Peter Belmont: A Steel Thread in the Quilt of St. Pete Preservation

Date
August 18, 2022
Category

Peter Belmont has dedicated more than 40 years of his life to advocating for the preservation of St. Petersburg’s historic and natural resources. A tireless activist, his efforts have left a lasting imprint on the city. In this blog, we’ll share more about the man who founded Preserve the ‘Burg. 

Peter Branum Belmont was born on May 4, 1957, in Ridgewood, NJ. A love of both nature and activism was instilled at an early age by his father Charles, an early member of the Wilderness Society and an avid community volunteer. As a child and young man, Peter joined his father on many outdoor adventures in the West, both with the Wilderness Society and the Boy Scouts of America. Together, father and son also participated in workshops in Washington DC that taught lobbying techniques for the environmental movement.

Peter’s liberal leanings led him to Florida to attend Florida Presbyterian College; he graduated in the first class of the newly renamed Eckerd College, where he majored in Political Science. Realizing his penchant for activism would be better served with a law degree in hand, he attended Stetson Law School and Florida State University College of Law. An internship at the public defender’s office in Bradenton turned into a lifelong career where he developed a reputation for deft arguments before a jury and a patient, steady demeanor with clients. By the time of his retirement he was frequently assigned the most serious cases in the county. Peter valued the flexibility of his position in Bradenton, because it allowed him to pursue the activism which was the driving force in his life. 

While still a law student living in St. Petersburg’s Roser Park, Peter was a founding member of Booker Creek Preservation, an organization working to preserve the neighborhood’s historic character and fight the incursion of interstate-related road projects that threatened dozens of historic homes. Their work saved many historic buildings, including the Dann home, and culminated in Roser Park being declared the city’s first local historic district. 

Deeply concerned by the destruction being wrought by the creation of the interstate, Peter successfully argued for changes to the off-ramps near Maximo Park, reducing their scope and helping to save both the Native American Shell Mounds at that site, as well as a local marina. That work also resulted in the creation of a bicycle and pedestrian trail near Frenchman’s creek and the Bayway. 

In 1977, spurred by the impending demolition of the American Bank and Trust, a group of concerned citizens formed St. Petersburg Preservation, Inc, an organization in which Peter would play a lifelong leadership role. Peter also helped form ‘Save our St. Petersburg’, in the early 1980s, an organization which advocated for the preservation of both the Vinoy and Soreno Hotels. Peter engaged in action against the city to fight the “monster towers” proposed by a developer on the site of the Vinoy Hotel. As part of the settlement of that case, the city agreed to create a local historic preservation ordinance, an invaluable tool in maintaining the special character of St. Petersburg.

Efforts to preserve the Soreno Hotel were ultimately unsuccessful, but Save our St. Petersburg’s work harnessed significant citizen resistance to the Bay Plaza Project, culminating in the preservation of several threatened historic blocks in downtown when the Bay Plaza Company abandoned their project in the city. One of Peter’s proudest achievements is St. Petersburg Preservation’s work to save the historic Crislip Arcade, the anchor of the 600 Block of Central Avenue. Alarmed by a demolition permit filed for the property, Peter prompted St. Petersburg Preservation to file a historic landmark application for the historic arcade, ultimately leading to a compromise that preserved the buildings and inspired a renaissance of that section of Central Avenue. It is now one of the most vibrant and charming locations in the city.

As fun-loving as he is aggressive, Peter was the driving force behind the Waterfront Parks Centennial Celebration in 2010, a year-long series of events that commemorated the 100th anniversary of the founding of St. Pete’s waterfront park system. Organized under the umbrella of St. Petersburg Preservation, the Waterfront Parks Centennial spurred a renewal of that group (later renamed Preserve the ‘Burg or PTB), which grew to more than a thousand members under Peter’s leadership. He took great joy in the growth and popularity of both Movies in the Park and PTB’s Walking Tour program, believing they showcased the best aspects of St. Petersburg. Perhaps no individual has conducted more walking tours or introduced more residents and visitors to the wealth of historic buildings, sites, and stories of St. Pete. Peter believes deeply in preserving and protecting the sense of place that makes St. Petersburg special. 

A dedicated environmentalist, Peter has been an important legal advocate for several wildlife and environmental organizations in the state, including many local state chapters of the Sierra Club. Over the years he sought protection for manatees, successfully fought the phosphate industry, and consistently advocated for wetlands protection. He practiced what he preached, and was often seen whipping around St. Petersburg on his bicycle or driving one of the first hybrid cars. He has a deep love of bicycle touring, and saw the country and the world on two wheels, frequently on the tandem bike he shared with his partner of 40 years, Laurie Macdonald. 

Along with several friends, Peter built his home in the heart of downtown St. Petersburg decades before moving downtown was in vogue. His sense of what people were seeking in a community is almost prophetic. His arguments against things like superfluous interstate offramps and the demolition of historic buildings to make way for surface parking have proved prescient, and the community is richer for the many historic sites he successfully saved. In addition to the Vinoy Hotel, Crislip Arcade, Roser Park, and the Dann Home, he had a hand in the preservation of a long list of local landmarks, including the Jennie Hall Pool, the Detroit Hotel, Lang’s Bungalow Court, local historic districts in the Old Northeast and Kenwood, the Bishop Hotel, and many more. His vision, dedication, and tireless activism have left an indelible mark on the city of St. Petersburg, and his kindness and love for life and people has left an equal mark on all of those who have known and loved him.

Activist, preservationist, and PTB founding member Peter Belmont receives a key to the City of St. Petersburg.
August 19, 2022
Local preservation activist and Preserve the ‘Burg founding member Peter Belmont received a key to the City of St. Petersburg on Thursday, August 18, 2022 at St. Petersburg City Hall. The key to the City is the highest civilian honor and honors Belmont for his lifelong leadership and successful, decades-long resume of local historic and environmental preservation efforts.
June 2, 2022
As Preservation Month 2022 comes to a close, we have a lot to look back on! Join us in reviewing all the events we hosted in recent weeks in honor of Preservation Month.
Preserve the 'Burg Preservation Awards 2022
May 13, 2022
The Preserve the ‘Burg Preservation Awards recognize the people, associations, and businesses helping to preserve, restore, and reuse the historic buildings and places that play a key part in St. Petersburg’s unique sense of place.