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Old Northeast, named one of the best neighborhoods in North America, is a real charmer

Marsha Carson and her Welsh terrier, Nigel, enjoy the back yard of her Old Northeast home two blocks from Tampa Bay on 14th Avenue NE. Carson came to visit from North Carolina and was so taken with the area that she only went back to sell her house and move here. She turned her yard into a tropical garden after she tired of trying to keep the grass alive.

Patti Ewald | Times

Marsha Carson and her Welsh terrier, Nigel, enjoy the back yard of her Old Northeast home two blocks from Tampa Bay on 14th Avenue NE. Carson came to visit from North Carolina and was so taken with the area that she only went back to sell her house and move here. She turned her yard into a tropical garden after she tired of trying to keep the grass alive.

ST. PETERSBURG

What makes a neighborhood one of the best in the United States? • If anyone should know, it's the residents of the Historic Old Northeast section of St. Petersburg because theirs was named the best in Florida and one of the top 61 in the country and Canada by This Old House magazine. • "We can't imagine raising kids anywhere else," Tracey Locke, who lives on 15th Avenue NE, said. • "Our relatives from Wisconsin come here instead of going to the Caribbean. We live in a vacation destination," she said. "It's a very special place."

It was precisely that kind of Old Northeast rah-rah from Locke that caught the attention of editors at the magazine in 2009, Deborah Snoonian, senior editor at This Old House, said.

Locke vaguely remembers entering the neighborhood in some sort of contest three years ago, but she said she had forgotten all about it and was surprised when a representative of the magazine called her last fall.

What took so long?

"Florida is a big state with lots of good places that have people who care about their environment," Snoonian said. Since each state only gets one neighborhood, the Old Northeast stayed on the radar — if not on the pages — of the magazine since nominated.

It is a vibrant area that bucks the old-and-slow reputation St. Petersburg has in other parts of the country, she said.

The restoration of the Vinoy hotel and the construction of the new Salvador Dalí Museum didn't hurt the city's image either.

They've "brought cachet and tourist dollars to the area. Many think the exposure will drive up interest — and property values — in this charming neighborhood," the magazine wrote.

"It's not only the houses, but the setting, the brick streets and alleys," Snoonian said. "The thought and care that went into keeping up those features really impressed us."

The Old Northeast was named a top pick in nine categories — the South, waterfront, family friendly, gardening, parks and recreation, lots to do, American heritage, cottages and bungalows, and, loftiest of all, Editors' Picks.

The editors ranked it one of the six best neighborhoods in the country in the "gardening" category. The enclave has other desirable perks like scores of restaurants and cultural venues within walking distance, including the restored Vinoy, where you can enjoy after-work drinks.

This is all very flattering but the question is: Aside from giving its residents bragging rights or increasing their swagger, just exactly how does a neighborhood benefit from being named to this list?

Your guess is as good as the magazine's.

"We haven't really been in the business of tracking," Snoonian said. "It does get lots and lots of press, but, for larger cities, these kinds of things draw attention that's difficult to measure tangibly."

Patti Ewald can be reached at pewald@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8746.

Old Northeast, named one of the best neighborhoods in North America, is a real charmer 03/10/12 [Last modified: Saturday, March 10, 2012 3:31am]
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