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Board says no to leveling church

The Historic Preservation Commission opposes the downtown Episcopal church's plan for a parking lot.

By WAVENEY ANN MOORE

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 18, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- After a lengthy and emotional hearing Tuesday, the city's Historic Preservation Commission rejected a request by the Episcopal Cathedral Church of St. Peter to level a landmark building.

Church officials say they will appeal the ruling to the City Council.

The congregation is seeking permission to tear down the 77-year-old former First Baptist Church, at 120 Fourth St. N, which it purchased in 1990.

Representatives say they need the property to ease a severe parking shortage, and that the costs of renovating the former church are prohibitive.

Preservation and neighborhood groups object to the demolition of the church, which is designated a local historic landmark.

A staff report recommending denial of St. Peter's request noted that the old Baptist sanctuary is a "rare example of the neoclassical revival style in St. Petersburg."

The report also downplayed the congregation's parking problems, noting that there are 4,500 parking spaces in the vicinity of the downtown cathedral, located at 140 Fourth St N.

Tim Clemmons, president of the North Downtown Neighborhood Association and an architect whose offices overlook the former Baptist church, said he is sympathetic to St. Peter's needs, but opposes any plan to demolish the deserted sanctuary.

On Tuesday, he told commission members that he has a client who is willing to purchase the historic church for its appraised value and convert it to apartments.

During Tuesday's almost four-hour meeting, numerous church members spoke on behalf of St. Peter's.

Bishop John B. Lipscomb, head of the Diocese of Southwest Florida, was among the speakers.

"I take a great deal of pride that the Cathedral Church of St. Peter has chosen to remain in downtown St. Petersburg," said Lipscomb, whose seat is at the 102-year-old Gothic revival cathedral.

Cathedral dean, the Rev. Randall Hehr, said the cathedral's survival downtown depends on adequate parking. Without it, he told commissioners, "We will be forced to consider leaving our site. . . . Vote in favor of saving an historic building called St. Peter's Cathedral."

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