ST. PETERSBURG—The 88-year-old St. Petersburg YMCA has a new owner and a new name. Miami developer Nick Ekonomou plans to convert the decaying, but beautiful building into the Edward, an upscale vacation rental with fine dining, a spa and its own brewery.
"It's named after my grandfather. The era of the building, that's when he was around and grew up. It reminds me of him," he said.
He paid $700,000 in cash and got another $700,000 from a private lender for the $1.4 million purchase.
In September, a circuit judge ruled that Ekonomou had the right to buy the building after a contract dispute with earlier suitor Tom Nestor ended up in court. Nestor's appeal of the judge's ruling is pending.
"I was going to get an acquisition loan and a construction loan but because of the appeal I couldn't get a conventional loan," Ekonomou said. "We are moving forward because we are very confident that we are going to prevail."
Ekonomou has hired architect John Bodziak to design renovations to the four-story building at 116 5th St. S. While waiting on the appeal's outcome, he will move forward with plans, construction bids and permitting in hopes that all of the pieces will be in place to start construction as soon as a legal ruling is made.
"The work should take one year from when we start construction. A maximum of a year and a half," said Ekonomou, a former Florida State University football player.
He envisions 30 luxury suites or apartments. The Edward could be a boutique hotel or it may offer extended-term rentals. The exact concept and prices haven't been determined.
"We want to be give people a chance to stay right in the middle of all this renaissance of downtown," said Paul Wilson, spokesman for the Edward, pointing out that the building is within walking distance of the waterfront as well as shops and restaurants farther west on Central Avenue.
The YMCA's former gymnasium will become a ballroom that the public can lease for events such as weddings or parties.
Ekonomou will make temporary repairs as soon as possible to holes in the tile roof, which were allowing in rain. He also plans to seek a cease-and-desist order to get Nestor to stop his efforts to raise money through a Facebook page and other means to preserve the historic YMCA.
Nestor said he is confident he will win the right to buy the building on appeal "and the community and the landmark will be the better for it."
Katherine Snow Smith can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @snowsmith.