At the April Community Planning and Preservation Commission (CPPC) meeting, Commissioner Will Michaels requested an update on the hotel at 234 3rd Ave N., known historically as the Martha Washington or Heritage Hotel, noting that the property is on the city’s “Potentially Eligible List” or “PEL” in city jargon.
But what is the PEL? What buildings are on it and what does it mean for preservation in St. Pete? Like a lot of preservation-related issues in the City, the answer is, “it’s complicated.”
The City created the “Potentially Eligible List” in 2006 in response to public comments following the City’s 2005 Preservation Summit. Participants were asked to identify buildings that they considered special or unique to St. Pete but were not yet designated as local landmarks. The city would then draw from this “potentially eligible” list and move properties through the Landmark designation process.
At least, that was the plan. The PEL included 55 properties when the City officially adopted it in 2006. Today, that number has dwindled to 39.
It’s not all bad. 10 of the original 55 buildings on the PEL have been designated as local landmarks. Two - The Detroit Hotel and the Bishop Hotel - were “3rd Party” applications filed by Preserve the ‘Burg. Another five were “owner initiated.”
By contrast, the City has initiated applications for (and designated) just three PEL properties (Crescent Lake Water Tower, Jordan Elementary School, the Palladium) since the PEL was adopted 17 years ago.
Meanwhile, five PEL listed buildings have been demolished (Holiday Motel, Central National Bank, Pheil Hotel, Gandy Home, Mitchell Apartments). And although Preserve the ‘Burg successfully designated two PEL properties, PTB initiated applications for six PEL properties. Three applications were denied and the buildings were demolished; one application was denied and the building remains (Blocker Home).
No PTB application for a PEL building has been approved since 2013.
If you’re keeping track, the City has a 3-5 losing record over nearly two decades.
The City’s Comprehensive Plan requires the PEL to be updated annually. However, the PEL has never been updated from its original 55 prospective historic properties. The Comp Plan also says the City “will endeavor to initiate and process” at least three landmark applications annually. Based on a review by PTB staff, the City has not initiated three landmark applications annually in nearly 20 years, and has not initiated a landmark application for a PEL building since 2012.
In addition to seeing PEL buildings demolished, approximately 60 contributing buildings to the Downtown National Register Historic District have been demolished since the district was designated in 2004.
We know that incentives are key to helping preserve and restore historic resources. To that end, in 2018, the City Council approved $5 million in preservation grant dollars for historic building renovations within the Intown Redevelopment Area, with up to $1 million available per year. Unfortunately, the City has not taken applications, and no money has been awarded since 2019.
Where does this leave the potentially eligible buildings such as the Martha Washington/Indigo/Exchange Hotel and its pending application for demolition, which is scheduled to be heard at the Development Review Commission meeting on July 12?
We think the time has come for the City to determine what needs to be done to maintain St. Petersburg’s sense of place, including whether to proceed with landmark designation of PEL buildings such as the Heritage/Indigo/Exchange Hotel, and we urge the Community Planning and Preservation Commission, City staff and the public to take a proactive role in encouraging that discussion.
We all know that new development activity in St. Pete is occurring at a record-setting pace. We love to see our city prosper, grow and evolve. But growth - especially at such a break-neck pace - must be responsibly managed in order to retain a city’s character and quality of life. From a preservation perspective, we’re clearly falling short.