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Panel says hospital has significance

The boarded-up Mercy Hospital, once the only medical facility willing to treat black patients in St. Petersburg, may soon become a historic landmark.

The city's Historic Preservation Commission voted late Thursday to recommend that the building be designated a landmark, said commission chairman John Oxley. Now, he said, the board's decision is passed on to City Council for approval.

But another building considered influential in the history of St. Petersburg's black community did not receive the commission's recommendation. It was a close decision, but the board did not have a majority of votes in favor of landmark status for the Manhattan Casino, 642 22nd St. S.

For decades, Mercy Hospital, 1344 22nd St. S, was the only medical facility for blacks in St. Petersburg after it was built in 1923. The original building and two expansions would be covered by the Preservation Commission's vote Thursday.

The local chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Federation of Inner-City Community Organizations had sought landmark status for Mercy Hospital in hopes of soon creating a medical clinic on the site.

But the compound's owner, Clearwater-based Asimeno Corp., has considered developing public housing on the site. Under current zoning, the company could build some 45 units, said Pam Enriquez, the company's property investigator.

She said the company had opposed efforts to grant landmark status to Mercy Hospital. With such historical distinction, the company's plans for the property would be required to undergo extra scrutiny.

"It would be a drawback for even reselling the property," she said, "because of the restrictions and the steps you have to go through."

But she said the company has no final plans for the property and hopes to discuss possibilities for the property with representatives of the SCLC and FICO. "We feel we're in limbo here," she said.

City Council is scheduled to take the public's comments on the property Dec. 1.

In other business Thursday, the Preservation Commission rejected the former Manhattan Casino as a landmark. Built in 1925, the building was once a popular dance hall for African-Americans, known as "the home of happy feet." It now is a sign shop.

The commission also approved the Rose Garden House at 2955 Central Ave. as a landmark. Now a funeral home, the Craftsman-style bungalow was hailed for its architectural significance.