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Party's on in downtown St. Petersburg's historic yet rundown YMCA

ST. PETERSBURG — It's in need of $3 million in renovations and could even be torn down next year to make way for a bank, but there are still plans to ring in the New Year at the long-empty historic YMCA.

A party called Music Alive will run from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. and feature local artists. The event is free, but guests will have to sign a waiver before entering, giving up rights to sue if they get injured in the deserted 87-year-old Mediterranean revival-style building.

"The whole place is sound, but I'll rope off the more dangerous sections like the basement and upper floors," said Thomas Nestor, the local music promoter who has made a down payment on the building he hopes to buy and convert into a music museum, concert hall and educational venue. "I'm not going to be serving alcohol. I think we'll actually get a lot of traffic because of the First Night crowd."

He is organizing local musicians and singers to perform for 30 minutes at a time throughout the evening.

The front hall and an adjacent room encrusted in colorful tile and topped with pecky cypress beams are in good shape, as is the courtyard. Nestor plans to limit to party to those areas. He will steer guests away from the upper floors with missing windows and walls and the basement with uneven flooring and the empty indoor swimming pool.

A lender who wants to remain anonymous loaned Nestor $20,000 for his down payment, which was due Nov. 15. Then a different person also wishing not to be named loaned him $8,000 for his Dec. 15 payment. His contract with current owner Phil Powell calls for monthly payments of $8,000 with bigger installments due at various points. Nestor's hope is one "founder" will step up with $360,000 and then the balance of the $1.4 million price tag can be financed with grants, donations and corporate sponsorships.

"The little kid down the street can donate $5 or if Jabil Circuit wants to it can donate $500,000," he said.

An application to get the YMCA placed on the National Register of Historic Places is in the works, according to Coy LaSister, who is working with Nestor. He has overseen the rehabilitation of five historic buildings in Central Harlem into multifamily housing financed with $12 million from HUD, grants and tax credits.

"The process is pretty easy since the historic YMCA is a local landmark already," he said. LaSister is applying to the state first and then officials in Tallahassee will decide whether to apply to the national register. Since the state's registration supervisor has already written a letter in support of saving the building he is confident the state will apply to the national register.

Two hearings scheduled before the city's preservation council to determine if Powell has permission to demolish the building have been postponed. The City Council will decide next year if public parking will be ceded to the building to make it more attractive to buyers.

The publicity and public support to save the building have prompted interest, Nestor said.

"If it ends up being a music museum or concert venue, amen," Nestor said. "If it ends up being a boutique hotel or private residence, that's better than demolition."

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

Party's on in downtown St. Petersburg's historic yet rundown YMCA 12/27/12 [Last modified: Thursday, December 27, 2012 10:42pm]
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