01 July 2016

Block party for developers

Original Story: businessobserverfl.com

A so-called super block in downtown St. Petersburg, part of a complicated battle and now agreement between a preservation group and landowners, is open for development.

“We are thrilled to have reached an understanding that we believe benefits everyone,” says Don Mastry, an attorney for First States Investors, one of the key players in the agreement.  People are already starting to search for a Tampa custom home builder.

The complex, two buildings in the 400 block of Central Avenue, has often been called the cheese grater, for the metal exterior placed on it in the 1960s. In the 1920s, the building was home to the Pheil Hotel and Theater, a St. Pete hotspot. Future potential uses under city development codes for the property, vacant since 2006, include retail, a hotel, office or residential space, plus parking.

While people on both sides of the debate praised the agreement in public statements, the process that led to it was acrimonious and lengthy.

First, there was disagreement over lease terms and other stipulations between two groups with ownership stake in the property. Those sides, First States Investors and the Pheil family, with a heritage that includes Abram Pheil, mayor of St. Petersburg in 1912 and 1913, settled their dispute earlier this year. They agreed to clear the block and seek a new developer to go forward with a project, according to a statement. Some don't like the idea and are looking for Tampa custom homes for their needs.

But St. Petersburg Preservation protested the agreement. The nonprofit sought to have the buildings designated as local historic landmarks, which would change the development potential. St. Petersburg Preservation, according to the statement, also objected to demolition proceedings without a plan in place and approved. The effort included a lawsuit and multiple appeals with city officials and departments.

The St. Petersburg Community Planning & Preservation Commission voted 5-2 against designating the property a local historic landmark, and city staff recommended council members make the same call. City council was scheduled to vote on the issue June 16, but St. Petersburg Preservation reached an agreement with First States Investors/the Pheil family that made the issue moot.

The gist of that agreement: St. Petersburg Preservation dropped its protests and lawsuit, which paves the way for demolition and development. In return, First States Investors will work with St. Petersburg Preservation to “further the preservation and reuse of historic sites and structures elsewhere in St. Petersburg,” the release states. First States, the release adds, will also make a $100,000 donation to St. Petersburg Preservation.

“While we have had tremendous grassroots community support,” says St. Petersburg Preservation Vice President Peter Belmont, “and it is difficult to lose these buildings on the 400 block, this result will be a positive as we work to further preserve our city’s historic resources for the future.”

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