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St. Pete preservationists save one building, look for next project

Preserve the ‘Burg’s new fund to save endangered historic buildings will first benefit the Shell Dash Cottage near Mirror Lake.
Former St. Petersburg City Council member Jim Kennedy poses outside of the historic Shell Dash Cottage in St. Petersburg on Wednesday. Kennedy, who owns the cottage, is donating it to Preserve the 'Burg.
Former St. Petersburg City Council member Jim Kennedy poses outside of the historic Shell Dash Cottage in St. Petersburg on Wednesday. Kennedy, who owns the cottage, is donating it to Preserve the 'Burg. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times ]
Published Jun. 4, 2020

ST. PETERSBURG — When former City Council member Jim Kennedy received an offer to buy the land under his office building in the Mirror Lake neighborhood, it was just too good to turn down.

And Kennedy was able to make a deal that would save the historic building where he had practiced law since 1983 and also benefit Preserve the ‘Burg, an organization once known as St. Petersburg Preservation. Kennedy is donating his former office, known as the Shell Dash Cottage, to the group.

Preserve the 'Burg executive director Monica Kile poses inside of the historic Shell Dash Cottage, Wednesday, June 3, 2020.  Former St. Petersburg City Council member Jim Kennedy is donating the building to Preserve the 'Burg.
Preserve the 'Burg executive director Monica Kile poses inside of the historic Shell Dash Cottage, Wednesday, June 3, 2020. Former St. Petersburg City Council member Jim Kennedy is donating the building to Preserve the 'Burg. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times ]

For Preserve the ‘Burg, the donation is a boost to its newly established revolving fund that will be used to buy, save and restore the city’s endangered historic structures. The organization has helped to save a number of historic St. Petersburg properties, including the Vinoy hotel, but also has angered property owners who disagree with its efforts. The new fund should allow preservationists to take detractors up on their taunts to put their money where their mouth is.

Related: St. Pete preservationists get grant to save historic properties

Kennedy’s donation of the historic building at 856 Second Ave. N is a boost to their mission.

“That’s the idea, giving them an asset to start,” Kennedy said. “If the theory works, they move it, they put a historic easement on it, they sell it, and then they use the money to save another historic building.”

Early this year, Preserve the ‘Burg received a $75,000 grant to establish its revolving fund from the 1772 Foundation, a Rhode Island nonprofit that has given millions for historic preservation and farmland preservation across the U.S. In April, the St. Petersburg City Council approved funds to match the grant.

Related: St. Pete preservation group gets advice from Louisiana, Savannah experts

The plan is to renovate the Shell Dash Cottage and sell it to raise additional money to continue the work of Preserve the 'Burg. The financial strategy has been adapted by preservation groups across the nation to save endangered properties and neighborhoods.

Monica Kile, executive director of Preserve the ‘Burg, said the group is considering several possible sites for the Shell Dash Cottage.

“They all have their pros and cons. Two of them are downtown, and one is just outside of downtown,” she said, declining to give specifics. “We are hoping to have it moved by Aug. 1.”

Kile expects the move will cost less than $50,000. She estimates that work on the cottage, which would leave the exterior unchanged and include putting it on a foundation and stabilizing the building, will cost about $75,000 to $100,000.

Kennedy has fond memories of the building.

“I like history and old stuff,” he said. The Shell Dash Cottage became his office within a year after he began to practice law. It was being rehabbed when he bought it, and Kennedy finished the project.

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“We had to keep the outside wall and had to keep the roof. We kept the original roof and did it by firming it up and fixing up some of the tiles and painting it,” he said.

The Shell Dash Cottage was built by developer Perry Snell and his partner J.C. Hamlett around 1909 or 1910. It is believed to be the last remaining example of the exterior finish created by embedding shells into stucco. The shells were thrown against wet stucco to create the effect, Kile said.

Shell from St. Petersburg was used as part of the stucco exterior of the historic Shell Dash Cottage. Former St. Petersburg City Council member Jim Kennedy is donating the building to Preserve the 'Burg.
Shell from St. Petersburg was used as part of the stucco exterior of the historic Shell Dash Cottage. Former St. Petersburg City Council member Jim Kennedy is donating the building to Preserve the 'Burg. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times ]

“During that time, shell art was a big deal,” she said, describing it as “a very localized technique.”

According to Preserve the ‘Burg, the house probably was the model home for a new subdivision known as Lake View in the Mirror Lake neighborhood.

The new fund is being supplemented with $100,000 from a 2016 agreement that the preservation group made to drop a lawsuit to save the now demolished Pheil Hotel and Theater and Central National Bank on the 400 Central Avenue block. A $300 million mixed-use project is planned for the now vacant downtown property.

Besides helping to save the Vinoy, Preserve the ‘Burg worked to get a local historic landmark designation for the Detroit Hotel and was key in helping to save the segregation-era Jennie Hall Pool. The organization also helped to save the Crislip Arcade in the 600 block of Central Avenue.

The group already is looking for its next project.

“It’s nothing we can talk about yet,” Kile said. “We definitely have some other possibilities for a second project. "