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St. Pete preservationists get grant to save historic properties

Preserve the 'Burg, the group that helped to save the Vinoy, will use the funds to bolster its preservation efforts citywide

ST. PETERSBURG – Preserve the ‘Burg, the impassioned group that has drawn the ire of some property owners and the admiration of others, is taking a significant step.

The group announced Thursday it has received a $75,000 grant that will be used to establish a fund to help pursue its preservation efforts by buying and saving historic structures. The grant from the 1772 Foundation, a Rhode Island nonprofit that has given millions for historic preservation and farmland preservation nationwide, will be supplemented with matching funds from the city.

The preservationists’ new historic properties program will also be bolstered with $100,000 it received in a 2016 agreement to drop a lawsuit to save the Pheil Hotel and Theater and Central National Bank on the 400 Central Avenue block. The demolished buildings are being replaced with a $300 million mixed-use project that could include the tallest condo tower on Florida’s west coast.

Related: Preservations file lawsuit to prevent demolition of Pheil Hotel, National Bank buildings

Monica Kile, executive director of Preserve the ‘Burg, said the group has formed a committee to make decisions about which buildings to save. The first will probably be a 1910 building near downtown that must make way for development. Former Council Member Jim Kennedy has offered to donate the building at 856 Second Ave. N to Preserve the ‘Burg, which plans to move it.

Related: New St. Petersburg historic district draws praise, ire

“We have been putting the resources that we have toward preservation, but until now, we have not had the money to purchase a property,” Kile said.

The $250,000 nest egg “gives us an opportunity to do preservation in a way we have not been able to do before,” she added. “It’s a huge turning point for Preserve the ‘Burg. ... We can now do things that other preservation organizations have been doing around the country with great success.”

Preserve the 'Burg was inspired to apply for the grant after a presentation last October by two nationally known preservationists, Brian Davis, executive director of the Louisiana Trust for Historic Preservation, and Daniel Carey, past president and CEO of the Historic Savannah Foundation. The men talked about “revolving funds," a financial strategy being used by preservation groups around the country to save endangered properties and neighborhoods.

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

The 1772 Foundation grant application was boosted by the promise of matching funds from the city. Council Member Gina Driscoll approached Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin to ask for a city match. Tomalin didn’t hesitate, Driscoll said. The money must still be approved by the City Council.

“Preserve the ‘Burg has been such a strong organization with preserving historic elements in the city, and this gives them a great opportunity to be proactive with future preservation projects,” Driscoll said. “I’m thrilled for them and really thrilled for the city, as well.”

The organization, founded in 1977 as St. Petersburg Preservation, is credited with helping to save the Vinoy and landmarking the Detroit Hotel, and both saving and landmarking the segregation-era Jennie Hall Pool.

Related: St. Pete panel approves 45-story condo tower. Would be West Florida’s tallest.

“St. Pete’s attractive, walkable downtown, so unique in Florida, means that the demolition of smaller historic buildings to replace them with million-dollar condos, townhomes and apartment complexes will continue unabated into the foreseeable future,” Kile said.

“Preserve the 'Burg’s new revolving fund, designed to save some of these threatened properties, is just one more tool to help preserve the very character and charm that is drawing people to the city in the first place.”