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VOL. 39 | NO. 42 | Friday, October 16, 2015

Converted courtroom creates problem for guests

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TAMPA – “Inspiring architecture complements the warm palette and modern touches of the new Le Meridien Tampa.” Thus begins an online promo for the building I am sitting in – a century-old federal court building that’s been transformed into an unusual boutique hotel.

Le Meridien features 130 guest rooms and suites, as well as meeting rooms and other event-related space, and an attractive bistro-like restaurant and bar. All are connected by luxuriously wide hallways (with tall ceilings) that mark this place as an early 20th-century government structure.

Here I sit in the lobby. Behind a refurbished courtroom “bench,” working on one of two PC’s that are provided as a “business center.” When I checked in yesterday, Caroline, a pleasant and competent worker with a faint Irish accent, pointed out the bench. She speculated I might hold court there before the weekend was over.

“Order in the lobby!” I said, banging my air gavel.

Internet access is 10 bucks a day extra in the rooms, but free in the lobby – on these PC’s anyway. Let’s face it, it’s never really complimentary, let alone free. However, it gets my hackles up when innkeepers impose this charge.

I am here for the memorial service of my friend Merl Reagle, of whom I wrote a few weeks ago. I am one of several speakers at the service, which begins in an hour, and I need to revise and print out my notes.

I am repeatedly interrupted by incoming folk. “Excuse me, but can you check us out?” a couple of young ladies ask. Snapping out of the intense concentration I’d been in, I almost say, “You’re looking pretty good to me.”

Thankfully, I catch myself and point to the registration area near the entrance. It doesn’t look nearly as official as this bench where I’m sitting. The area I point to is empty at the moment ... but wait! As if on cue, Caroline shows up, beams and beckons the pair over to her.

Then someone nearby, who must not be paying attention, steps up and asks if I will check him in. Where’s that air gavel?

Le Meridian has a lot going for it, not the least of which is that it is centrally located in downtown Tampa. There is easy access to the traditional stuff like courthouses, convention centers, art museums, etc. There is even a river-front park with an attractive, user-friendly walking trail and dog-park.

And ... there are other workers like Caroline, such as Franke, a friendly, intelligent, crossword-solving barista who pulls the early morning shift in the bistro. The staff of this place could not be more pleasant and accommodating.

The University of Tampa, where the memorial service is to take place, is an easy half-mile walk. And the Tampa International Airport is less than 10 miles from here.

If I have one complaint with the hotel, it’s that my room and one other that I saw feature tall, barstool-like chairs with low backs, designed to get the sitter up to a shelf-like work area that is a foot or more higher than a desktop. I found this most uncomfortable, hard on the back, and an added reason to spend time in the lobby and bistro, getting to know Caroline, Franke and others.

Not so bad a trade-off, actually.

Vic Fleming is a district court judge in Little Rock, Ark., where he also teaches at the William H. Bowen School of Law. Contact him at vicfleming@att.net.

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