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St. Petersburg's First Baptist Church's facade will remain when church is gone

The facade and stairs of the former First Baptist Church will soon front the City Peace Garden, which will contain burial niches for people and pets. The changes will help pay for St. Peter’s Episcopal Cathedral’s expansion plans.

EDMUND D. FOUNTAIN | Times

The facade and stairs of the former First Baptist Church will soon front the City Peace Garden, which will contain burial niches for people and pets. The changes will help pay for St. Peter’s Episcopal Cathedral’s expansion plans.

St. Peter's Episcopal Cathedral found a creative way to pay for preserving a downtown St. Petersburg landmark that stood for 19 years in the way of cathedral expansion.

The cathedral is getting in the office rental business and will be selling burial niches — up to 10,000 of them at $3,000 to $6,000 apiece — in a new City Peace Garden next to Williams Park.

Once the abandoned 85-year-old First Baptist Church building comes down next month, its familiar stone-column facade and monumental staircase will be left standing as silent sentinel to a gated public garden filled with niches for people and pets.

It's part of a novel development plan that won support from historic preservation groups that fought for years to save the Baptist church building.

The city government helped by delivering extra development rights for a 48,000-square-foot, two-story church parish hall-Sunday school. It's big enough for half to be rented as office and retail space.

On the market at $22 per square foot, the most likely tenants are banks or a large law office.

Rental income and niche sales will help pay the combined $9 million construction tab.

Churchyard cemeteries existed for centuries. But St. Peter's warmed up to the idea after learning Florida law steers churches around the difficulty of landing a cemetery permit if a churchyard is under a half-acre.

Others see the popularity of niches as the final resting place for cremains. Colleges sell them to alumni in new on-campus columbaria.

The church's solution sure beats the fate of the Thomson McKinnon building, a vintage 1920s stock brokerage flattened for a Central Avenue parking garage in the 1970s.

To appease preservation groups, the granite pillar facade was dismantled, the pieces numbered for reassembly, then left in the city government's outdoor attic by Lake Maggiore.

• • •

Move over Moe's Southwest, Tijuana Flats and Chipotle — Qdoba Mexican Grill is elbowing into the Tampa Bay market.

Pronounced cue-doh-ba, Qdoba was founded in Denver in 1995. But the made-up word only sounds Mexican.

With 489 stores and system revenue of about $500 million, it's a growth vehicle for West Coast fast-food burger chain Jack in the Box and second-biggest in the category behind Chipotle.

The chain has a deal for its third Tampa store and made a priority of signing an area developer for Pinellas and other coastal counties.

"We plan to have nine stores in Tampa within three years and a lot more market penetration in the rest of the bay area," said Wade Oney, an Orlando-Tampa area developer who also controls 50 local Papa John's pizza shops.

• • •

If the Florida economy gets you down, know it could be worse.

Robert Taubman, chief executive of Taubman Centers Inc., which runs International Plaza in Tampa, recently summed up the economy in Michigan, where his company run four malls.

"Michigan is now in the sixth year of negative GDP growth as the state works its way through a difficult restructuring led by the auto industry that will likely continue for at least several years. Michigan's population peaked at 10.1 million people. It is estimated the population has fallen to 10 million and is likely to stabilize at around 9.8 million."

Mark Albright can be reached at albright@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8252.

St. Petersburg's First Baptist Church's facade will remain when church is gone 05/11/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 12, 2009 7:01am]

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