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Dreams are big for historic St. Petersburg YMCA

ST. PETERSBURG — Amid the pigeon feathers and the empty cans of Publix gourmet cat food a vision burgeons at the bedraggled yet beautiful 85-year-old YMCA.

"This could be a music factory for the Tampa Bay area. We estimate 200,000 people a year could come through," said Thomas Nestor, a local music promoter who has a purchase agreement to buy the building at 116 Fifth St. S for $1.4 million.

Under the hand-painted cypress beams with faded images of horses and mermaids, he maps out a grand entry to a museum that would share the history of music in Tampa Bay. On the second floor, through boarded up doorways overlooking the old gymnasium, he sees a VIP balcony where people would watch packed concerts below.

On the third floor where guests once paid nickels a night to stay in cramped 6-foot-by-9-foot rooms, he envisions large, open spaces for music therapy and after-school music programs for at-risk kids. And in the basement, where an indoor pool surrounded by colorful tile has sat empty for a decade, he pictures a couple of sharks swimming beneath a glass dance floor.

"Not right away but if someone had the money and wanted to do that for a private party it could happen," Nestor said.

He dreams big, but is starting out small. If he can raise $20,000 in three weeks he can make a deposit on the building. After that he needs $360,000 to make a second deposit by June and finance opening an office in the building. From there he would get federal grants and corporate sponsorships to cover an estimated $3 million in renovation costs.

Nestor is forming a nonprofit organization and has created a website, historicymca.com. He's met with city officials and architects are drawing up plans.

"I'm rooting for the guy," said Phil Powell, who bought the building in 2004 with plans to develop it into luxury condos. "It's been under contract no fewer than 12 times. When people finish their due diligence and realize the cost associated with restoring a historical building it falls out of contract."

Powell said he's shown it to more than 100 people since putting it on the market for $3.4 million in 2006. Among them: Bill Edwards and Mary and Tom James, who were considering options for a museum to house some of the 2,000 paintings and sculptures they have collected.

A bank has made a cash offer on the building contingent upon being allowed to demolish it, Powell said. He will go before the city's preservation council Nov. 16 to plead the case that he has tried to redevelop the historic building without success.

"Nobody wants to see historic structures die. But I've tried and I'm sitting on a building I can't get any money out of," Powell said. "I'm still paying taxes on that property. I've spent $3.1 million out of pocket on it."

That amount includes the purchase, renovations, maintenance, marketing and taxes.

"I've looked at it on two separate occasions to try to figure out what the hell you could do with it," said Edwards, who is redeveloping BayWalk. "It's a pretty tall order but I wish (Nestor) the best of luck. I believe in dreamers."

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

Dreams are big for historic St. Petersburg YMCA 10/25/12 [Last modified: Friday, October 26, 2012 1:25am]
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