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Retro arcade in downtown changes hands again

The Crislip Arcade cannot be demolished until financing for any new project and plans are in place.

CHERIE DIEZ | Times (2006)

The Crislip Arcade cannot be demolished until financing for any new project and plans are in place.

ST. PETERSBURG

A portion of the 600 block of Central Avenue that includes the historic Crislip Arcade was sold Friday after the economy caused former owners to back off.

They had planned to build a high-rise, mixed-use development.

Don Mastry, attorney for 601 Central LLC, a group of owners based in New Jersey and the Tampa Bay area, said his clients sold the property to Oldsmar Land Holding Corp.

The new owners' plans for development at the site are not known, but a City Council resolution still applies to protect parts of the Crislip, one of three arcades remaining in the city.

The Crislip is also one of the few remaining buildings designed by St. Petersburg's first professional architect, Edgar Ferdon, who also designed First Congregational Church.

"The council resolution is not dependent on the ownership," said Julie Weston, director of the city's development services department. "It applies to the property regardless of ownership."

The resolution stalls demolition of the Crislip until complete financing for any project on the site is obtained and full development plans are available.

The new development must have a ground-level arcade. Historic elements of the building are allowed to be retrieved before demolition.

The brick Crislip Arcade logo must be saved and placed on any new building, and the front of the arcade can not be boarded or covered.

The resolution also calls for replication of the original Cuban floor tile and woodwork.

Request for demolition

In May, the former owners, 601 Central LLC, filed for a permit to demolish the Crislip. Two weeks later, St. Petersburg Preservation, a local group dedicated to preserving and maintaining local historic sites and structures, objected to the demolition by filing an application for local landmark designation for the 82-year-old arcade.

The conflict prompted the City Council during its June 5 meeting to issue a 60-day stop-work order preventing any immediate action on the Crislip.

The city's other two arcades, the Green-Richman and Snell, were designated local landmarks in 1995 and 1986, respectively. Both have been restored.

Will Michaels, president of St. Petersburg Preservation, said the council's stop-work order was enough to save important parts of the Crislip from being lost.

"That was a real shot in the arm for us," said Michaels, a resident of the city since the 1970s. "I think the City Council's rationale was to give time for (us) and the owners to work out an alternative.''

Nevertheless, the former owners sold the property about a month after agreeing on the resolution.

Mastry said his clients did not sell in an attempt to avoid the resolution, but added that the agreement to protect the Crislip helped the sale.

He said the new owners, who initially declined to buy the property, committed to the purchase after the resolution was passed.

Jonathan Damonte, attorney for the Oldsmar Land Holding group, said the council resolution was necessary to inform his clients of what would be required to develop the property.

"It was an issue that needed to be resolved before the sale was complete," Damonte said.

'Historic charm'

Michaels said buildings like the Crislip keep the city unique.

"The major point of why this is a great city to live in is its historic charm," he said. "That's what gives the city its personality and individuality and keeps it from turning into one big shopping strip."

The arcade concept was prominent in St. Petersburg in the 1920s until the era of air conditioning arrived.

Arcades, the precursor to today's pedestrian malls and shopping centers, were plentiful in St. Petersburg during the peak of the downtown shopping era, Michaels said. There were about 10 to 12 arcades at one time.

A restoration of the Crislip Arcade like that of the Green-Richman, also on Central Avenue, would be ideal, he said, though that probably will not happen unless an entrepreneur comes forward to preserve the building and find a new use for it.

Some ideas are afloat.

Bob Devin Jones, artistic director for the Studio@620, said he has not talked with the property owners but has had conversations with locals willing to invest in the Crislip.

Jones said talks include an art studio, bakery and coffee shop, and newsstand with magazines and newspapers from around the world.

"I think that mix will be a catalyst for turning that whole block around," Jones said of the building's unique architecture. "It's that third place in between home and work. It's that place to hang."

Eddie R. Cole can be reached at ecole@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8779.

Retro arcade in downtown changes hands again 07/22/08 [Last modified: Friday, July 25, 2008 2:12pm]

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