Is the end nigh for downtown St. Pete's cheese grater buildings?
Preservationists determined to save two historic downtown buildings are appealing a recommendation that would allow them to be demolished.
The early 20th century Pheil Hotel and Theater and the Central National Bank are located in a block ripe for development, stretching from Central Avenue to First Avenue S, and Fourth Street to Fifth Street S.
In its appeal, St. Petersburg Preservation, a group that works to save historic sites and structures and retain what's unique about the city, says the city erred in finding that the owners of the property were entitled to certain exemptions from regulations governing demolition in the downtown district.
Demolition is being supported by the St. Petersburg Downtown Neighborhood Association and the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership.
In a letter to the Tampa Bay Times, St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership CEO Joni James said preservation "is not always advisable because of decisions made in the past."
That's the case with this particular block, she said, referring to updates and other modifications made in the 1960's and 1980's. She also mentioned the "complex financial arrangement" between the owners that has stalled development in the prime area for almost 10 years.
The block has been tied up in a 99-year ground lease between descendants of Abram C. Pheil, the city's mayor in 1912, and First States Investors, a real estate investment trust. It's now up for sale. For the past three decades, the two vacant buildings have been encased in aluminum grillwork that resembles large cheese graters.
Even if the commission approves the request for demolition, the matter will not be easily resolved. The commission's decision can be appealed in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court.
Further, the Pheil Hotel and Theater and the former bank are among dozens of St. Petersburg buildings listed as potentially eligible for historic designation and benefit from certain protections. St. Petersburg Preservation could file a third-party application asking that the structures be given historic designation. That would put demolition on hold while that request is processed.
Want to see for yourself? Take a look inside, via a building tour by Susan Taylor Martin and John Pendygraft.