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A genuine chance to revive BayWalk gets squandered

The latest of many white flags of surrender was just raised in St. Petersburg's downtown at the BayWalk retail property.

A local developer with high hopes of investing in what was once the white-hot retail center says he's giving up on attempts to buy all or a piece of BayWalk. He wanted to devote his turnaround skills to reinventing the mostly vacant development at Second Avenue N between Second Street and First Street.

"It takes two to tango," says Joel Cantor, an out-of-the-box developer whose Signature Place is the downtown's most striking tower. He says he made cash offers for BayWalk — ranging from $2.5 million to $5 million, depending on terms of the deal and whether it was a joint venture. But they all fell on deaf ears at CW Capital Asset Management. That's the big, out-of-state company managing dozens of "distressed" real estate assets like BayWalk across the country.

"They treated people with a smug attitude, like you were a bum," says a frustrated Cantor.

It must have been an impressive brushoff. Based on Cantor's tough business skin, it would take a lot for him give up and get on with more compelling real estate deals. This is the same guy, after all, who's also been working to fashion a new stadium plan for the Tampa Bay Rays even as the baseball team's ownership team wishes he would just go away.

So what's next for BayWalk? If Cantor's pitch was a long shot, I don't see anybody else standing up to put in cash and expertise to save BayWalk.

City officials talk tough. Go back and read the endless statements of city leaders saying, in effect: "Boy, if something doesn't happen soon at BayWalk, we'll really have to do something."

Yeah, like twiddling their thumbs. Or maybe wringing their hands.

Earlier this year, I tagged along with Cantor and a couple of retail development experts as they roamed BayWalk. They blue-skied ideas of revival ranging from moving the downtown farmer's market from the Al Lang Stadium parking lot and opening all-local restaurants (think Mazzaro's, Atwater's and Skyway Jack's) to an everyday fresh produce market like the popular Pike Place Market in Seattle. Talk included rebranding BayWalk with a new name, and building a pedestrian bridge from the second floor of the parking lot all the way to BayWalk.

All in the name of finding a spark to reignite BayWalk's excitement of old.

The group even stopped by Muvico Theaters and chatted with Muvico managing director Laurie Parra about BayWalk's future. She's witnessed the decline firsthand, so she was thrilled anyone with redevelopment credentials was talking about a BayWalk comeback.

Sorry, Laurie. It's not to be.

Cantor on Monday said the last exchange he had with CW Capital was this boilerplate e-mail from a vice president named Michael McGregor:

"We appreciate your interest in the asset. If we decide to sell, we will engage a broker to broadly market the asset. Thank you."

Don't call us … we'll call you. Right.

Remember the last scene of the first Indiana Jones movie? The one where a precious asset gets crated and stored in a warehouse of endless boxes?

That's where BayWalk has landed. In bureaucracy hell.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at trigaux@sptimes.com.

A genuine chance to revive BayWalk gets squandered 02/28/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 1, 2011 7:05am]
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