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Buyer of historic St. Petersburg YMCA says he made final payment

The historic YMCA at 116 Fifth St. S in downtown St. Petersburg is a Mediterranean Revival-style edifice built in 1926. 

Times file (2012)

The historic YMCA at 116 Fifth St. S in downtown St. Petersburg is a Mediterranean Revival-style edifice built in 1926. 

ST. PETERSBURG — A jumbled push to convert a historic YMCA here into a downtown "music mansion" hit another chaotic checkpoint Tuesday, with the prospective buyer's attorney saying his client made a final $1.2 million purchase payment with minutes to spare.

But neither the seller, nor a second suitor hoping to renovate the aging building, could confirm late Tuesday that the buyer had squeaked in a payment before a tight afternoon deadline.

Thomas Nestor, a local music promoter, signed a purchase agreement for the center at 116 Fifth St. S in 2012, and with the help of partners and lenders, he has paid in installments, often by the skin of his teeth.

After a late payment earlier this year, Nestor and the seller agreed that he would have until 5 p.m. Tuesday to pay the $1.2 million balance for the Mediterranean Revival-style shell built in 1926.

Nestor said he wants to renovate the building into a complex, called the Music Mansion, which would feature a concert venue, a ballroom, a cafe, music classes for at-risk kids, and apartments or hotel rooms.

On Facebook, Nestor has seemed optimistic, saying recently, "One more Angel by this Tuesday keeps her in safe hands forever," and adding, "great accomplishments happen at the buzzer!"

Late Tuesday, his attorney, Russell Cheatham, said Nestor had paid the full $1.2 million but had yet to receive confirmation from Phil Powell, who heads the investment group selling the building. Messages to Powell were not returned Tuesday.

Built for $550,000 during the Sunshine City's 1920s boom, the Young Men's Christian Association, with its basement "natatorium" swimming pool and handball courts, became an off-time hub for generations of St. Petersburg residents. Growing over the decades to include women and girls, the center offered classes for boxing, dancing, trampoline, judo and oil painting.

"Back in the Depression," one former member told the Tampa Bay Times in 2001, "it was our home away from home."

But in the decades since, its charming antiquity has made it hard for developers seeking to turn it into something new. Powell's investment group bought the building for $1 million in 2004, intending to convert it to condos, but the project flamed out and it has remained empty.

Nestor's effort has also been plagued by problems, including struggles to raise enough money to meet minimum monthly payments. He has delayed for more than a year to apply for nonprofit status, preventing donors from earning tax writeoffs.

One contributor, Dr. Robert Wallace, who pledged $360,000 toward building social programs there, sued in May to recoup some of the money after he and Nestor disagreed on the plans. That suit is ongoing.

Another buyer said he's ready to step up with development plans of his own: Nick Ekonomou, a Florida State University offensive lineman in the '80s who has redeveloped apartment projects and single-family homes across South Florida.

Ekonomou told the Tampa Bay Times last month that Powell accepted a contract to sell him the building, for an undisclosed price, if Nestor's deal falls through. He wants to renovate with apartments or hotel rooms, a spa, restaurant and youth play area, as well as a home for himself. He estimated design work and permitting would take more than a year and construction would take at least two years.

Contact Drew Harwell at dharwell@tampabay.com.

Buyer of historic St. Petersburg YMCA says he made final payment 07/15/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 15, 2014 10:44pm]
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