St. Peter's opts for combining hearings to demolish church
By WAVENEY ANN MOORE
© St. Petersburg Times, published February 18, 2001
ST. PETERSBURG -- The Cathedral Church of St. Peter, which wants to demolish a landmark sanctuary to build a parking lot, has decided to forgo a two-part hearing scheduled before the Historic Preservation Commission on Tuesday.
Instead, church officials are opting to consolidate their efforts in favor of one appearance before the commission that will rule whether they can tear down the 77-year-old former First Baptist Church at 120 Fourth St. N.
"Our church will prepare a case for a complete review of our demolition request at a future hearing," Ron Sinclair, a member of the cathedral's chapter or board, said Friday.
"At present, our request would be heard in two segments. . . . We will now request that our entire case be heard by the Historic Preservation Commission in April. We feel that our case is strong and when all the facts are presented, the community will support us."
The commission originally was scheduled to address St. Peter's request on Tuesday, but a tentative date has now been set for April 17.
St. Peter's decision stems, in part, from a staff report released last week recommending that commissioners ask church officials to provide additional, in-depth information to support its application.
The new information, said Rick Smith, a planner with the Urban Design and Historic Preservation Division, "is supposed to demonstrate unbearable burden on the property owner if their demolition request is denied."
The cathedral has a solid case, said Sinclair, the church board member.
"There is something to be said for someone who has owned something for 11 years and paid to maintain it and not been able to use it," he said of the sanctuary St. Peter's purchased in 1990, when the First Baptist congregation moved to Gandy Boulevard.
"We understand that people would like to preserve the church or at least the facade of the church," Sinclair said. "We haven't found any ways to do that and we have explored that."
But with preservation groups rallying to save the structure and a staff report leaning against its demolition, St. Peter's may not be granted its request.
The report states that the former First Baptist Church is a local historic landmark that has been consistently identified as "historically and architecturally significant." The church is a "rare example" of neoclassical revival style in the city, the report continues, and adds that it is a key element "in the streetscape along the west side of Fourth Street N, which has the most significant assemblage of historic buildings in downtown."
Most significant, perhaps, it says that St. Peter's, which hopes to create 43 new parking spaces if the old Baptist church is demolished, failed to demonstrate that there are no alternatives to remedying its parking dilemma.
Further, the staff report points out, the cathedral has more than 4,500 parking spaces in its vicinity.
In its application to tear down the Baptist church, St. Peter's, which has a congregation of more than 1,000, said it faces a severe shortage of parking spaces for those who attend its week-day services and participate in other activities. The only way to solve the problem appears to be to demolish the abandoned church, officials say.
"We feel that it's the church's future that is on the line," Sinclair said, "and we think it's a lot more important than that building."
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