Southbank: Riverplace Tower

by Tim Gilmore, 12/7/2015

Something of a Green Man, leaves rise from his forehead, his beard cloaks his neck, and his empty almond-shaped eyes peer forward non-seeing.

Oh they see, though, they see, and they made one young man I met quite nervous.

Gulf Life postcard

postcard, circa 1980s, courtesy State Archives of Florida, floridamemory.com

Nearly 30 stories high in the 1967 tower, the guests stood at windows overlooking the ghost-town downtown Southbank.

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Though the Northbank’s herringboned dense with storefronts filled with restaurants and shops, downtown’s Southbank is littered with lawns between tall buildings. The streets seem built for cars, not people, or maybe corporate employees on lunch-break.

The Riverplace Tower, before 1993 known as the Gulf Life Tower, rises on a central concrete core, with eight corner verticals rising to the top, two per side, cantilevering horizontal beams upholding each floor.

architectural renderings

original architectural renderings, courtesy www.ecorelics.com.

Years ago one young man cornered me at a corporate reception in the dark-masculine-wood-paneled University Club that occupies the top of the tower. He’d worked for 11 years as commercial real estate principal partner, had completed more than $200 million in transactions, his focus on national and regional restaurant and retail chain expansion, and he’d had a little too much to drink from the platters that kept coming round.

He was young and powerful and just a little bit too desperate. We stood next to the wooden face on the balustrade. The young man, wearing an American flag necktie, his hair gelled upright, kept pausing in his slurred speech to look sideways at the old face. I asked him what he thought of it.

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The face came the early 1600s, from a government building in Rotterdam largely destroyed by the Luftwaffe’s bombing campaign in World War Two in the spring of 1940.

That this old face would grant us its company in that particular room on that particular night made the random more magical than anything divinely ordained, for what were the odds, and what was the probability?

The young man laughed, suddenly self-conscious, and said, “I bet I make more money than he does.”