Wish you'd bought the Y?

Here's your chance. The historic building in downtown St. Petersburg is for sale yet again.

Published September 10, 2006

ST. PETERSBURG - The old YMCA building is back on the market as another owner has given up the task of trying to convert the historic building into condominiums.

"It's difficult to walk away," said Philip Powell, who with partner Ken Heretick bought the 1927 Mediterranean revival building two years ago with plans to transform it into 17 condos. "It's an extremely nice project."

Powell and Heretick are the latest in a string of owners with a variety of ideas on how to change the building at 116 Fifth St. S. Since the Y moved to a new facility at Central Plaza seven years ago, six attempts have been made to convert the downtown gem.

Previous owners have been enamored of the building's history, architecture and design details. All have been stymied by the difficulty of reworking a historic structure and creating adequate parking for its tenants.

Powell and Heretick paid more than $1-million in August 2004 and are now selling the property for $3.4-million. Powell said they put considerable money into the project and are just trying to get that back out, not profit from the transaction.

"It's all gutted. There's complete architectural drawings; the project is ready to rock and roll," he said.

Powell said his design would have had completely individualized units in the 46,000-square-foot building, including two 4,000-square-foot penthouses that would have sold for about $1-million each. He said they had contracts on about half the units and will have to return money to those buyers. He said the softening condo market has increased the risk for him, but another buyer might be in a better position to complete the development.

"It doesn't make sense to start construction because of the financial risk," Powell said. "It would probably be a better project for a developer-builder. There's probably not enough profit in it for us."

Powell and Heretick were also involved in the recently suspended Windward at the Harborage condo project along the waterfront near the University of South Florida. After sluggish sales on that project's 62 units, they closed their sales office, returned money to a dozen buyers and now plan to wait for the market to warm up before proceeding.

Before the Y was even ready to build its new center on First Avenue S, developer Grady Pridgen offered to buy the older building in 2000 for $845,000 and create 12 condos. That deal fell through, but a year later credit card marketer Tony Amico bought the building for about half that price with plans to turn it into a grand private residence.

In July 2002 developer Ed Jackson offered $675,000 and intended to create restaurant, retail, office and residential space. That deal also faltered before Manatee County investor Gary Bennett paid the same price later that year and planned 15 condos. Bennett worked on the project for two years before selling to Powell and Heretick out of fear of a weak market.

The property has only 12 parking spaces itself so various plans would have carved as many as 22 out of the building's basement, where handball courts once were. Powell said that's an expensive proposition.

Another hurdle is the building's historical status, which requires retaining the facade. Powell said the land might be the most valuable part of the deal, but a historical building cannot be torn down without proof it holds no viable economic possibilities.

The four-story building was originally built with more than half a million dollars in community contributions. Because it is on high ground, it is one of only a few buildings that has a basement, which contains a pool that has been a classroom to many St. Petersburg natives.

Paul Swider can be reached at 892-2271 or pswider@sptimes.com or by participating in itsyourtimes.com.