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Tour calls attention to hospital roof flaws

A planning board member complains to City Hall after noticing Mercy's crumbling roof during a walking tour.

By JON WILSON

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 4, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- The old Mercy Hospital building on 22nd Street S is a city-owned local landmark carrying official historic designation.

So it surprised and annoyed planning board chairman Virginia Littrell last week when she saw two crumbling sections of the building's roof, a dramatic flaw inspectors normally would push an owner to correct.

Littrell, who was on a neighborhood walking tour that included a state official, got on the phone to City Hall. Standing in front of the building at 1344 22nd St. S, she called four city departments and the mayor's office.

"This is ludicrous," said Littrell, who is a District 4 City Council candidate. "We've been dealing with this for two years."

It wasn't clear late last week what action Littrell's intercession might generate.

The roof is in such bad shape now that the best thing the city can do is work with groups interested in rehabilitating the building, said Bob Jeffrey, historic preservation manager.

The city bought the property in December 1997, three years after it was declared a historic site, and after trying unsuccessfully to get the previous owner, Asimeno Corp. of Clearwater, to improve it.

Now the original 5,400-square-foot structure, built in 1923 and sitting on 4.7 acres of land, is an element in 22nd Street's redevelopment plans, also in the works for several years.

Last week, the street got a close-up look two days in a row.

Wednesday, Mayor David Fischer and 22nd Street boosters gathered at 18th Avenue S to dedicate a sign identifying the neighborhood as the 22nd Street Business District.

"Hang in there. The soil has been tilled. I would expect in two or three years you will see the plants come up," Fischer told the boosters, using a gardening metaphor to describe the redevelopment process.

Across the street at Perkins Elementary Center for the Arts and International Studies, principal Bob Lister was host to a punch-and-cookies reception for the group. A student steel drum band played, its bell-like reverberation echoing through the sound of neighborhood traffic.

Thursday, 22nd Street boosters conducted a walking tour that included Florida Main Street director Laura Lee Fisher and Joan Jefferson, a consultant who is helping the 22nd Street Redevelopment Corp. put together an application for Main Street designation.

Main Street is a state program that offers help in reviving older urban business areas. The 22nd Street group was turned down on its first attempt last year, but is trying again this year.

Annette Howard, the redevelopment corporation's president, pointed out historic residential and retail buildings from the Mercy site south to Fifth Avenue.

Former City Council member Ernest Fillyau, who owns 22nd Street property near Ninth Avenue S was along. So was Melrose-Mercy/Pine Acres Neighborhood Association president Chrisshun Cox and city economic development coordinator Charles Ray.

Howard, who makes an avocation of keeping 22nd Street spruced up, has remained optimistic that the old historic African-American business thoroughfare will make a comeback. The sign dedication and the tour with Fischer were two more benchmarks, she said.

After the tour, Fischer suggested the group compress the area it wants designated for Main Street status. Instead of running from 18th to Fifth avenues S, Fischer suggested the strip go from the Mercy site on 13th Avenue to the old Manhattan Casino in the 600 block.

"That's where most of the historic, commercial buildings are," Fisher said.

As for the Mercy site and its roof problem, the city is whipsawed, said Jeffrey, the preservation manager.

It would cost $175,000 to start fixing the roof, which may be up to 40 years old, he said. The money spent on it would have to be respent when the building is rehabilitated for new occupants, he said.

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