Friday, July 20, 2018
Business

Code violations continue to plague historic former YMCA

ST. PETERSBURG — The historic former YMCA is getting even more bedraggled.

Vandals repeatedly deface its exterior walls with graffiti. Beer bottles and cans litter inground street planters and many windows have broken panes.

The city has cited the long-shuttered former Y, seemingly forgotten amid a sea of downtown construction projects, for graffiti, overgrowth and debris, an expired roof permit and disrepair of its walls, paint and windows.

Nick Ekonomou, the South Florida developer who is the latest owner of the old Y, says he is frustrated. It would cost thousands of dollars to hire security for the property at 116 Fifth St. S, he said last week, looking up at walls where graffiti had been painted over.

"Homeless people are breaking in," he said, leaving "piles and piles of poo" inside and outside the building.

Though he's tried to secure the doors with high chain-link fences, vagrants get in. "They still scale the wall. They break the glass," he said.

Ekonomou said his frustration lies not with the delay of his plans to restore the 1927 Mediterranean Revival-style building and convert it into a boutique hotel, but with the vandalism of his property.

The former football player officially became the owner of the old YMCA a year ago, after a legal dispute with another would-be purchaser. He announced early this year that he would build a multistory building behind the historic Y and plans for the project would be submitted to the city by June. That didn't happen.

Last week he was in town getting a quote from a roofer. The old one ran off, he said. That was the cause of the property being cited for a roof permit that expired without a final inspection, he said. The case is scheduled to go before the Code Enforcement Board in January.

"We have four active cases on the property," Rob Gerdes, the city's director of codes compliance assistance, said last week.

They include violations for property maintenance, which have not yet been scheduled to go before the Code Enforcement Board, Gerdes said.

Despite the setbacks, Ekonomou, who bought the property for $1.4 million and estimates he will spend about $16 to $18 million for his new hotel, said he has no regrets. He blames delays on evolving plans. For instance, he said, hotel operators have told him that to make a profit, he needs at least 120 rooms.

"We're going back to the plans and adding to the new tower structure. We are hopefully going to be able to squeeze more rooms per floor," he said of what could eventually be a 12- to 13-floor building.

Plans should be ready to be submitted to the city "in a minimum of four months," he said, proceeding to list what onlookers should expect.

"In two to six months, they will see progress on the roof. The whole exterior of the original structure will be completely finished," he promised, adding that he will also have signed contracts with a construction manager and a hotel management company.

"People should not get impatient, because this stuff takes time. It doesn't happen overnight. When you are doing a $16- to 18-million project that involves restoration of a historical building, as well as building a new tower, things take time....We're moving forward."

Contact Waveney Ann Moore at [email protected] or (727) 892-2283. Follow @wmooretimes.

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