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Preserve the ‘Burg founder receives key to the city

Veronica Brezina

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Preserve the 'Burg founding member Peter Belmont. Photos provided.

The preservation of the Vinoy Park Hotel and Historic Roser Park, among other landmarks, was spearheaded by longtime activist and Preserve the ‘Burg founding member Peter Belmont. 

Belmont received a key to the city from St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch during the Aug. 18 city council meeting, recognizing his work spanning over four decades

“We share a common belief and feeling about how we can continue to be concerned for our future as the city continues to keep itself special as it grows,” said Belmont, who joined the meeting virtually from Oregon. He informed the audience that he has been diagnosed with terminal cancer, and will not be able to return to St. Petersburg. 

“I appreciate the key very much. I’m just sorry that I may not have a chance to actually see what it unlocks in St. Pete,” Belmont said.

The key to the city is the highest civilian honor.

Preserve the ‘Burg founder Peter Belmont joined the meeting virtually to receive a key to the city.  

Through organizations Booker Creek Preservation, Save our St. Pete and Preserve the ‘Burg, Belmont played a critical role in the preservation of the Detroit Hotel, Crislip Arcade, Jennie Hall Pool, the 600 block, the Old Northeast and Kenwood neighborhoods, and many more iconic landmarks and districts, according to Preserve the ‘Burg. 

During the city’s presentation, Belmont’s longtime friend, Brady Johnson, known as “Mr. I Got ‘Em” at the Saturday Morning Market and Movies in the Park, said to Belmont, “I heard you say that you may not get a chance to see what this key unlocks.” He added, “You have already unlocked so many things. You’ve got a key here, but at the end of the day, you unlocked things a long time ago for lots of people.”

Preserve the ‘Burg Executive Director Manny Leto, who has been in the role just over a year, referred to Belmont as a mentor. 

“Peter has been my guide through that process and helping me and everyone to understand St. Petersburg’s recent past, working through the nuances of local government, finding solutions, figuring out what is possible and what’s not possible,” Leto said. 

Leto said as he was going through a collection of city documents and records Belmont possessed, he discovered a true library of the recent redevelopments in downtown St. Petersburg, its emergence as a sunbelt city, and historic urban cores, which now only exist in photographs and official reports. 

Leto said the group is working with the University of South Florida on a special collection of the donated documents so Belmont can continue to be a guide for future generations through his work. 

“I know we can all agree Peter is a passionate advocate for what makes St. Petersburg special. He exercises his advocacy effectively and with respect for others. His love for this city and its assets cannot be overstated,” Welch said, listing his additional accomplishments such as arguing for the redesign of Interstate I-275 off-ramps near Maximo Park, which led to the preservation of the Native American Indian mounds, and how he has conducted numerous walking tours with residents and visitors, educating them about St. Pete’s history. 

Councilmembers Grina Driscoll and Ed Montanari also commended Belmont on his journey and the significant impact he has made in the community. 

“You’ll go down in history in our city. Thank you for everything you’ve done for us,” Montanari said. 

In a statement following the meeting, Belmont said, “It was very touching to me to see so many of my friends and colleagues attending the city council meeting. With the newfound popularity of St. Petersburg bringing in development, it is more important than ever for the city to review and be sure it has the tools in place to keep St. Petersburg special.

“Those tools need to keep the character of places like the First block (Detroit block), the 600 block on Central Avenue, the area around Mirror Lake and the special charm on downtown’s 4th Avenue N. with its rich collection of historic buildings. Our experience in seeing new development suggests those tools are not yet in place.” 

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    James F Mack

    August 22, 2022at3:26 pm

    This is such a well-deserved and long overdue honor for Peter. We met Peter on a Preserve the ‘Burg Saturday morning walking tour when we first arrived in St Pete several years ago. He and Laurie were very welcoming to us new transplants, and became friends. A real St Pete treasure.

  2. Avatar

    Jacqueline Middleton

    August 22, 2022at3:52 pm

    Peter’s positive impact wasn’t just via Preserve the Burg … He has also been influential in his counsel and leadership in our local and state Sierra Club efforts. His guidance helped chart the course for projects and strategies that have helped protect our priceless ecosystems in this state.

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