ST. PETERSBURG — Preservationists have endorsed a plan by St. Peter's Episcopal Cathedral to save the facade of the historic former Baptist church it owns.
The agreement will end years of contention between the cathedral and preservationists who have sought to save the neoclassical building across from Williams Park in St. Petersburg's downtown.
"I think this is a good compromise. We're saving the best part of the church,'' St. Petersburg Preservation president Will Michaels said. The group had opposed a recent proposal to demolish the entire structure.
In a letter to St. Peter's officials, the preservation group said it was supporting the plan "with the understanding that a restrictive covenant, or some similar legal arrangement, will be established guaranteeing the preservation of the facade and stairwells for the future.''
Preservationists also want a professional archival record of the building at 120 Fourth St. N that would include photos and blueprints of historic importance.
A 40-foot deep section of the building also is being saved, including the sidewalls, roof and stair towers that rise into the balcony.
The cathedral will now seek city approval to demolish the rest of the building, said Sheree Graves, St. Peter's senior warden.
If approved, a walled sanctuary garden with benches open to the public on weekdays will be created in its place. The facade will be incorporated into the cathedral's $7.5-million expansion and redevelopment project.
During a May 28 meeting with St. Peter's, the preservation group suggested that a portion of the balcony be retained, if feasible, and that St. Peter's incorporate some of the historic church's original stained glass windows into a new west wall that would overlook the garden.
"Those are suggestions to be considered, but we're not tying our support to that,'' Michaels said.
Graves said implementation of the suggestions will depend on money.
"All things are on the table within financial reason,'' she said.
"We are going to be seeking interested partners. The church is not going to go into debt to do this.''
St. Peter's bought the closed First Baptist Church and its five-story education building for $1-million in 1990. Since then, it has struggled to develop or sell the property.
A few months ago, neighbors of the old church, the owners of the Princess Martha Hotel, signed an agreement to buy the old Baptist church for $1.1-million. Philanthropist and businessman William R. Hough, an investor with WRH Income Properties, said then that the Princess Martha, now an independent living facility, needed to raze the church to expand. When preservationists objected, Princess Martha's owners decided not to buy the property.
In its letter to the cathedral, the preservation group said its decision to accept the new plan is consistent with its vision of a community "that values its historic and architectural legacy and sense of place, all the while changing to meet current needs and opportunities.''
Michaels described the old Baptist church across from Williams Park and on the west side of Fourth Street N as the centerpiece in "a row of 10 of St. Petersburg's best historic buildings.''
"It's just wonderful that we can retain the continuity of the historic buildings,'' he said.
"I do think it's a very bold decision on the part of St. Peter's to do this.''
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 892-2283.