Tuesday, April 24, 2018
Business

Group trying to buy former YMCA building hit with lawsuit

ST. PETERSBURG — The good news for the group trying to buy and restore the historic building that used to house the YMCA is that a donor has stepped up with $360,000. The bad news is the YMCA of the USA is suing the group for trademark infringement.

"Despite our strong efforts to save this incredible piece of property we are being sued," said Robert Wallace, the donor who is a doctor known for his work with AIDS patients. "We think this is incredibly unfair."

YMCA-USA is a Chicago nonprofit corporation over YMCAs across the country. It claims the St. Petersburg group trying to buy the 1926 building at 116 Fifth St. S known as Historic YMCA Inc. is "likely to cause confusion, mistake or deception" and lead the public to believe it is approved by YMCA-USA. The Chicago plaintiff is asking that Tom Nestor, a volunteer who organized Historic YMCA Inc., pay $100,000 for infringing on the name. Nestor has a contract to buy the building from real estate investor Phil Powell for $1.4 million.

The suit asks the court to order the group to stop using the YMCA name for its entities and on its building.

"This is known as the YMCA building. You can't rename something that has existed for almost a century as a specific name," said Kevin Beck, the Historic YMCA Inc.'s attorney. As Nestor's group has sought to raise money for a community center, possibly called the Music Mansion, to stage concerts and music classes it has not implied it will be a part of the YMCA, Nestor said.

Nestor said he asked YMCA of Greater St. Petersburg president David Jezek last year for permission to name his group "Save the Y." Jezek declined because it implied the YMCA organization was in jeopardy, Nestor said.

"There was a conversation in which they said something about Save the Y and we told them 'Look, you can't use the Y name,' '' Jezek told the Times. "We did not grant permission for them to Y or YMCA in their name. ''

He referred further questions to YMCA-USA, which could not be reached for comment.

Nestor has borrowed more than $50,000 and paid Powell on an installment plan since November. He's been searching for someone to put up money toward a $360,000 payment due in June.

Wallace, who graduated from Northeast High School in 1973, said he has already repaid Nestor's previous loans. He'd like to name the facility the Dream St. Petersburg. Along with being a music center, it would house social programs that help others such as injured veterans, abused women and autistic children.

Wallace ran an AIDS clinic in St. Petersburg from 1987 to 2000.

Stock options with his next employer enabled him to have the money to donate, he said. Wallace worked for California-based Gilead Sciences from 2001 to 2007. On July 2, 2003 the company received FDA approval for a breakthrough AIDS drug, Emtriva. Its stock rose that day from $1.15 to $57.61 a share.

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Katherine Snow Smith can be reached at (727) 893-8785 or [email protected]

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