SOUTHWEST FLORIDA: Cathedral construction plans expand

February 6, 2008

St. Peter's Cathedral in St. Petersburg, Florida, has once again changed the vision for its building expansion, adding two floors and $3 million to its most recent plan.

The one-story, 18,000-square-foot office and meeting complex, in the Episcopal Diocese of Southwest Florida, was projected to cost $4.2 million, which was raised by donations from parishioners and other donors.

"We came to realize that the space we originally planned for our needs really wasn't enough," according to a letter to parishioners from the cathedral building committee chair, Pat Wahlen.

The new plan adds two floors to the complex, providing 50,000 square feet of usable space.

The cathedral's original plans allowed for adding floors at a future date. Wahlen said the need for more space, coupled with a competitive construction market and a growing need for office space in St. Petersburg, prompted the decision to go ahead and expand now.

Wahlen said the cathedral will occupy the entire first floor and a portion of the second. The cathedral will then lease at least 19,000 square feet as office space. The income from tenants, she says, should cover the cost of borrowing the additional $3 million for the project.

"We know we are stepping out in faith to do this, and I can assure you that the Chapter took very seriously the magnitude of what we are about to do," she wrote. "We're confident that this is financially responsible, and that the result will be sufficient space for ourselves now and in the future."

Work on the project began December 10 when crews knocked down the cathedral's three-story office and meeting building that fronts on Fourth Street and its parish hall, which faces Second Avenue N. Demolition on the adjoining five-story building known as the Cathedral Center for Ministry began January 28.

Wahlen projected about six months would be added to construction time, with a completion date in the late fall of 2009.

Expansion plans not new
The cathedral's expansion plans have grown and shrunk over the last decade.

In 2001, plans were unveiled for a complex with 45,000 square feet of office and ministry space, and a 200-car parking garage, at a cost of $8 million. The plan hung up when the city balked at the demolition of the former First Baptist Church building, on the south side of the now-demolished Center for Ministry building, which the cathedral had purchased 15 years earlier. The cathedral eventually won the right to demolish the building but could not raise the necessary funds required by the city for the project to proceed.

In 2005, the Cathedral signed a deal with a developer to build a 20-story condo project on the same space. In essence, the cathedral agreed to give the developer $5 million and the land in exchange for 51,700 square feet of finished office space and another 20,000 square feet of unfinished space, along with 35 permanent parking spaces in a parking garage.

A sagging real estate market, along with rising interest rates and construction costs, scuttled that project in 2006.

Baptist sanctuary deal pending
The former Baptist Church building may be sold by the end of February.

At the January 26 meeting Diocesan Council, Councilwoman Judy Stark, a parishioner at St. Peter's, announced that a deal to sell the structure is in the works and could be completed by mid-month. The building is not part of the current construction project.

The Diocese of Southwest Florida comprises about 34,000 Episcopalians worshipping in 77 congregations.