ST. PETERSBURG — Stymied by missteps, the group trying to save downtown's Historic YMCA must raise $1.2 million in the next four months to avoid losing its contract — a failure that may result in the building's destruction.
On Saturday, members hosted an 11 a.m. news conference (attended solely by a Tampa Bay Times reporter) in which the group's organizer, Tom Nestor, announced that they had shifted their fundraising strategy: Instead of seeking a single investment, they would ask 12 people to each put up $100,000.
But the gathering also revealed that the longtime effort — to turn the decrepit 87-year-old structure into a combination lounge, concert venue, boutique hotel and rock 'n' roll museum — has been plagued with problems for more than a year.
In late 2012, Nestor, a local music promoter, obtained a purchase agreement to buy the Mediterranean revival-style building for $1.4 million. From the start, he struggled to raise the money needed to make the minimum monthly payments, which have now reached $18,000.
"I was given a great opportunity," Nestor said, "but I had to learn a lot going down the road."
The group's most costly error — one of naivete, he acknowledges — was to not apply to the state for a nonprofit 501(c)(3) designation until April 2013. He learned that approval could take up to 18 months, well after the balance for the building is due.
Without that approval, no one who contributed to their cause could receive a tax write-off. That has made it nearly impossible to lure major private or corporate donors.
Last May, though, the building's survival still looked promising. Robert Wallace, a doctor known for his work with AIDS patients, pledged $360,000. At the time, Wallace said that, other than a music center, he wanted the Historic YMCA to house social programs to help injured veterans, abused women and autistic children.
His vision didn't match that of others involved, Nestor said, so the doctor left the project. Wallace did not return a message on Saturday.
To date, eight investors have provided just $166,000.
Also last year, Nestor faced legal troubles. The group's original name, Historic YMCA Inc., prompted Chicago-based YMCA of the USA to sue for trademark infringement. In July, the local organization changed its name to Historic St. Pete Inc., and the YMCA withdrew its lawsuit.
"It was very, very traumatic for me to deal with," Nestor said.
When asked, Matthew Bistok, a local musician and Historic St. Pete's vice president, described their situation as one of "urgency, not desperation."
If they default on their contract, he and Nestor said they're convinced that the building's owner, real estate investor Phil Powell (who did not return a message Saturday), will sell it to people who would demolish it.
Nestor said someone even recently offered him $200,000 to walk away, but he refused.
Surely in an area of such wealth, Nestor said, he can find a dozen investors willing to just contribute six-figure sums.
"There's got to be 12 people who can do that," he said. "There's got to be."