The owner of the 4th Street property that is home to the Melting Pot is urging St. Petersburg officials to reject calls to evaluate the building’s historic significance.
Preserve the ‘Burg, an advocacy group for historic preservation, called for that evaluation in its May 12 newsletter, saying the building has a unique history and has contributed to St. Petersburg’s sense of place.
At issue is the city process for historic designation, including who can initiate that process. The St. Petersburg City Council is expected to consider the question at a Sept. 24 meeting.
The Melting Pot, a restaurant known for its fondue dining, closed March 20, after Florida officials banned dine-in service to slow the spread of COVID-19. The 7,600-square-foot building at 2221 4th St. N. is currently listed for sale for $1.6 million by Florida Retail Partners.
“The property is not historical in nature and doesn’t give rise to it being considered,” property owner Robert Johnston told the city’s Community Planning & Preservation Committee on Tuesday.
He pointed out that historic designation recently was denied for property across the street from the Melting Pot, the former Holiday Motel.
Historic designation for the Melting Pot “would encumber the property in terms of our ability to sell it, which is our right as a taxpayer, and diminish the value severely,” Johnston said.
Johnston is president of Catili Inc., according to state documents. Catili bought the property in 1988.
The Johnstons and their partners have been investors in St. Petersburg for over 30 years, said Katie Cole, an attorney at Hill Ward Henderson representing the Melting Pot owners.
“While they had begun looking for a new St. Petersburg location earlier this year, COVID-19 has obviously sped that process, as it has with many small businesses and restaurants,” Cole told the committee. “But now, not only do they object to any discussion of their property being determined or recommended for historic preservation over their objection, it’s certainly not the time to add these additional burdens to small businesses … In this day of uncertainty, especially in the hospitality industry, they truly view this would be a burden on their property.”
In its May newsletter, Preserve the ‘Burg said the building originally was one of 4th Street’s many roadside attractions in the 1950s and 60s. It was built as the Earl Gresh Wood Parade in 1940, a museum constructed to resemble an English cottage, and housing art made entirely of wood.
“We encourage the recognition of the historic importance of the 4th Street Tourist Corridor, which includes landmarks like Sunken Gardens, but whose resources are being rampantly demolished, as evidenced by the recent loss of the Holiday Motel,” Preserve the ‘Burg wrote in its May newsletter. “Know a preservation-minded buyer? Send them to the Earl Gresh Wood Parade / Melting Pot property and help Preserve the ‘Burg!”
After the newsletter was published, the city started receiving emails about the Melting Pot property, Derek Kilborn, manager of urban planning and historic preservation, told the Community Planning & Preservation Committee. Kilborn called the listing agent and provided the agent with information about historic designations.
Preserve the ‘Burg encouraged the committee to suggest the matter be discussed by the full City Council., said Peter Belmont, speaking on behalf of the organization.
“I think it’s important that the city look at these types of issues, properties like the Melting Pot, to determine is it worthy of consideration for designation,” Belmont said. “Bottom line, we simply believe there should be a discussion looking at the merits of potential designation, rather than simply the matter never being discussed or saying it’s up to third parties like Preserve the ‘Burg to raise the issue. I think the city has a responsibility and we would urge asking the council to discuss the matter and determine what direction to proceed.”
The committee did not hold a public hearing and took no action on the issue.