by Mark Wolfbenbarger
Downtown St. Petersburg’s Historic YMCA building could get new life, if local music promoter Thomas Nestor can succeed with his vision of a music lover’s dream.
“Our goals are to: save it, restore it, and maintain it,” Nestor said of the vacated YMCA building which sits at the corner of 1st Ave S and 5th St. in downtown St. Petersburg.
Nestor’s love of music and architecture is what attracted him to the 51,512 square-foot building. His goal is to put the YMCA’s vast space to good use by re-inventing it as a music mecca. “I was on a mission to find a local venue that could accommodate multiple uses,” Nestor said.
Nestor considers himself the “Creative Director” of the YMCA’s transformation. His plans for the Mediterranean-style, six-story (including the basement) building include an interactive music museum, two live performance areas, a boutique hotel, and a few other ideas that he is batting around.
The museum would occupy the first floor above the basement according to Nestor. It would feature digital screens which chronicle the history of St. Petersburg, as well as the city’s involvement with music. The gymnasium would become a large concert venue with an estimated 2,000-3,000-person capacity and the basement would be turned into a smaller club-style concert venue with an estimated 200-300-person capacity.
On days when performances are not scheduled, Nestor plans to use the basement as a bar or speak-easy-style hangout. None of this will become a reality, however, if Nestor is not able to obtain the rights to the YMCA. If he can’t, it could also spell the end for a piece of history.
Current YMCA owner Phil Powell received a $1.3 million offer from a bank last year. The bank had plans to demolish the YMCA and build a new bank in its place. According to Nestor, Powell has a fondness for the old building and did not want to see it knocked down. Instead, he gave Nestor an opportunity to purchase the YMCA, even though Nestor had no money to put down.
Nestor signed an eleven-page purchase contract on October 2nd of last year. Since November 15th, he has had to make a payment of at least $8,000 by the 15th of every month. The payments have come from anonymous donors who would like to see the YMCA remain upright.
By June 15th of this year, Nestor must have $1.4 million for the purchase of the building. If the terms are not met by the deadline, there are extension options, but the price will go up. The estimated overall cost to purchase and restore the YMCA is anywhere from $5 million to $10 million. The price depends on whether or not a boutique hotel can be built up from the roof of the YMCA.
When the Historic YMCA was built in 1926, the community was as much a part of its development as the contractors who laid the concrete and stucco foundation. To build the YMCA, the community rallied together and contributed funds. “$550,000 was pitched in from various sources,” Nestor said. “ To my knowledge, there was no bank loan or anything of that nature; it was all contributors.”
Nestor would like to see the community rally together one more time and play a part in the resurrection of the historic building. Nestor understands that it is harder than it sounds. He cannot help but recognize, however, that if every Tampa Bay-area resident were to contribute two or three dollars, it would be enough to purchase and restore the Historic YMCA.
Not only would the restoration bring new life to a once-popular building; it would make St. Petersburg the home of a landmark music establishment. “We are on a mission to build a music venue unlike any other in the entire world,” Nestor said.
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