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Decision on St. Petersburg YMCA building postponed for a month

ST. PETERSBURG — The downtown YMCA building will not move a step closer to the wrecking ball for at least a month.

The temporary win for historic preservation is not the result of a white knight stepping up with hundreds of thousands of dollars to loan to a local music promoter who wants to develop the 1925 Mediterranean revival building into a music museum. It's because the hearing before the city's community preservation council that could have granted the owner permission to demolish the building has been postponed until Dec. 14.

The building's owner, Phil Powell, requested the hearing be moved to December after the city staff released a report late last week recommending the preservation council deny his application to raze the building. Powell is using the extra month to gather more information to persuade the city it isn't economically feasible to rehabilitate the YMCA, which has sat empty about a decade.

Powell's group bought the building for $1 million in 2004. After determining renovating it into luxury condos was cost prohibitive, Powell put the building on the market in 2006 for $3.4 million and has seen close to a dozen contracts to buy it fall through. He says he now has a bank offering cash for the land if the building can be torn down.

At the same time, however, Powell is working with the city to get more parking for the building so it's more attractive to a buyer who wants to renovate it instead of raze it.

"I'm still trying to find a way to keep the building (intact). We always come up against the same two issues, cost and parking," Powell said. "Nobody wants to spend $5 million rehabbing it if they don't have any parking."

On Monday, the City Council will vote on a resolution to consider giving around 10 public parking spaces in front of the building to the property owner. The sidewalk would remain public right of way.

"This is pretty extraordinary," said Dave Goodwin, the city's planning and economic development coordinator. "That reflects the fact that the YMCA is a pretty extraordinary building." If the council agrees to pursue the possibility of vacating the street parking, it would probably vote on it as an ordinance in February, he added.

Meanwhile, Thomas Nestor, the music promoter who has a purchase agreement to buy the building at 116 Fifth St. S for $1.4 million, has a $20,000 payment due Thursday. He doesn't have the money yet, but has raised a lot of interest and led 600 people through the building on Sunday.

Nestor is still hoping someone with deep pockets will loan him $360,000 to create an office in the building and buy time to assemble grants, donations and corporate sponsorships to finance a transformation.

One person with strong experience has joined his mission. Coy LaSister spent the past 10 years overseeing the rehabilitation of five historic buildings in Central Harlem into multifamily housing financed with $12 million from HUD, grants and tax credits.

"Right now I'm just volunteering (with Nestor) and doing anything I can to save the building," he said.

Powell said he will see how close Nestor is to a down payment and try to work with him if he needs more time.

Contact Katherine Snow Smith at (727) 893-8785 or kssmith@tampabay.com.

Decision on St. Petersburg YMCA building postponed for a month 11/13/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 13, 2012 10:36pm]
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