ST. PETERSBURG —The cottage-like motel with colorful doors on Fourth Street N seems destined for demolition, fated to be replaced with a retail strip.
City Council members last week unanimously denied a request from Preserve the 'Burg — the group whose aim is to "educate, advocate, and celebrate what makes St. Pete special" — to designate the Holiday Motel a local historic landmark. In doing so, the council rejected a staff recommendation to give the motel landmark status. Instead, council members agreed with the Community Planning and Preservation Commission, which declined Preserve the 'Burg's request a few weeks ago.
The council also gave short shrift to a proposal tied to Preserve the 'Burg that sought to relocate the buildings for affordable housing. Motel owners Ramnarace and Marva Jagdeo and the site's proposed developer offered a dire assessment of the buildings, with surveys, inspections and photographs indicating widespread disrepair. Council member Brandi Gabbard expressed doubt that the buildings could be relocated for safe affordable housing. Mentioning "life safety issues" such as faulty electric wiring, lead paint and asbestos, Council member Gina Driscoll wondered whether the motel should even be open, much less preserved.
"It would be a great adaptive reuse, if it was in good repair," she said.
Instead, Armstrong Development Properties, based in Pennsylvania, and whose website shows off projects such as CVS pharmacies and Publix supermarkets, will replace the motel on Fourth Street, between 24th and 25th avenues N, with a retail center.
Most motel guests pay by the week and are long-term tenants, Ramnarace Jagdeo told the council. He added that he and his wife are planning to retire and that historic designation would put "a very big financial burden" on them. The couple bought the hotel in 1986. According to the Pinellas County Property Appraiser, the current market value is about $420,000.
Neighbors appear to agree with development plans for the property. Jennifer Wright, president of the Crescent Heights Neighborhood Association, said there is no significant support for historic preservation.
In a letter to city officials, neighbor Steve Mitchell described the motel as "a patched together, worn and slightly seedy establishment that seems to be existing on fumes and Scotch tape."
Preserve the 'Burg president Emily Elywn said more than 100 people had sent letters to the council seeking to save the motel, which she described as an example of early 20th century roadside architecture. It is on a list of properties the city considers potentially eligible for historic designation.
Peter Belmont, vice president of Preserve the 'Burg, reminded the council that other St. Petersburg buildings had been saved and successfully repurposed, such as along Central Avenue's 600 block. He called a proposal to reuse the motel's three main buildings "a great compromise."
Also speaking Thursday was Bill Reid, owner of Eire Contractors and a representative for the nonprofit St. Pete Community Land Trust, which was behind the plan to move the buildings and use them for affordable housing. Reid said using the motel buildings to address the shortage of affordable places for people to live would be "an opportunity to be creative."
Originally called the Wilmarth Apartments, the Holiday Motel took its name from L.E. and Mame Wilmarth. According to Tampa Bay Times archives, construction began in 1939. Harlan Gregory bought the motel in 1953 and a number of owners followed after he sold it in 1957. His son, Thomas H. Gregory, told city officials in a letter that his mother named the property "The Holiday" and that it was never a motel.
"It was originally a residential (seasonal) housing facility" he said. "In addition, the subject property is not, in my opinion, historic."
Council member Darden Rice said she viewed the motel as a "fixer upper" that would need a lot of work. "I hate to see all of these roadside hotels fall one by one," she said.
In the end, though, she voted with her colleagues to deny the Holiday Motel landmark status.
As for its eye-catching doors, it appears that they might not be historically colorful, after all.
Contact Waveney Ann Moore at [email protected] or (727) 892-2283. Follow @wmooretimes.