The neon sign for the Bishop Tavern & Lounge, located along First Avenue North in St. Petersburg, still hangs from the balcony. JAY CONNER/STAFF
BY JOSH BOATWRIGHT Tribune staff
Published: August 2, 2013
Updated: August 2, 2013 at 10:55 AM
ST. PETERSBURG - A city council decision Thursday to designate a downtown building as a historic landmark raised major questions about the way landowners are compensated for the loss of development rights in such cases.
The council agreed to make the old Binnie-Bishop Hotel building on First Avenue North a local landmark, meaning the 1912 property will get extra public scrutiny should developers want to demolish or seriously alter it.
They also initiated a process that could make a historic district out of the entire downtown block between Central and First Avenue North and Second and Third streets. The area includes several hotels and commercial storefronts that date back to downtown St. Petersburg's earliest days.
The problem is that the development credits meant to mitigate financial losses to the owners of these properties are essentially worthless in St. Petersburg, said Tony Amico, who owns the three-story Bishop building, which now houses MacDinton's Irish Pub, a tattoo parlor and another bar, Bishop Tavern and Lounge, until recently.
"You're paying people with nothing, with air, and expecting them to give up their rights," said Amico, a managing member of the Jannus Bishop Group, which owns several properties on the block.
The city's Transfer of Development Rights program offers landowners of historic properties credits based on development potential. The credits can be sold to developers who can add height or density to other projects above what's normally allowed.
Although the city has issued these credits to several property owners since the program began in 2007, only one has been sold, and that was just a ceremonial sale, city staff reported.
With relaxed height restrictions already in place across town, developers have no reason to buy the credits, Councilman Jeff Danner said.
"Our development codes don't restrict development enough to generate the need for TDRs," he said.
The city began exploring historic status for the Binnie-Bishop building this year after Amico applied to demolish a dilapidated two-story structure on the back side of the building.
The old hotel building had been flagged as a potential landmark, and city staff members noted it was one of the city's first commercial buildings.
The name used to describe the building comes from the blacksmith who first built it, Henry Binnie, and Roy Bishop, who later bought the property and put up the large Bishop Hotel and Tavern sign that still hangs from the balcony.
The nonprofit St. Petersburg Preservation group applied to make the building a landmark, but because Amico opposed the move, the designation had to be approved by a supermajority of the city council.
The old structure behind the main building, a former blacksmith shop, was dropped from the landmark application because it is in a state of disrepair, clearing the way for Amico to replace it with a courtyard.
Landmark status does not prevent property owners from redevelopment, but any major alterations must be vetted by the city.
The council this spring also requested that the city staff investigate whether there was a case for making the entire block a historic landmark.
Many of the one- to three-story buildings on the block have exterior features that date back 100 years.