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City council defers Mirror Lake discussion on historic overlay

Veronica Brezina

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Mirror Lake (Photo from Google Maps)

St. Pete city council members postponed the discussion on the Mirror Lake neighborhood historical district designation due to it potentially jeopardizing the proposed site of the future 2nd District Court of Appeal. 

After hours of deliberation and public outcry during the Thursday board meeting, the council members unanimously passed moving the discussion on the future of the historic Mirror Lake neighborhood to Oct. 14. 

The new date was strategically decided as the city council is facing a major conundrum: It could move forward with discussing the historical overlay for the Mirror Lake neighborhood to control the types of development there and maintain its character, or it could put the discussion on ice pending the outcome of the 2nd DCA as the proposed location would be affected. 

The Sebring State Building is the proposed site the city is vying for, to become the location of the 2nd District Court of Appeal, which is currently housed in a Stetson Law building in Tampa. Its lease there expires in 2023, and it is expected to relocate within Pinellas County. 

The Mirror Lake neighborhood extends between 8th and 4th Streets and between 1st and 5th Avenues North. As it currently stands, the historical district overlay would include the Sebring Building, which sits at 525 Mirror Lake Drive N. 

“The 2nd DCA is very important to me and I’m glad we have this opportunity, that’s why a year ago I talked with folks about the Sebring Building,” St. Petersburg City Council Member Gina Driscoll said, who first introduced the Lake Mirror discussion item in December. 

“I was specific that the Sebring should not be included so we can accommodate the 2nd DCA and I would not vote for it if it included the [potential] DCA building,” she said, explaining she wouldn’t want the 2nd DCA – a $50 million project – to go elsewhere due to restrictions associated with a historical overlay. 

Simultaneously, Driscoll wants to move forward with the designation discussion – with the exception of the Sebring Building. 

“In my opinion, we have enough city-owned and privately-owned properties to create a historical district that we can all be proud of and plant the flag at Mirror Lake and say this place is special,” Driscoll said. “We have to draw these boundaries to know what a historical district would look like.” 

The decision for the 2nd DCA site is expected to be revealed in early October, before the scheduled Oct. 14 city council meeting. 

The consensus was that the fate of the 2nd DCA location will help dictate how the city moves forward with pursuing the historical overlay designation. 

The Mirror Lake neighborhood is home to the city’s largest concentration of historic landmarks – a total of 11 buildings in the neighborhood carry the designation. 

The Mirror Lake neighborhood was once the city’s social center. It’s known for its library, built in 1915, the original home of St. Petersburg High School, the St. Petersburg Shuffleboard Club, the Lyceum/Christian Church and St. Petersburg Junior High.

However, it would impact other properties as well. 

“This impacts buildings with no historical significance. It binds owners and hinders new growth around and near Mirror Lake,” Wendy Giffin, a senior director at Cushman Wakefield, said during the meeting. 

“It’s urgent for the council to fine-tune the scope,” she said, explaining it’s a balancing act of having a pro-development mindset without the jeopardy of turning the area into a concrete jungle. At the same time, it should also spare others the expense of having to go through the burden the designation potentially carries with it. 

Don Mastry, a shareholder at the St. Petersburg office of the Trenam law firm, who represents many developers in St. Pete, was also against the item. 

“How do we encourage new development and keep this [the character of Mirror Lake] intact? The best answer is the historical designation,” Preserve the ‘Burg President Robin Reed said during the meeting.

The advocacy group has held a firm stance on moving forward. 

“I think there’s a lot of common ground here. I’ve heard from everyone here that we recognize how special Mirror Lake is, and we all have concerns for development and as St. Pete changes and grows, how we will lose our character,” St. Petersburg City Council Member Darden Rice said. 

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Michelle Harris

    July 16, 2021at3:19 pm

    Nonsense, City Council – you can’t have it both ways. You can’t skirt historic designation for your pet projects and confine tax-paying owners to your whims on historical designation. Stop your slavish addiction to Preserve the Burg and take care of tax-paying owners.

  2. Avatar

    Joey Mingione

    July 16, 2021at8:05 pm

    The Lotus/Bezu project is not in the Mirror Lake District. It’s about 4 blocks to the east in the downtown core.

  3. Avatar

    Bill Herrmann

    July 19, 2021at9:14 am

    Smart move by Council!

    Yes we can have it both ways. St Petersburg enjoys growth in values because we have largely avoided generic white high rises. The few that exist (like The One) are clearly inconsistent with the area. Forward thinking cities protect their brand or image as a means of driving up value. Need proof of concept? Look at Delray Beach. They are without a doubt one of the hottest property areas on the east coast, and they have height restrictions.

    Only by avoiding the myopic philosophy of “we cannot grow out so we MUST vertically” can we preserve the brand of our city. That brand is the engine that drives our economic prosperity.

    Hopefully, the designer of the new state court building will be sensitive to the historic Mirror Lake area and design a structure that compliments the existing area.

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