Without a doubt the question we hear the most often at PTB is: What’s going on with the old YMCA on 2nd Avenue South and 5th Street?
The short, and unsatisfying answer is: Not Much.
Despite the construction boom of the past several years, both with new construction and the renovation of historic buildings, little progress has been made on bringing the historic YMCA building back to life. Since 2014 when the present owner purchased it, he has repeatedly said that work would begin soon to convert the Historic Y into a boutique hotel, yet our community still waits. In some ways the situation harkens back several decades to the long, drawn-out story of bringing the Vinoy Hotel back to life. Many promises were made (and broken) about how and when the historic hotel would be renovated. Today the Vinoy is once again a landmark beauty on the waterfront. Let us be optimistic that eventually the historic “Y” will also be a building that helps keep St. Petersburg special!
The historic YMCA building is located downtown at the corner of 5th Street and 2nd Avenue South. Currently vacant, it sits on the same block as the historic Tramor Cafeteria that fronts 4th Street and has been most recently used as the Hofbrauhaus. Construction began on the YMCA building in 1925. It was one of the city's first community funded projects supported with $550,000 in donations. The building included a gymnasium with a running track suspended from the ceiling, lobbies for boys and men, club rooms, a cafeteria, facilities for boxing and wrestling, and a large swimming pool in the basement. (Still today, one can sneak a peek thru the windows located just above the 2nd Avenue sidewalk and catch a glimpse of the now empty swimming pool.) On the building’s third and fourth floors were 54 dormitory rooms that provided inexpensive lodging for men.
The YMCA closed the building’s residential program in 1989; its recreational facilities remained open until the YMCA relocated to a new building near Central Plaza in 2001. Subsequently, the historic YMCA building was sold several times. In 2005, much of the interior was demolished (some significant interior features still remain) in preparation for a condo conversion that failed to move forward. The last sale was for approximately 1.5 million dollars to an entity managed by Nick Ekonomou, a former FSU football star from Miami.
Current Owner’s Stated Plans
Ekonomou has stated on a number of occasions that he intends to convert the building into a boutique hotel and possibly add a new building on a small portion of the parcel between the historic building and the adjacent former St. Petersburg Times building. A number of years ago he told a Tampa Bay Times reporter that his plans were being delayed because his contractor had lost his license. Most recently, in a June 2020, Tampa Bay Times article he was quoted as saying the coronavirus has “put back the hospitality business.” Several years ago, the City started code enforcement action in an effort to ensure the building was not further deteriorating.
The City has affirmatively acted to address parking for the historic building which had been identified as an issue in successfully reusing the building. In 2012 City Council agreed to a partial street vacation for a portion of the streetscape around the building so it could be used for exclusive parking for the building’s users rather than for the public at large.
The property was determined eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places in 1985 and listed as a local St. Petersburg landmark in 1991. It was deemed significant for its architecture (an excellent example of the Mediterranean Revival style), as one of the early works associated with local architect Archie Parish, and for having been built by local contractors Edward S. Moore and Sons.
As a designated local landmark, demolition cannot proceed without issuance of a certificate of appropriateness ("COA") for demolition. To be entitled to such a COA, the owner/applicant must establish that no reasonable beneficial use can be made of the property. A COA application for demolition was made in 2012, city staff recommended denial, and ultimately the application was withdrawn.
In being declared eligible for the National Register, significant tax credits are available for building renovation. Let us hope the owner of the historic “Y” takes advantage of those tax credits to move forward with building renovation or offers the building to another buyer who will do so and the question “what is going on with the YMCA building” will no longer need be asked!