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Historic church building on the market

By WAVENEY ANN MOORE
Published May 2, 2007


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St. Peter's Episcopal Cathedral has decided to sell the former Baptist church it bought almost two decades ago and use the money to expand its programs and offer new ministries.

The church wants $1.75-million for the downtown property, which sits across from Williams Park.

In the years since St. Peter's bought the historic former First Baptist sanctuary, it has become something of an albatross, siphoning off thousands of dollars for upkeep and standing in the way of the church's quest for expansion and development.

As recently as last year, the congregation had plans to build a high-rise condominium and six-level garage on the site in conjunction with a private developer.

The multimillion-dollar project fell victim to a changing real estate market, rising interest rates and higher construction costs, cathedral officials said.

The plan now is to sell the neoclassical revival church at 120 Fourth St. N and proceed with a less ambitious project: a one-story building with 18, 000 square feet that will house offices, meeting and fellowship space.

One thing the new project will not provide is parking, which St. Peter's had described as a dire need.

"We decided to spend money for people, not cars, " said Sheree Graves, the cathedral's senior warden.

Graves said the new building will include room for the cathedral's music program, a state-of-the-art nursery, a new, larger kitchen and an area for brides.

St. Peter's will demolish its office building, parish hall and Cathedral Center for Ministry building, once the education center of the old Baptist church, to make room for the project. The memorial garden and St. Peter's historic Gothic revival cathedral at 140 Fourth St. N, will remain.

"We will be connecting the cathedral with the new building, " Graves said.

Discussing the church's decision to sell the former Baptist church, Graves noted that everything in real estate is about timing.

"We, for the last couple of years, have been heading down the road where that property would have been part of a bigger development. The project didn't grow legs fast enough, " she said. "We've been looking at our options. It all boiled down to money."

St. Peter's has raised $4.5-million in pledges and cash toward redevelopment. Ground breaking for the project is expected to occur by the end of the year. The cathedral has leased nearby space to be used during construction.

Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at 892-2283 or moore@sptimes.com.

Fast Facts:

A time line

1990 First Baptist Church of St. Petersburg leaves its downtown sanctuary and moves to Gandy Boulevard. St. Peter's Cathedral buys the old Baptist property, which includes the church and educational building, for $1-million.

1994 Former Baptist sanctuary designated local historic landmark.

2001 St. Peter's seeks permission from St. Petersburg Historic Preservation Commission to tear down the historic church. Preservationists oppose the proposal. The request is denied twice. Later that year, St. Peter's wins the support of Mayor Rick Baker and the council agrees to let the cathedral demolish the old sanctuary, provided it can show it has the money for any new construction. It is given until December 2004 to raise the money.

2004 City Council grants a one-year extension to the demolition permit, if the cathedral agrees to preserve the Baptist church facade.

2005 St. Peter's signs a contract with a developer to build a condominium tower and parking garage on property that includes the old Baptist sanctuary.

2006 The plan hits a stumbling block when the city's Environmental Development Commission says the six-level garage must be enclosed, which will cost more money.

2007 The cathedral and the developer end their agreement to build the high-rise condominium and garage. A few months later, St. Peter's decides to sell the former Baptist church.

[Last modified May 1, 2007, 20:03:25]


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