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Landmark status clears the path to restoration

The owner of the 78-year-old building says work could begin today.

By JON WILSON, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 18, 2003

ST. PETERSBURG -- The City Council granted historic landmark status Thursday to a 78-year-old building used years ago as an ice cream factory.

The council's 7-0 vote makes it easier for owner George Rahdert to restore the building at 1601 Third St. S for Marine Desalination Systems, a marine science company expected to open later this year.

What bothered council members was that the city's codes enforcement and building departments might have worked at cross-purposes as the project developed.

Rahdert, a lawyer who represents the Times in First Amendment cases, said codes enforcement slowed the project with orders to stop work on several occasions. Some work was done without the right permits, code officials said.

Rahdert said some of the stop-work orders were unwarranted.

"There really have been errors on the city's side, as well as admittedly on our side," Rahdert said.

Council members were concerned enough to order that codes compliance and permitting for building projects be evaluated by a council committee, with an eye toward improving communication between departments as building projects move forward.

Rahdert decided about two months ago to seek a landmark designation for the former American Maid Ice Cream building, also called the Sealtest building. Such status means Rahdert can avert a federal regulation requiring the structure's floor to be 5 feet above flood level.

Otherwise, he would have had to raise the building 5 feet, rebuild it or not use the first floor.

Rahdert said Thursday's ruling means his contractor, Flaherty Construction, can get a complete restoration permit today and start work immediately.

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