The Issue: Protecting First Block
City Council Member: Gina Driscoll email@example.com
Action You Can Take Now: Send a message to City Council by clicking here.
(ask council to keep St. Pete special and to initiate historic district designation for First Block)
First Block, the group of buildings on Central Avenue and 1st Avenue, between 2nd and 3rd Streets, is arguably the most historic block in all of St. Petersburg. Its history parallels that of the city at large - both were born in 1888 with the coming of the Orange Belt Railroad. The block’s oldest building, the original Detroit Hotel (now condominiums, a restaurant, and a market) was built in 1888. It was named in honor of the hometown of city co-founder, John C. Williams, who hailed from Detroit, Michigan. (The man who built the Detroit Hotel, the other city founder, Peter Demens, had already named the city after his hometown, St. Petersburg, Russia.)
The majority of the buildings within the block are pre-1910 structures. They housed the city’s earliest businesses and are some of the city’s oldest remaining buildings. Only one historic structure on the block has been lost to date: the original structure at 1st Avenue North and 3rd Street was demolished in 1966. All of the other structures retain excellent historic integrity.
Two of the buildings on the block, the Detroit Hotel (215 Central Avenue) and Bishop Hotel (260 1st Ave N) have been designated as individual local historic landmarks, the applications for designation having been prepared and submitted by Preserve the ‘Burg. The remainder of the block bears no historic designation, and as such, has no protections in place against demolition or alteration.
You can read more about the history of First Block in the local historic landmark application here.
2013: After advocacy efforts led by Preserve the ‘Burg and championed by city council member Jeff Danner, an application to designate First Block as a local historic district was initiated by the City. However, lacking support in the Mayor's office, the issue stalled during the tenure of Mayor Bill Foster.
2016: With Mayor Kriseman in office, the First Block historic district application was finally brought before the Community Planning and Preservation Commission in 2016. The commission recommended its designation as a local historic district. The application went before City Council in October of 2016. Council deadlocked in a 4-4 vote, resulting in rejection of the designation. Mayor Kriseman voiced support for the designation, but he has not taken additional action since the vote to forward landmark designations for First Block as a district nor for individual buildings within the block.
2019: In December, Council member Charlie Gerdes, in has last meeting as a council member before leaving office due to term limits, asked council to explore again historic designation for First Block. Council agreed and to referred the matter for further discussion to their Committee of the Whole ("COW"). While COW meets monthly and First Block has been scheduled for discussion, the matter has been deferred and has yet to be heard for further discussion.
Immediately following the failed application for local historic landmark designation, a proposal for a 25-story high rise development located on the site of First Block was submitted to the city. You can view that application, including the renderings of the tower, here. The city concluded that the owner’s initial application for redevelopment approval was incomplete. To date, no further information has been submitted to move the application forward.
With downtown construction booming, it could only be a matter of time before another redevelopment plan is issued for First Block. If such a plan comes forward, the city’s ability under downtown zoning standards to protect First Block is limited absent the block's buildings being designated as individual landmarks or part of a local historic district. Click here to learn more about the local historic district designation process.
First Block can still be designated a local historic district, by a simple majority vote of City Council. Designation as a local historic district provides a review process, with public hearing, for major redevelopment efforts - allowing the public and City Council to have a voice in major exterior changes, or demolitions on the block. Click here to learn more about the local historic district designation process.
WHAT PRESERVE THE ‘BURG IS DOING
Preserve the ‘Burg has been encouraging City Council Members to initiate another First Block historic district application. We believe the political will to designate First Block as a local historic district exists on our current City Council but they still need to hear from the public about the importance of doing so. PTB will continue to educate Council members and others about the importance of this block, the existential threat it faces as rampant development takes place around it, and the benefits of historic district designation.
WHAT YOU CAN DO