TAMPA, Fla. — The owners of the J.C. Newman Cigar Factory plan to transform their corner of Ybor City with a new park dedicated to cigar workers, a tobacco farm and restored inn, according to fourth generation co-owner Drew Newman.

What You Need To Know

  • The new El Reloj District will feature a park, tobacco farm, inn and cigar factory

  • Drew Newman says Ybor City north of I-4 has been neglected since the early 1960s

  • The historic El Reloj factory in Ybor City opened in 1910

  • The J.C. Newman Cigar Company is the oldest family-owned premium cigar maker in the United States and was established in 1895

"By improving our corner of Ybor City, we hope that inspires other people to come to Ybor City to restore the old buildings," he said. "To tell the story and make it nice for everyone."

Newman, 41, general counsel for J.C. Newman Cigar Co., said northern Ybor City has been neglected since the federal government built I-4 in the early 1960s and divided the area.

"Literally, walled off our part of Ybor City from the rest of it and since then the development for Ybor City has been focused south of I-4 along 7th Avenue," he said. "Our part of Ybor City north of the interstate has been overlooked."

Newman aims to change that with the new El Reloj District, which is Spanish for clock and named after the factory with a famous clock tower.

"Every cigar factory in Tampa had a nickname and this factory is known as El Reloj," he said. "It's the identity of our company and the identity of our factory and the identity of our part of Ybor City."

El Reloj is the last operational cigar factory in Tampa and began offering tours a few years ago. Newman said they welcomed more than 10,000 visitors, hosted 22 weddings last year and would want to have someplace for them to go within walking distance.

"Right now we have to tell them to get into your car, drive on the other side of the interstate or go someplace else," he said. "There's no place nearby." 

Newman said the new park will be dedicated to the cigar workers.

"We're going to build a 10,000 square foot park and add some beautiful trees and plants and a big fountain in the middle," he said. "It's a place to gather for our neighbors, for visitors, for our employees, to really be able to sit outside and enjoy nature."​

Cigar Workers Park will also feature a bat house. Newman said before they can restore the long vacant Sanchez Haya building they need to move a colony of 3,000 to 5,000 fruit bats.

"Give them a brand new home. Make sure they're comfortable and thriving," he said. "It's been really neglected for decades and vacant for decades which is why a colony of bats moved in."​

The Sanchez Haya building will then be restored into a 15-room inn with a cigar lounge and cafe. Newman said the State Historic Preservation Office was pleasantly surprised by his plans.

"They kind of chuckled a little because they said they've only seen one other building in the State of Florida in worse condition than this one actually restored," he said. "So, they were thrilled that we wanted to take on this project."

Next to the inn, Newman wants to grow the first crop of cigar tobacco in Ybor City. He's currently experimenting with a test crop in the factory parking lot.

"Just to see what type of conditions we have in Tampa because cigars have never been grown here," he said. "So, that we can actually grow tobacco here in Tampa and naturally cure it, ferment it and age it and then use it to roll cigars upstairs."

The J.C. Newman Cigar Company is the oldest family-owned premium cigar maker in the United States and was established in 1895 by Julius Caesar Newman. The business relocated from Ohio to Ybor City in 1910. 

Newman said he's planning the ribbon cutting for Cigar Workers Park on May 5, which also happens to be the company's 128th anniversary. 

"It's what made Tampa famous. Tampa didn't exist as a city before the cigar industry," he said. "It's our privilege to keep the tradition of cigar making alive here in Tampa."