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Unlikely duo may move Snell House

Published Oct. 10, 2005

They disagree on most other things, but downtown developer Bay Plaza Cos. and preservation group Save Our St. Petersburg (SOS) have pledged to cooperate to move the historic Perry Snell House out of the path of future development.

They are looking for an empty lot and a buyer for the first home that settler Perry Snell built in St. Petersburg. "One of the reasons we'd like to do it as quickly as possible is to move it before it deteriorates," Bay Plaza president Robert L. Jackson Jr. said Thursday.

There already is "concrete cancer," or deterioration of the concrete, as well as termite damage and wood rot, Jackson said. There also are signs that people who previously may have found shelter in the Soreno Hotel now are sleeping in the Snell House at 105 Second Ave. NE.

Bay Plaza, a subsidiary of Kansas City, Mo.-based J.

C. Nichols Co., previously had discussed moving the two-story house to a museum setting, but SOS until this week had considered trying to save the home at its current location. Now, SOS and Bay Plaza have agreed to work together to see whether renovation at a new site is possible.

"We're prepared to cooperate with those who want to send us back to Kansas City in order to move the house somewhere," Jackson said, in a reference to critics from SOS who have said his company should leave town.

One possibility would be for Bay Plaza to buy a lot downtown or nearby, move the Snell House and sell it to recoup the costs. Another would be to find a private buyer who would buy a lot and pay to move the house.

"If none of these work out," said SOS president Tim Clemmons, "then perhaps we're back in the position of looking at the Pinellas Pioneer Settlement," a pastoral, museum-like setting near Boyd Hill Nature Park.

SOS and Bay Plaza generally disagree on downtown development issues. SOS led an unsuccessful drive to save the Soreno Hotel before Bay Plaza razed the 68-year old Mediterranean Revival building in January; another preservation battle is brewing over the fate of the Ponce de Leon Hotel at 94 Central Ave.

But an accord appears to be near concerning the Snell House. "We agreed to disagree on most other issues," Clemmons said, "but we agreed to work together on this. We agreed that other issues are unrelated."

Bay Plaza's Jackson says the Snell site, like the Soreno, eventually will be redeveloped as part of his company's planned shopping and entertainment district.

Costs of moving the Snell House have not been determined. The Pinellas Pioneer Settlement recently said it would like to have the house, and asked Bay Plaza and SOS to each donate $5,000 toward the move. For SOS, a $5,000 donation would equal a gift it recently was offered by Warner Bros. movie producer Joel Silver. Warner Bros. used the Soreno demolition in an explosion scene for the movie Lethal Weapon III.

Clemmons said SOS would not have $5,000 available because it had bills to pay with some of that money.

Bay Plaza meantime had offered to double its pledge and donate $10,000 toward a move to the pioneer settlement. But Clemmons had said SOS might oppose such a move without first seeing whether the Snell House could stay downtown and be renovated into a single-family home or offices.

Jackson said he still hoped SOS would contribute money if needed for a house move. "We feel that SOS at a minimum, if it is truly interested in preservation, should contribute whatever amount of money they can from the $5,000 they got from Warner Brothers," Jackson told the City Council during a project update Thursday.

Proving that any truce with preservationists would be tenuous, the Bay Plaza president said: "I would hope that SOS would be kind enough to provide an accounting of that" use of the $5,000 and contribute whatever money remains. Even, he said, if that amount is only $1.