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Restaurants planned at former St. Petersburg YWCA

ST. PETERSBURG — Amid the uncertainty and headlines about the 1926 YMCA, a major renovation is about to begin on the former YWCA built in 1924.

Real estate investor Trish Moore, who has renovated several properties in Tampa, purchased the building at 655 Second Ave. S for $552,600. She expects to invest about $400,000 in the standout structure with tall white columns that was originally built as the Endicott Funeral Home. It could be finished as soon as spring.

"I am hoping to have two very fine restaurants. The second floor would be more for private parties, events and weddings. It really, really lends itself to that, with the sweeping entryway and the large, open rooms upstairs," she said. "The downstairs would be restaurants, one on the east and one on west."

Moore is in serious talks with two independent restaurant owners but declined to say who until leases are signed. One, she said, has locations throughout Florida.

Could it be the Columbia, which is slated to leave the Pier by May?

"That would be a fabulous location for the Columbia," Moore said, but she wouldn't confirm or deny if she is negotiating with the landmark Spanish restaurant. The Columbia occupies about 13,000 square feet at the Pier. Owner Richard Gonzmart couldn't be reached for comment.

"It is going to be a destination people will come to. When it was built in the '20s, they didn't spare any expense," Moore said, raving about the quality of the tile, wood floors and elaborate stonework. There are angels carved into the columns.

Before anyone eats their first meal, a lot of changes must be made to the 11,000-square-foot building. In order to meet the requirements of the Americans With Disabilities Act, the to-do list includes:

• Raising the ceiling of the first story on one side so that the floor on the second story is even.

• Adding a ramp from the parking lot.

• Installing a new elevator.

"It already has an elevator, but it doesn't have a phone or alarm. The shaft is fine, but that's it," Moore said.

And to meet fire code requirements:

• Building an exterior set of stairs to the second floor.

• Building a staircase to the third-floor attic and encasing it with a brick wall.

• Adding sprinkler systems to all ceilings and to the awnings planned for outdoor seating.

"One of the hardest things to do is to maintain some of the historical features of it and get it up to code," Moore said. "There are 12-foot ceilings, and in some places, higher. Once you start adding plumbing, air-conditioning and sprinklers, pretty soon the ceilings start to drop down a foot at a time."

Moore is not seeking historic designation for tax credits because that would limit what she could do, especially to the outside of the building.

"When you're dealing with restaurants, they like to have outdoor patio areas. They like to do some daring things to catch people's eye from the street," she said. Although Moore doesn't have to stay within historic guidelines, she will not make any drastic changes.

"I am all about the building. I treat it like my child,'' she said. "This is a historic building and I'm not going to let anyone compromise it."

Rick Dunn, the city's top building official, said he is glad to see someone renovating the building, which has been for sale almost three years.

"This is going to be a very strong addition to downtown," Dunn said.

Moore bought the YWCA with a loan, using some of her other buildings that are mortgage-free as collateral.

Though the building requires a lot of work, she said the city government in St. Petersburg has been the most enthusiastic and helpful she has encountered in many years of development.

"You don't get that everywhere as a small business," she said.

Plans call for one restaurant to be about 2,000 square feet and the other to be closer to 9,000.

"I think that property is a very unique piece of property. I have no regrets buying it at all," she said, adding with a laugh, "talk to me in a few more months and I might say something different."

Times researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Katherine Snow Smith can be contacted at (727) 893-8785 or kssmith@tampabay.com.

Restaurants planned at former St. Petersburg YWCA 12/11/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 11, 2012 4:16pm]
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