Y sues group trying to save St. Pete’s historic YMCA
A rose is a rose is a rose, but sometimes a Y isn’t a Y. That’s the position taken by the Y, the national umbrella association of YMCAs, which is suing the local group trying to save the historic YMCA building in downtown St. Petersburg. The Y filed a federal lawsuit last month accusing Historic YMCA Inc. of copyright infringement and saying the six-month-old group had nothing to do with its nationwide network of community youth and fitness centers. Tuesday, Historic YMCA held a press conference to dispute the accusations.At the center of the conflict is the aging building at 116 Fifth St. S., which served as a YMCA facility for 74 years. The building was sold in 2001 and has not operated as a YMCA since. Built in 1927, the building is something of a St. Petersburg landmark, with terracotta roof tiles, a bell that hangs in a courtyard alcove, cypress beams and a staircase with ornate Mayan-style carvings. The city gave the building a historic designation in 1991, mainly because of what it deemed its resplendent Mediterranean Revival-style architecture. Local music promoter Tom Nestor is heading the effort to spare the building from being demolished. He signed a $1.4 million contract to buy the building and recently received a $360,000 pledge from St. Petersburg physician Robert Wallace to be put toward the group’s effort to preserve the building. The copyright-infringement suit is filed against Historic YMCA Inc., the group organized to save the building, and Nestor, who does marketing and public relations for the group. Simply put, the building is known throughout town as the historic YMCA, Nestor said. That doesn’t mean people think they can stay there overnight or get in a workout, though, he said. “Even if I drop dead right now, it’s going to be the historic YMCA tomorrow,” he said. “The building is registered with the city as the historical YMCA. It’s the only thing I’ve ever known it as.” In its 12-page lawsuit, though, the Y claims people have approached its local chapter, the YMCA of Greater St. Petersburg, and asked if they could help buy the building, erroneously believing the YMCA was involved in the effort. The YMCA has asked Nestor and Historic YMCA Inc. to stop using the YMCA brand in its promotional materials and fundraising efforts. Those trying to save the building don’t believe there is any confusion, though, and are not complying with the national organization’s demands, Nestor said. At one point, members of Historic YMCA met with the president and vice president of the local YMCA chapter and were told not to call its fundraising efforts the “Save the Y campaign,” and they agreed, Nestor said. Instead, those trying to save the building started referring to it as “the historic YMCA,” Nestor said. The term is such an integral part of the building that, even if he wanted to, he couldn’t remove two YMCA signs engraved in granite on the building, Nestor said. That would mean running afoul of the city because the building is designated as historic, he said. “I’m going to get sued now for maintaining it the way the city wants me to,” Nestor said. In addition to demanding the Historic YMCA group and Nestor remove the phrase “YMCA” from all its materials, the Y is also asking for $100,000 in damages.