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Work stopped on multimillion-dollar downtown St. Petersburg project

A cease-and-desist order has put on hold the demolition of the Floronton Hotel 25 Second St. N. in downtown St. Petersburg, delaying what could be a multimillion-dollar redevelopment project.

DIRK SHADD | Times

A cease-and-desist order has put on hold the demolition of the Floronton Hotel 25 Second St. N. in downtown St. Petersburg, delaying what could be a multimillion-dollar redevelopment project.

ST. PETERSBURG — Taped to a downtown building that once housed the office of the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is a document that could stall a multimillion-dollar redevelopment project.

The cease-and-desist stipulation posted at 25 Second St. N has halted, at least temporarily, work to demolish an old hotel that would make way for a new development across from Jannus Live.

The order to stop work until proper permits are issued came after windows on the top two floors of the four-story building had already been removed, leaving shutters framing the gaping holes.

The city directive was a surprise to vice president Jerome Hollo of Tropicana Redevelopment, the Miami company that owns the property and has plans for a more than $100 million project.

"I was not aware that they had posted that," Hollo said during a telephone interview. "I was aware that they had not approved the permit application" for demolition.

The decision to halt predemolition work on what had once been the Floronton Hotel was made by Rick Dunn, the city's building official, who said he received a call saying that windows had been removed.

He said that since a site plan had not been filed or approved for the property, the city denied a Jan. 17 application to demolish the structure.

"The owners of the property, they have been working on a plan to develop the whole site and they are not disclosing what it is at this point," Dunn said.

"They have submitted nothing for our review."

It was early last year that Tropicana Redevelopment announced plans to build a residential and hotel complex on the 2-acre property. Those plans, though, are still evolving.

"Since that time, we have been approached through the city and on our own by corporate entities who have expressed an interest in locating their offices on the site," Hollo said. "We need to finish whatever discussions with these entities to get some commitment on their part."

Their decisions will determine the composition of the project, whether it will consist of a hotel and commercial space, or a hotel and residential units, Hollo said.

"We are pretty set on one of the components being a hotel and we have a hotel operator online already," he said, declining to reveal the name.

The city was alerted to the predemolition work by St. Petersburg Preservation, a group that works to save historic sites and structures in the city. Will Michaels, a former president, said the Floronton Hotel — built in 1910 for tourists and drafted to serve as headquarters for the Army Air Force's Technical Training Command during World War II — has historic value.

"It was the first masonry hotel," Michaels said. "It's the last building that is remaining on that whole block."

Several years ago, the group reluctantly agreed to let the building be demolished for another project. At the time, members campaigned for some type of historic marker and asked that significant artifacts be given to the St. Petersburg Museum of History.

Now, though, current St. Petersburg Preservation president Peter Belmont says he would like to see the nearly 41,000-square-foot building incorporated into the new project.

"That would be the best thing and if there is a plan that does not do that, then we would have to look at that plan and see whether that was acceptable," he said.

"We would like to see the building saved. . . . Oftentimes, it can be feasible to redevelop property and incorporate the history that is present."

Hollo doesn't think that would be possible and said nothing of historical importance remains at what most recently has been referred to as the Tropicana building.

"When we came in, the facade had been redone and the interior had been redone," he said.

"At some point in the past, it had been converted to an office building. That was before we acquired it."

Tropicana Redevelopment, an affiliate of Florida East Coast Realty, bought the building and its 2-acre site for $4 million in 2001.

Hollo acknowledged that the stop work order could delay plans for the property's development.

"However, to this point, the city has been good to work with and I don't think they would let it happen," he said.

"We will talk to the city about how we can progress,'' he said. "Unfortunately, I don't know how long this will take. "

Times Researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at wmoore@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2283.

Work stopped on multimillion-dollar downtown St. Petersburg project 02/05/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 5, 2013 5:31pm]
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