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Condo plan near St. Peter's detailed

The developer of a high-rise condominium to be built on property owned by a downtown church has unveiled details of the project planned for the west side of Williams Park.

The 22-story building will include 78 units ranging from the mid $400,000s to more than $1-million, office and retail space, and a six-level garage for about 325 vehicles.

Missing from the multimillion-dollar project will be elements of a historic former Baptist sanctuary that city officials had said must be preserved as part of the new complex.

The project is seen as vital to the survival of St. Peter's Episcopal Cathedral, whose leaders say they need the upgraded space that will come with it. Their agreement with the developer, Cathedral Partners LLC, a subsidiary of the Bullard Group, will give the congregation at 140 Fourth St. N 51,000 square feet for facilities that would include a parish hall, nursery, kitchen and a new chapel. The congregation will also get 35 permanent parking spaces and an additional 80 to 100 on Sundays.

To get what it needs, St. Peter's will give Cathedral Partners $5-million and the right to build on its property. The plan has run into opposition from some church members, who question its financial soundness and say the developer is benefiting at the expense of St. Peter's.

"The church now has become the mascot for a residential condominium project, and our focus has always been to enlarge the presence of the cathedral," said Marie M. Dahm, who added that St. Peter's Gothic revival church will be dwarfed by the complex.

Thursday, the cathedral and developer will ask the City Council to waive a requirement that the facade of the old Baptist church be included in the project, said Fred B. Bullard III of Cathedral Partners. They also will ask for a 12-month extension of their request for a certificate to demolish the historic structure, he said, adding, however, that demolition could take place sooner. Bullard said the company needs the time to secure financing, develop construction drawings and complete preconstruction sales.

A six-month extension was granted late last year. At the time, St. Peter's and its developer said they would use the additional time, in part, to determine whether they could meet a city stipulation to preserve the facade of the old Baptist sanctuary near St. Peter's as part of the project.

This week, Bullard said it would be impractical to save any part of the neoclassical building.

"From an aesthetic standpoint, it's less than desirable to have postmodern architecture in downtown St. Petersburg. It's sort of out of fashion, so to speak," he said.

He added that engineering studies have concluded that the old church would not survive construction or any type of move.

"It would be a massive undertaking. There are a hundred reasons why it doesn't work," he said.

Church members who oppose the project say they can offer a cheaper alternative to the proposed project. A silent majority opposes it, they say.

Bullard disagrees.

"Most of the people who are informed and have taken the time to understand the project understand what St. Peter's is getting and are in favor of it," he said. "The deal has gotten better and better for St. Peter's, because construction costs have continued to skyrocket."

Bullard said the cathedral will get about $10.5-million worth of space and parking for its $5-million investment and land. "In essence, what we're doing is paying them $5-million for their land, which is three times what it's worth."

Dahm disputes his argument. "I'm a real estate broker," she said. "In my estimation, based on their plan, the property is worth $12- to $18-million, and I challenge him to an independent appraisal."