Non-profit hopes to convert St Pete YMCA into hip music venue - WFLA News Channel 8

Historic St Pete YMCA building could become hip music venue

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ST. PETERSBURG, FL (WFLA) -

A St. Petersburg group hopes to turn a historic downtown building into the next hot spot for music.

"From our research - we don't know of any other venue like it in the country," said Thomas Nestor, a seasoned music promoter who is now leading the charge to save St. Petersburg's Historic YMCA building. "This building is like no other."

THE PLANS

Nestor's group that just filed for non-profit status sees some big possibilities for the historic site at 116 Fifth St. S. They want to double the size of the old gymnasium, which would mean a 2,000 general admission indoor venue unique to the Tampa Bay area. But the music and architectural lovers who have joined the group have bigger dreams for the 51,000 square foot 4-story building:

"It's got room to put a professional studio in. It's got place where you can have lessons for kids...an outreach to the community," said Matthew Bistok, a St. Petersburg native and local musician who is now Vice President of Historic YMCA, Inc. "We're trying to make a community center based around music."

But he and the others know there's a long road ahead of them: Somehow finding a donor that will contribute the $5 to $7 million needed to fix up the 87 year-old massive building.

"Somebody along the lines of David Straz did for the Straz Center or Bill Edwards who can really afford to make a substantial donation and believes in our model," explained Nestor.

In the meantime, the group is paying the $8,000 a month and racing against the clock to keep the property from going to investors who either want to turn the place into condos or level it altogether and build a bank.

"This is one of the last buildings remaining of historic Florida ... and they want to tear it down for a bank," said Bistok. "Don't the banks have enough places?"

THE HISTORY

To understand why this place means so much to some here, you have to go back to 1926. The First World War was ending and the promise of the Roaring 20s seemed like the future would be bright for St. Petersburg. It was before the stock market crashed … before the Great Depression … before Pearl Harbor … and before World War II.

The community rallied to raise more than $550,000 to build the historic landmark. The details the community put into it went down to the now rare tiles on the building and intricate artwork you can still see in elements throughout the complex.

"We feel that the building's worth it," Nestor said. "If you look at what it took to build it in 1926 - it was $550,000...which $550,000 in 1926 comes out to about $5.2 million today."

THE STORIES

There were a lot of memories made between then and the time the YMCA closed here in 2001. Thousands of children learned to swim in the pool, which the group hopes to open again.

"It's stories of the common man - the common person - that had a story to tell about what they did in the community in St. Petersburg from 1927 on," said Eric Ihlenfeldt, who's also helping spearhead the group.

The guys recently started opening up the building on Saturdays to give the public a chance to tour the complex. Ihlenfeldt, who helps lead those tours, often hears the personal history behind the building.

"A gentleman said he was 92 years-old when he first moved to St. Petersburg and got his start by being able to stay at the YMCA for 50 cents a night," he said. "He really believed he owed it to the building and to the community project that existed at that point."

Bistok, who started playing guitar as a young boy, says the group wants to preserve that history while strengthening St. Petersburg's standing when it comes to music education and entertainment as a whole.

"I really didn't have the funds for guitar lessons and to go to some of the places that are out there," Bistok said. "I know a lot of people come here and they realize what kind of a live music place St. Petersburg is. You can walk down the street and there's a live band playing in every single spot. About 15 to 20 years ago - there were only a couple places. Now, 80 percent of the bars have live music and I think that is an awesome thing and something we should focus on."

SEE THE BUILDING YOURSELF

  • You can take a tour of the Historic St. Pete YMCA Building on Saturdays from noon to 5 p.m.
  • Also - this Saturday March 30th - Bistok will offer free group guitar lessons here from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
  • For more information contact Thomas Nestor at (727) 686-2163 or visit www.historicYMCA.com
  • Web Poll

  • If saved, what do you think the old YMCA building would work best as in downtown St. Petersburg?

  • Thank you for participating in our poll. Here are the results so far:

    A cool music venue
    74%
    35 votes
    A gallery for local artists
    12%
    6 votes
    A boutique hotel
    6%
    3 votes
    Condos
    8%
    4 votes
    Restaurants/cafes
    0%
    0 votes
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