ST. PETERSBURG — Historic preservationists learned Monday that Mayor Bill Foster changed his mind and no longer intends to deny landmark status this year to Jennie Hall Pool, the city's only pool built for African-Americans during segregation.
"I don't have any idea what happened," said Emily Kleine Elwyn, a preservation historian. "But I'm not going to complain. This is a good thing."
It's the second time in two years that Foster has reversed himself on the subject of city pools. Last year, he announced he would close some city pools to save money, but backed off after residents complained.
Foster's staff objected to an application last week to designate Jennie Hall, which was built in the Wildwood Heights neighborhood in 1954, as historic. They said it would interfere with possible plans to update the city's pool system, which is composed of eight smaller neighborhood pools and one larger regional complex.
Foster wants the City Council to consider closing some pools to open a couple of large regional aquatic parks in their place.
A historic designation would prevent Jennie Hall from being demolished, limiting what the city could do. Foster wanted to delay that designation until the council considered aquatic parks.
Yet on Monday, he said he no longer supports the delay and won't object to the designation when a volunteer board considers the request next month.
Foster didn't say why he changed his mind. "If the community decides (Jennie Hall) meets the historical criteria, and that a rectangular pool is what needs to be there, I'm okay with that," Foster said. "Granted, that's all it will be."
His staff, however, said they believe Foster was responding to public opinion.
"I think he heard from the community," said David Goodwin, the city's planning and economic development director.
"There was quite a bit of community support and sentiment for Jennie Hall, and I think he's listening to that chorus," said Clarence Scott, the city's leisure and community services administrator. Last week Scott said the City Council would consider the pools issue later this year, but on Monday he said it had been tabled indefinitely. "If we had a world where we had the money to build a regional complex, we feel it would have been a benefit to the community," Scott said. "But all of that is a moot point, primarily because we don't have funding. There's no point in getting people's dander up for something that's not going to happen."
Foster said he thinks the money could be found elsewhere and wants to have the pool discussion this year. But he said he won't delay Jennie Hall's landmark status any longer.
Its supporters weren't taking any chances. "I assume this means there will be a staff recommendation of approval," said Peter Belmont, president of St. Petersburg Preservation, in an e-mail. "But I shouldn't assume anything with the city these days, nor that this decision is any more 'final' than any of their other positions on the subject."
Michael Van Sickler can be reached at (727) 893-8037 or firstname.lastname@example.org