“This is why I wanted the building,” Fuente said. “It means everything to me.”

She purchased it for $725,000 and estimates the restoration will cost $1.5 million.

“I know I can do this right,” Fuente said. “We can’t ignore our history.”

The history of Fuente cigars begins in 1912 when Arturo Fuente Sr. moved from his native Cuba to open A. Fuente & Co. in a West Tampa factory. The business grew until all was lost in a 1924 factory fire.

It took 22 years before Arturo Fuente Sr. reestablished his business under the name Arturo Fuente Cigar Co. In 1956, Carlos Fuente Sr. took over the company and expanded by purchasing the factory that was built for the Vicente Nieto and Bros. Cigar Co. in 1925, not moving again until 1965.

Arturo Fuente Cigar Co. eventually moved rolling operations to the Dominican Republic, but their corporate headquarters remains on 22nd Street in Ybor.

The Vicente Nieto and Bros. Cigar Factory stayed with family. Fuente cousins, the Blancos, used it for a cabinet making business. When they put it on the market, Fuente said, she convinced the Blancos to keep it in the family.

“I get chills when I walk through it,” Fuente said, “knowing that my great-grandfather and grandfather walked through it, too.”

Kevin gil