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Wednesday, Aug 27, 2014

Nonprofit fights to keep deal for St. Pete YMCA site alive


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— The end may be near in a drawn-out quest to save downtown’s historic YMCA building.

After 20 months and numerous last-minute payments, Tom Nestor says he has several investors interested in fronting the $1.2 million needed to buy the 1920s-era, Mediterranean complex on Fifth Avenue South, scheduled to close July 15.

The problem is that several months ago the seller’s patience ran out and Nestor’s nonprofit group, Historic St. Pete Inc., received a notice its contract was being terminated.

The property owner, VPC3 II LLP, claimed an $18,000 closing deposit that arrived six days late breached the purchase contract.

On June 26, Nestor’s attorney, Russell Cheatham, will argue the payment was well within a 20-day grace period outlined in the agreement.

Circuit Judge Jack Day will decide whether to enforce Nestor’s contract or allow the seller to proceed with accepting an alternative offer on the property, Cheatham said.

“We are confident we will win that lawsuit and they will be required to, in effect, reinstate the contract or honor the terms,” said Cheatham, a St. Petersburg lawyer.

For Nestor, a local music promoter with dreams of reopening the landmark for the public, the fast-approaching court date could be the last stand in a long, hard battle.

His effort has been based almost entirely on faith since he made the offer in October 2012 without having the money to close the deal.

Within weeks of each deposit deadline, a benefactor stepped in with just enough to keep hope alive, but not enough to finalize the purchase.

The group also had to fend off a lawsuit last year by the YMCA’s national association, forcing it to drop the copyrighted “YMCA” from their name.

They have held benefit concerts and weekly tours at the grand building, showing off its courtyard decorated with imported Spanish tile or the ornate Mayan-style wood carvings that grace the interior.

A chic cafe could occupy that courtyard and an intimate concert venue the vast gymnasium, and possibly a music school for children in other rooms, Nestor has said.

Following a last push this spring for community support, Nestor says several individual investors have come forth with offers to help buy the property, and some have a mind to fund the building’s restoration.

“Our next move has to be the best move for the project, so we’re just keeping an open door for everyone in Tampa Bay,” Nestor said.

Historic St. Pete Inc. is looking to get in touch with anyone who has expressed interest in the project in the coming weeks to decide who is most in line with the vision, he said. Information about the project and its fundraising is available at www.historicstpete.org or by email at contact@ historicstpete.org.

Demand for downtown property, especially in such a prime location, has grown since Nestor made his offer. Since the deal was terminated, he has been approached by a developer who says he has another contract to buy the property.

A call to the seller’s attorney seeking comment on Thursday was not returned.

jboatwright@tampatrib.com

(727) 215-1277

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