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

Several of the first floor interior walls of the historic downtown YMCA are curved near an entrance to the exterior central courtyard.
Several of the first floor interior walls of the historic downtown YMCA are curved near an entrance to the exterior central courtyard.
Published Feb. 4, 2016

ST. PETERSBURG

Restoration of downtown's historic former YMCA is barely under way, but its new owner is already talking about plans for a multistory annex.

South Florida developer Nick Ekonomou, whose purchase of the boarded-up, Mediterranean Revival-style building became official in November, said he will erect a nine-story luxury rental apartment complex and garage behind the building at 116 Fifth St. S.

Rising at the 3,000-square-foot site, sandwiched between the Tampa Bay Times building and the old Y, will be five floors of parking, 20 luxury studio apartments and a roof-top bar and lap pool, "so people can lay out in the sun and have a drink."

Ekonomou, who played football for Florida State in the 1980s and for professional teams in Raleigh-Durham, Sacramento, and briefly in the NFL for the Miami Dolphins, said he's on schedule to submit plans to City Hall for the new building and for renovations of the old Y by June.

The two buildings will become the Edward, a boutique hotel and event venue named in honor of Ekonomou's father and grandfather. Rooms will have names reflecting his family's Greek and German ancestry.

The developer said he foresees renovating the old Y — purchased for $1.4 million — for about $6 million. The new building should cost around $4 million, he said.

The new structure will mimic the Mediterranean-style architecture of the 1920s-era Y and connect to it with "walk-throughs on every level," Ekonomou said.

While he awaits city approvals, exterior work on the former Y will proceed.

"We are getting bids for the windows. We are getting bids for the repainting of the exterior. We'll have the whole outside of the building done, watertight, so that the building doesn't continue to be damaged and it is less of an eyesore," he said.

Last week he walked through the former YMCA and discussed plans for its main floor, three floors above and the basement, home to a long-drained swimming pool that he says will again welcome swimmers.

"You could see how solid this building is," he said, slapping a steel I-beam.

The 60,000-square-foot building features balconies, arched windows, imported Spanish tiles, ornate iron work and two fireplaces.

Ekonomou says he'll turn a room off the entry into a daytime lounge for the Edward's residents and guests and a cocktail and piano lounge at night. A private membership club off that space will offer cigar and whiskey bars. The sprawling gym will be transformed into a ballroom for weddings and parties, a venue for small concerts, art shows and for other events. It opens into a small courtyard.

Most of the short- and long-term rental units will be studio-size. The fourth floor will house three penthouse suites, two with spiral staircases to look-out towers.

Work has begun on the roof. Rows of the original barrel tiles lie in readiness on several floors. Most are intact. Ekonomou said he's working with a company that will match those that are missing or broken.

He has hired a film production company to document the restoration and hopes to parlay the effort into a reality TV series.

Ekonomou is already familiar to residents in St. Petersburg's stately Allendale neighborhood, where he owns two large properties. Neighbors opposed his plans to change the orientation of a parcel at 901 40th Ave. N, where the home sits on eight lots. Residents are concerned he might raze it and build several homes on the smaller lots.

His other Allendale property is at 3900 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. N. Last year neighbors filed a third-party application asking the city to designate the home, built in 1930 by Allendale developer Cade Allen, a local historic landmark. Ekonomou came to an agreement with them.

"I like historic preservation. I like things of historic significance and value," he said recently. "That's why I bought the YMCA."

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

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