ST. PETERSBURG — In a surprise vote Wednesday, a volunteer preservation board appointed by Mayor Bill Foster delayed granting landmark status to Jennie Hall Pool, the city's only pool built for African-Americans during segregation, exposing it to possible closure in the future.
The vote gives Foster six months to devise and present a plan that could close some or all the city's eight neighborhood pools before historic status can be granted to Jennie Hall, built in 1954 in Wildwood Heights. Foster is considering replacing the pools with fewer, but larger, regional aquatic centers that would charge higher fees but provide more amenities, such as water slides, spray guns and shallower pools that are safe for small children.
A historic designation would have prevented Jennie Hall from being closed or demolished. But that would have hindered the city in deciding which pools to close under the plan Foster's considering, said Clarence Scott, the city's administrator of leisure and community services. Foster hopes to unveil the plan publicly to the City Council by the end of the year, Scott said.
"We're not contemplating any pool closures for 2012 and 2013," Scott said. "Assuming (Foster's) concept is embraced, we'd still have to find funding. This won't happen overnight."
Still, the decision deprived Jennie Hall a guarantee that it would remain open after 2013.
"We wanted to get the designation now rather than when it was threatened with the prospect that it could be closed," preservationist Emily Kleine Elwyn said.
Foster on Wednesday said he had no plans to close any pools but wanted the city to have a discussion about their future.
"If it's summarily dismissed, I'm okay with the that," Foster said. "I want to have a discussion without people thinking 'Foster is going to close pools.' "
The seven-member Community Preservation Commission was scheduled to vote on the status at its regular monthly meeting Friday. Members instead decided the issue at their Wednesday workshop. The move seemed abrupt to supporters of the pool's status.
"I don't think they can do that," said Peter Belmont, president of St. Petersburg Preservation. "This is outrageous."
"I'm shocked," said Lillian Baker, president of the Wildwood Heights Neighborhood Association. "Now we're looking at March to get the designation, and that's that."
Michael Van Sickler can be reached at (727) 893-8037 or firstname.lastname@example.org.