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City pressures owner of historic former YMCA to make repairs

Times Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG — Nick Ekonomou, the developer who went into pitched battle to buy the former YMCA building, has fallen behind in his grand plans for the historic downtown property.

The city, which has cited Ekonomou for code violations over the past couple of years, has grown impatient and has scheduled a hearing before the Code Enforcement Board on April 25.

The former professional football player is scrambling to remedy the problems and blames the delay of his redevelopment plans for the 116 Fifth St. S site on a dawdling roofer, the booming and competitive construction industry, vandals and his misunderstanding of the city's requirements.

Nothing has changed," he said of the now $15-$20 million project that seeks to convert the Mediterranean Revival-style building into a boutique hotel and event venue, beside a new, adjoining eight-story building.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Redeveloper of St. Petersburg's former downtown YMCA envisions sweeping changes

"The violations will be closed before I go to the code enforcement board," he vowed.

But James Corbett, director of codes compliance assistance, is doubtful that can happen.

"Realistically, I don't think he can do it to our satisfaction," Corbett said. "Compliance means that the violations no longer exist with all proper approvals and permits. Our case will proceed unless every single item is corrected."

The citations are for disrepair of exterior walls, roof and metal surfaces, as well as for bare wood, peeling paint and broken window glass. The case was originally scheduled to go before the code board on March 27, but Corbett said his office rescheduled it for April to coordinate with the urban planning and historic preservation division, "to ensure we had all items addressed."

Ekonomou could face liens of up to $500 a day, he said.

While the developer has begun work on the roof, some required repairs will have to be approved by the Community Planning and Preservation Commission before they can be tackled, Corbett said.

Derek Kilborn, a manager in the urban planning and historic preservation division, said the city is "very interested" in seeing the YMCA building preserved and began working with Ekonomou after he bought the building in late 2015.

Kilborn said the 1927 building is a designated landmark and that Ekonomou is required to get a certificate of appropriateness to make improvements to its exterior and to construct the adjacent building. But the documents Ekonomou submitted were incomplete, Kilborn said, adding that his division has been unable "to get the minimum information necessary" to schedule a hearing before the Community Planning and Preservation Commission.

"It has been a number of months that we have requested information," he said. "We have expressed to the codes compliance and assistance department that they should proceed. When we have somebody who is working to fix a code violation, codes compliance will work with our office to provide some relief as they go through the certificate of appropriateness. Normally, it's a coordinating effort and it works well."

Monday, Ekonomou said a meeting that day with Kilborn's division offered clarity on what is needed and he expressed confidence that everything would be resolved before the Code Enforcement Board meets.

Preservationists say they are concerned about the building's condition.

"We basically want to make sure the building is maintained, so that it is not deteriorating while it is waiting to be reused," said Peter Belmont, vice president of Preserve the 'Burg.

"No one is more upset than me, the guy who loves the building and cherishes the building," Ekonomou said.

Ekonomou, who said he plans to move to St. Petersburg, continues to acquire more property in the city. In addition to the three houses he owns in Allendale, he's also bought a condominium building in the neighborhood. He also bought the old, red brick church across from St. Petersburg High School. The church will be offered for weddings, operating in tandem with the hotel at the former Y, he said.

Contact Waveney Ann Moore at wmoore@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2283. Follow @wmooretimes.

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