Another snag for St. Petersburg's historic former YMCA building?

Published Aug. 1, 2018

ST. PETERSBURG — The former YMCA building, which has endured the whims of would-be saviors since being shuttered almost two decades ago, might be star-crossed.

Just when it seemed that work might at last begin on restoring the Mediterranean Revival-style building at 116 Fifth St. S, a new lawsuit has been filed contesting its ownership.

The volley has been fired by music promoter Thomas Nestor, who has already waged and lost a prior legal battle that gave current owner Nick Ekonomou the right to buy the historic landmark. The new suit accuses Ekonomou of interfering with Nestor's plans to purchase the downtown building. Nestor is demanding a jury trial.

Meanwhile, Ekonomou, a South Florida developer and former football player, has plans to convert the former Y into a boutique hotel and to build an eight-story tower with a rooftop bar behind the boarded-up landmark. The new building would contain 39 rooms, while the historic four-story building would have 44 rooms.

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Ekonomou, though, has struggled to realize his vision since acquiring the former Y in 2015. On July 10, an impatient, but relieved Community Planning and Preservation Commission approved his conceptual plan for the building, but required that almost a dozen conditions must be met by October in order for the project to proceed.

Nestor, who attended the meeting, urged the commission not to approve Ekonomou's plan. He filed his lawsuit days later, but told the Tampa Bay Times this week that the action has nothing to do with Ekonomou's project.

"Regardless of who owns the landmark building, I do have objective concerns about whether the rehabilitation of the building is being shortchanged by Mr. Ekonomou," he said. "Mr. Ekonomou has not submitted the necessary rehabilitation plan, nor a completed Certificate of Appropriateness application. He is not ready."

Ekonomou disagrees.

"We are on course. It's minimal things," he said. "The architect is working on it."

The dispute dates back to 2014, after Ekonomou became a backup buyer for the historic building, in the event the contract between Nestor and the building's then owners fell through.

Nestor had begun soliciting donations through Facebook, guided tours, community jam sessions and even on the steps of City Hall in 2012 in order to cobble together installment payments for the $1.4 million purchase. The donations helped to cover monthly, nonrefundable deposits ranging from $8,000 to $20,000 to buy the building he planned to convert into a music museum and performance venue.

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In 2014, though, a circuit judge ruled that Nestor had failed to meet the terms of a court-sanctioned settlement to purchase the building. He appealed the decision and lost and then sought a rehearing and a written decision. That was also denied.

This latest suit continues Nestor's fight to own the former Y.

"Since the scheduled closing on July 15, 2014, and the seller's failure to provide the deed for my purchase ... I have been pursuing legal action to correct this wrong," he said.

Nestor said he sued because of Ekonomou's "interference" with his ability to close on the long-vacant building. He added that Ekonomou "had directed the seller, Philip J. Powell, to reject the amount tendered and to terminate" his contract to purchase the landmark.

As far as Ekonomou is concerned, the matter is over.

"This has already been in trial court and in the appellate court and has already been ruled on, against him, in favor of me," he said.

"So this lawsuit is baseless and frivolous and it's sad to see that there are attorneys out there enabling Nestor to continue this charade. ... What really concerns me is all the people that were taken advantage of and lied to by Nestor for hundreds of thousands of dollars."

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Nestor hopes to pick up where he left off in 2014.

"My team and I would ensure that the landmark St. Petersburg YMCA building was restored and preserved for a community purpose, including a focus on music for all to enjoy," he said.

In 2004, Powell's investment group bought the building for a little more than $1 million, with plans to convert it into luxury condominiums. The partnership put the building on the market two years later and while there was plenty of interest, buyers balked at the potential cost of renovations. A bank offered cash — under the condition that the 1927 building could be razed.

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