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Downtown St. Petersburg cathedral facade may find buyer

It’s the facade of the former First Baptist Church downtown that has caught a developer’s eye. St. Peter’s owns the property. 

LARA CERRI | Times

It’s the facade of the former First Baptist Church downtown that has caught a developer’s eye. St. Peter’s owns the property. 

ST. PETERSBURG — The imposing facade of the former First Baptist Church — the slice of a historic structure saved from demolition — may find some use, after all.

Ongoing negotiations could result in the facade, with its 30-foot Greek revival columns, being incorporated into a unique downtown garage. The property across from Williams Park is on the market for $1 million.

"We have an offer right now we are negotiating with a major property owner downtown," said Mark Ganier, the RE/MAX listing agent.

St. Peter's Episcopal Cathedral next door has owned the property since 1990 and struggled to sell or develop it, battling preservationists who wanted to save the neoclassical former Baptist church that had been designated a local historic landmark in 1994.

The standoff ended when preservationists agreed to let St. Peter's demolish the back of the building, leaving the facade intact along with a 40-foot deep section of the building.

The congregation's most recent plan had been to use the facade for a columbarium — an area with niches for cremated remains. But that project never got any traction.

During a telephone interview, the Very Rev. Stephen Morris, the cathedral's dean, said there is interest in the property at 120 Fourth St. N, but did not give details.

"It gives the opportunity for all sorts of things," he said when asked why the property was for sale. "Just because you list a property doesn't mean you have to sell it."

"There are two opportunities there," Ganier said.

He said that the developer hopes to build a garage and license 16 spaces to the cathedral, which is also saddled with empty second and third floors of a building it constructed as part of an expansion and redevelopment project.

That's the second opportunity, Ganier said, referring to the unoccupied floors, which he said could be a $4 million deal.

"If we did eight condominiums, with two parking spots per unit — it's all hypothetical — or retail office, you just have to allocate some parking," he said.

And that parking is part of negotiations involving the St. Petersburg developer interested in building the new garage and the Tampa businessman who could take over the two vacant floors, Ganier said.

"No one is going to invest in a redevelopment site like that with no place to park," he said.

Morris was reserved about discussing the second and third floors.

"It's unfinished space right now. We have not grown into it," he said. "We don't have definite plans for those two floors."

St. Peter's Cathedral has faced financial problems in recent years. Writing in the cathedral's January newsletter, Morris said it felt as though the congregation had moved from darkness to light.

"It feels as if that's what we've been doing all year, since we faced up to our serious financial challenges last March," he said.

"We've done a lot to stabilize our financial situation this past year," he told the Tampa Bay Times.

Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at wmoore@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2283.

Downtown St. Petersburg cathedral facade may find buyer 01/28/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 28, 2014 1:48pm]
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