The community led effort to save the downtown St. Petersburg historic YMCA building, at 116 5th Street South, has won its first battle. The owner of the Mediterranean Revival styled building has requested a delay of the hearing that had been scheduled for Nov. 16 to determine whether to grant his request to demolish the building.
The City is rescheduling the hearing for Dec. 14. Since the 1991 designation of the historic YMCA building as a local landmark, City approval has been required before the building can be demolished.
Local Historic Designation gives residents an important tool to exercise their opinions and to influence what should happen to the historic YMCA building. And the community has spoken.
St. Petersburg Preservation has handed out thousands of mail-in petitions urging City Council to vote No on demolition. The petitions have been in such demand that thousands more have just been printed. The City has been receiving a steady flow of the signed petitions in the mail and more than 500 of the petitions signed by people touring the building this past Sunday will be delivered to City Council today.
Additionally, more than 500 on-line petitions developed by a community-organizing group, Awake Pinellas, have been emailed to City Council with the same message. Many others have been emailing their own personal comments to the City in urging No demolition.
And more than 600 people came to see and tour the building last Sunday. The tours were organized by St. Petersburg Preservation, Awake Pinellas and Historic YMCA, Inc., a group seeking to purchase and renovate the building.
You can email your comments on this issue to firstname.lastname@example.org.
While the efforts to hold off demolition are currently successful, the group Historic YMCA, Inc has to make their first payment of $20,000 by Nov. 15 or they lose their contract with the current owner to purchase the building.
However, all is not lost if this group does not prevail. Clearly the community has an emotional connection with this building as thousands have spoken out so far through grassroots efforts to save this cherished building. I heard so many wonderful stories at Sunday’s open house from people who were members of the YMCA before 2001 when the YMCA sold the property for $140,000. Many learned how to swim in the tiled pool. Others talked about the summer camps they attended in their youth surrounded by the ornate Pecky cypress beams and rich panels of decorative Spanish tile from Seville, Spain. They feel their childhood is being torn down if this building is demolished.
What was also amazing to learn, this building was built from funds donated by local residents and businesses of the Tampa Bay area in 1927 to the amount of $550,000. It is significant as one of the largest community funded projects in the City of St. Petersburg. This is the equivalent to the community donating over $7 million in today's dollar relative buying power.
So if Historic YMCA, Inc. does not succeed in its efforts to install their vision into the building, can we as a community come together once again to restore this as a community space?
I believe we can.