This Tampa cigar factory has been restored, 9 years after purchase

TAMPA — As a full-service advertising agency, Dunn&Co. helps tell the stories of clients like the Tampa Bay Lightning and PDQ.

Meanwhile, their headquarters helps keep alive the story of Tampa’s historic cigar industry.

In May 2015, Dunn&Co. purchased the Corina Cigar Factory at 202 S. 22nd St. in the Palmetto Beach neighborhood and began restoring the three-story, 38,000-square-foot structure.

Nine years later, the work is complete.

“It fills me with a lot of pride that I’ve been able to restore it,” said company president Troy Dunn, who estimates he spent nearly $1 million on the renovation. “I’m a big fan of history and I love the concept of craftsmanship. Working here ... it’s like going into a museum. It’s like going into a grand hotel.”

In the 1920s, Tampa had more than 200 cigar factories, mostly in Ybor City and West Tampa. Ybor’s neighboring Palmetto Beach had four.

Due to a mix of urban renewal, interstate construction and fires, only 25 of Tampa’s cigar factories remain and just one, owned by J.C. Newman Cigar Company, is still used to roll cigars. Palmetto Beach has two of those cigar factory buildings, with the other being the Salvadore Rodriguez Cigar Factory at 402 S. 22nd St.

The Hillsborough County Property Appraiser’s website says the Corina Cigar Factory was erected in 1895, but newspaper archives indicate it could have been built earlier.

It was originally owned by Jose Escalante & Co. and had a line of cigars named Corina. At its peak, the company employed 375 people, according to news archives. That company was headquartered out of Chicago and had another factory in New Orleans. The Tampa factory shuttered in January 1939 and its president, Jose Escalante, died in November of that year.

In 1982, Kent Larson purchased the cigar factory for his custom-made credit card company while renting space to other businesses, according to news archives.

Dunn&Co moved into an office there in 2003 but expanded to take over more than half the building by 2015, Dunn said. He then purchased the cigar factory for $1.3 million, according to the property appraiser’s website.

The structure was sound thanks to work performed by the former owner, Dunn said, but there was more to do. He replaced the roof and added new mortar between the exterior bricks. “I did those things in the first year and a half or so.”

As tenants moved out over the next few years and Dunn&Co. expanded to take over the full factory, he improved the interior. Dunn added central air conditioning, upgraded the plumbing and electric, exposed portions of brick walls throughout and then got to work restoring the original wooden floors.

“They were painted black,” Dunn said. “So I had to sand all that paint off to reveal the floors. ... They’re over an inch thick, if you can believe it. I don’t even think they sell wood like that anymore. So, we had to sand them down to make them quite gorgeous. ... That took years and is what we just finished.”

His company of more than 50 employees has found a purpose for nearly every inch of the building.

The factory’s old tobacco vaults have been turned into photography suites. The company also added a kitchen, gym, day care area and game room and turned the lobby into a venue for parties and events.

“When you have employees who are in the creative industry, they don’t want to be in some nondescript, soulless glass and cement structure,” Dunn said. “When my staff comes to this building, they feel the heritage, they feel the craftsmanship of the building. It’s somewhat inspiring.”

While work on the structure is now complete, Dunn is not entirely done with the property.

“The next thing I want to do is work on the landscaping,” he said. “I want to really make the grounds around my factory very picturesque.”