Pasadena Avenue combines blight with opportunity

Published June 4 2018

SOUTH PASADENA ó Along the heavily traveled segment of Pasadena Avenue S between Gulfport Boulevard and the Corey Causeway, two restaurants have been closed for years.

Itís a familiar tale in thousands of cities and towns.

Buildings that look like they belong in a ghost town are scattered among long-thriving businesses and new ones.

The former International House of Pancakes and a restaurant once called the Asian Star are eyesores that have baffled and bothered many residents of South Pasadena.

"Residents ask about the old IHOP and the Asian restaurant all the time when they see me," said South Pasadena Commissioner Gail Neidinger. "I explain that itís private property and the city can only require the owners to meet city code as to the buildings and grounds."

Business taxes for the Asian Star were last paid in 2009, and in 2010 for the pancake restaurant ó a franchise that was never owned by IHOP Corporation.

The two buildings factored into the startup last October of South Pasadenaís Business Revitalization Committee, established by a city resolution in 2013 and set in motion last year to help "impart new life or vigor to the cityís business community."

The group of local business representatives met four times under the leadership of Vice Mayor Lari Johnson, who headed up the cityís community improvement department.

"We were making great progress" and taking steps to understand "what draws new businesses to our community," Johnson said in a recent interview.

When she lost her seat in the March election, newly appointed Vice Mayor Arthur Penny, serving his fourth term on the City Commission, took over community improvement and made the two properties a priority.

"Itís just been too long waiting for the owners to maintain them," Penny said. "My goal is to have the properties in good condition or plans in place for the buildings to be torn down by the end of the year."

The former IHOP property, at 1290 Pasadena Ave. S, has been under enforcement by the city since 2015, with violations for overgrown grass and weeds, debris accumulation, roof deterioration, broken parking curbs and the building being in "various states of disrepair."

The roof was fixed in 2017 after an order was issued by South Pasadenaís special magistrate, but the city sent another notice of violation recently for what Neidinger described at a recent commission workshop as conditions "getting worse by the week."

Notice of a June 11 hearing before the special magistrate was issued to the property owner on May 16 because the latest violations, including wood trim falling off the building and a damaged door, were not corrected by the cityís deadline.

Although it appeared someone had been fixing up the buildingís interior, in March the city put a stop work notice on a front window because repairs were being done without a permit.

The property is owned by Brooklyn Diner LLC.

On April 9, the city sent the first official notice of violation to the property owner of the former Asian Star, 1198 Pasadena Ave. S.

Ronís Investments Inc. of St. Petersburg was told that South Pasadenaís code does not allow conditions on commercial property that "suggest blight." The notice required repair of "missing stucco and cement in multiple areas of the building" and maintenance of overgrown vegetation by April 20.

After the violations were not corrected, the city issued a notice on May 17 for a hearing before the special magistrate, also to be held on June 11 at City Hall.

The owners of the two properties could not be reached for comment.

"A huge amount of traffic goes by the IHOP and itís a great opportunity to open up a business right off the beach," said Doug Izzo, government affairs representative of the Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce, who replaced Johnson as the leader of South Pasadenaís business revitalization group.

He said the nine-member group ó renamed the South Pasadena Business Development Task Force ó will focus on making Pasadena Avenue S better for pedestrians and creating a "business-friendly atmosphere" to make the city "a destination, not a cut through."

In addition to the old IHOP and Asian Star properties, a number of other businesses along that stretch have closed.

A blue tarp flaps in the breeze on the roof of the building that housed Subway at 980 Pasadena Ave. S. A sign on the window says "we will be closed for a while" due to damage from Hurricane Irma, which hit the Tampa Bay area last September.

Salon Mirella, in the same small building, moved to Central Avenue because of water damage from the hurricane.

Ware Real Estate, next to what is left of the Subway, last paid business taxes in 2006.

Body Dynamics, a gym that was located at 900 Pasadena Ave. S, was recently demolished, and the large piece of property is for sale.

The vacant South Pasadena Steak House, a few doors from the old IHOP, last paid business taxes in 2016.

One thing the business task force can do is "reach out and let people know whatís available in South Pasadena," said Penny.

Izzo said demographics associated with an older, retired population "donít look good" to some businesses when they are searching for new locations. He said when research relies on income rather than net worth of potential customers, it can be misleading in a retirement hub like South Pasadena, and thatís one issue the task force can explore.

Still, two restaurant chains soon will be moving into the South Pasadena Shopping Center.

Kekeís Breakfast Cafe, with more than 30 locations in Florida, is expected to open at the end of June, according to Graham Grochocinski, a spokesman for the center.

And Fortunatoís, an Italian restaurant serving lunch and dinner, is expected to open in early July, he said.

Nancy McCann is a student journalist at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.