One in Tampa. One in St. Petersburg.
Both were exciting urban retail centers when they opened. Both became gathering places and retail icons at their peak. Both have since lost their luster, their crowds and many of their stores. Both landed in foreclosure. Worst of all, both languished as owners squabbled and the Great Recession struck.
And now both are — finally — going up for sale. Tampa's Channelside Bay Plaza, located down by the cruise docks, this month said it officially will be up for sale this summer once it spruces up and fixes a few code violations.
Opening price? Still unknown.
Downtown St. Petersburg's BayWalk hit the market in March with an asking price of $8 million, a fraction of what it took to build.
It will probably go for a lot less.
That these two locations are hitting the market are major events for the cities of Tampa and St. Petersburg. Both cities are still trying to sustain and nurture their respective iffy downtown renaissances.
For Sale signs on these retail centers is one more critical step. When Channelside and BayWalk wallowed in foreclosures, economic progress froze.
Tampa has aggressively built upscale condos in Channelside, an area anchored by the St. Pete Times Forum, the Florida Aquarium and the Tampa Bay History Center.
The area needs its retail component to flourish, not dwindle.
St. Petersburg's downtown — interestingly cited, unsolicited, by folks in Tampa as such a winner these days — certainly has a nightlife edge on Tampa.
But downtown St. Petersburg's success relies heavily on the brisk activity along its immediate waterfront, namely from Beach Drive's high-end condos and the upscale restaurants that draw evening crowds. (The new Dalí museum helps, too.)
But step off Beach Drive — the BayWalk retail complex is just one block away — and many retailers complain you're in No-Man's Land. Foot traffic is lean. And BayWalk is largely a ghost town, except for curiosity stragglers or those scurrying through to hit a Muvico movie.
Tampa Bay's "twin towers" of urban shopping are remarkably similar. They are designed from the same dated mold: festive 2-story, courtyard-style shopping centers.
Both offered a mix of restaurants, bars, shopping for Florida tourists, T-shirt-heavy clothing stores and musical atmospheres. Both were supported by movie complexes.
The goal now is finding not only buyers, but those with a vision on how to revive the two complexes.
Channelside, arguably, has the easier task, given its waterfront (rare in Tampa) location and a majority of leased tenants still there. But who do the Channelside stores want to attract? Tourists or locals? It feels vague.
BayWalk's challenge is tougher. More knick-knack stores? No way. Upscale restaurants? Too competitive.
Buyers: Come prepared with truly creative options. Retailers' old "fill the vacant stores and they will come" formula may not work in leaner times. But let's celebrate two iconic complexes finally emerging from mothballs.
That's a terrific start.
Contact Robert Trigaux at [email protected] or (727) 893-8405.