Sale of early St. Petersburg home concerns preservationists

Historic preservationists would like the “Mansion by the Bay” to stay as it is. The new owner has not revealed plans for the property.

CHERIE DIEZ | Times

Historic preservationists would like the “Mansion by the Bay” to stay as it is. The new owner has not revealed plans for the property.

ST. PETERSBURG — The quick sale of a turn-of-the-century building that three years ago was approved for the site of a 21-story condo tower is raising eyebrows among historic preservationists.

The Queen Anne-style building at 145 Fourth Ave. NE was on the market for just a month before it sold for $525,000 last week, said real estate agent Lisa Ulrich, who brokered the deal for developer Dan Harvey.

County records show the buyer is 4th Ave. Bayfront, a company registered to Robert Allen III, a senior member of the JMC Communities real estate firm.

"We are looking at options" for the property, which is known as Mansion by the Bay, Allen said Friday, "but nothing is concrete at this point." He declined to say what the options are.

The building was once the home of A.T. "Bert" Blocker, who owned the city's largest livery stable and served as mayor in 1910-1911. It is not protected by historic landmark status.

Local preservationists began watching intensely as soon as a "For Sale" sign went up on another historic property across the street. They are readying for a fight.

Peter Belmont, vice president of St. Petersburg Preservation, said the group would consider submitting an application for historic status for Mansion by the Bay, just as it has done for other historic buildings. The city code allows anyone to do that, even if he is not the owner.

"I think every effort should be made to reuse these historic buildings," said Belmont. "Hopefully a future owner … will realize some of the benefits that can go along with reusing them."

Owners of historic buildings that earn landmark status can receive modest tax breaks in return. But some owners don't pursue landmark status, since changes or additions to the property must go through the city's Development Review Commission.

Mansion by the Bay was listed for sale with two other historic properties across the street. The sale price was $2.5 million, which is what Harvey paid for them in 2006.

The Henry-Bryan House, at 146 Fourth Ave. NE, houses offices. The Bay Gables House, at 136 Fourth Ave. NE, is home to Chateau France Restaurant, which has announced it is closing Aug. 15. They are both designated city landmarks and remain for sale for $1.75 million.

Until recently, Mansion by the Bay was occupied by a restaurant, Yummy Mama's.

In 2007, controversy swirled around the building when Harvey won city approval to build a 21-story condo tower named Mansion on the Bay on the property. Residents of nearby condominiums joined preservationists in protest.

The city stipulated that Harvey would have to move the building to a new site. But Harvey, who said the property was more valuable redeveloped as a boutique condo, later abandoned his plans.

Preservationists prefer that the building be left alone, perhaps used as offices, a home or an entertainment venue. They feel strongly about the Blocker mansion because it is one of the few buildings on Fourth Avenue — once a prime residential thoroughfare — that isn't protected by landmark status.

Nearby buildings that are designated landmarks are the Henry Veillard House at 262 Fourth Ave. N; the St. Petersburg Lawn Bowling Club at 536 Fourth Ave. N; the Flori-de-Leon Apartments at 130 Fourth Ave. N; and the Coliseum at 535 Fourth Ave. N.

Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Reach Luis Perez at (727) 892-2271 or lperez@sptimes.com.

Sale of early St. Petersburg home concerns preservationists 07/03/10 [Last modified: Saturday, July 3, 2010 1:43pm]

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