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St. Peter's new plan preserves facade

ST. PETERSBURG — St. Peter's Episcopal Cathedral has devised a plan to save the façade of the historic former Baptist church it owns and possibly appease preservationists who have fought the building's demolition.

The new plan was announced in a May 14 letter to members of the downtown cathedral's congregation.

The proposal, the letter said, "involves retaining the front of the building'' at 120 Fourth St. N, "including the front entrance with its majestic pillars.''

A 40-foot-deep section of the neoclassical building also is being saved, including the side walls, roof and stair towers that rise into the balcony, said Sheree Graves, the cathedral's senior warden.

The remainder of the building will be demolished. A walled sanctuary garden with benches that will be open to the public on weekdays will take its place. Cathedral officials have submitted their proposal to local preservationists.

"We're certainly very interested in it,'' said Will Michaels, president of St. Petersburg Preservation.

"This is certainly a major improvement on what was last proposed, which was a total demolition of the church. Obviously, our preference would be to preserve the entire building.''

A meeting of the two sides is set for May 28. In their letter to parishioners, St. Peter's officials said they also are working to get city approval for the new plan, which they believe "will resolve the long-standing issues around the sanctuary, and allow us to move ahead.''

This is the latest proposal for the former First Baptist Church, which St. Peter's bought almost 18 years ago. Earlier this year, owners of the Princess Martha Hotel next door — now a 119-unit independent living facility — signed an agreement to buy the property for $1.1-million. Well-known philanthropist and businessman William R. Hough, an investor with WRH Income Properties, said then that the Princess Martha needed the space to expand. The sanctuary would be razed, he said.

Preservationists objected and Princess Martha's owners decided not to buy the property. In a report about the historic church across from Williams Park, the St. Petersburg preservation group described it as "a unique example of Greek temple-type neoclassical architecture.''

St. Peter's, its next-door neighbor at 140 Fourth St. N, bought the closed church and its five-story education building for $1-million in 1990. Over the years, the sanctuary has rarely been used and with preservationists strongly opposing demolition, St. Peter's has struggled to develop or sell the property.

The latest plan will incorporate the façade of the historic sanctuary into the cathedral's $7.5-million expansion and redevelopment project. The project remains financially sound despite the canceled sale of the old church, Graves said. In recent months, St. Peter's three-story administration building, one-story parish hall and five-story Cathedral Center for Ministry — once the old Baptist church's education building — have been demolished to make way for the development.

Groundbreaking for St. Peter's three-story, 48,000-square-foot facility for offices, meeting and fellowship space took place May 11. The building will be connected to St. Peter's historic Gothic revival cathedral. Graves said construction is expected to begin in June or July and be complete in 14 months.

Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at or (727) 892-2283.

>>Fast facts

Key moments

1924: First Baptist Church, designed by leading St. Petersburg architect George Feltham, is built.

1990: First Baptist's congregation departs for new quarters on Gandy Boulevard. St. Peter's Episcopal Cathedral buys the property, which includes the church and educational building, for $1-million.

1994: The former Baptist church is designated a local historic landmark.

St. Peter's new plan preserves facade 05/20/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 21, 2008 9:27am]
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