A water main leak created a massive hole on Thursday in downtown’s Central Arts District.
Dwight Wilson, assistant director of water resources for the city of St. Petersburg, said crews were doing routine work on a leaking water pipe underneath the sidewalk along Seventh Street when, at around 5:30 a.m., they noticed the building was beginning to show signs of a collapse.
The hole, estimated at about 10 feet deep and 25 feet wide, opened up on Seventh Street, just south of Central Avenue. It swallowed part of the Underground Network Church, located at 670 Central Ave. on the west end of a nearby strip mall.
While the structural damage was severe, Wilson said that no one was ever at risk.
“Maybe from the water leaking and the excavation, the building gave way,” Wilson said. “Once that happened, we relocated our staff, roped off the area, and contacted the fire department and building contractor.”
Lt. Steve Lawrence, deputy fire marshal at St. Petersburg Fire and Rescue, said that with the leak under control, engineers will continue to investigate the building’s structural integrity.
In the mean time, Central Avenue will remain closed between Sixth and Eighth streets until repairs to the water main are completed, and jacks are placed inside the Network Church and next door at Daddy Kool Records.
“Jacks will be inserted in the two business to prevent the roofs from collapsing,” Lawrence said.
The plan, he said, is to save the building and ensure that stores east of Daddy Kool aren’t affected.
Although the strip mall was built in 1920, according to city records, the pipe that caused the leak is thought to be much younger.
“We’re estimating the pipe is about 50 years old and most pipes of this type can last up to 100 years,” Wilson said. “… We can’t say that (the water main leak) actually took down the structure, but water is very powerful and it moves anything in its way.”
Mark Wolfenbarger contributed to this report.